Samantha Bee examined the way YouTube’s algorithm for recommending videos fuels potentially dangerous and illegal behavior from pedophilia to extremism. A recent New York Times investigation discovered that YouTube’s algorithm will guide viewers with pedophilic tastes towards videos featuring younger and younger women. While the easy fix would be to turn off the recommendation engine for videos with children in them, YouTube has declined to do so.
“This isn’t even the first time this year that YouTube has been caught catering to pedophiles,” Bee said. “No one else could get away with that — even Woody Allen only married one daughter!”
As Bee explained, the reason YouTube won’t change their algorithm is because, even in this case, it’s working exactly as it should, shepherding viewers towards videos that will keep them on the site. This has also allowed right-wing extremists to find massive audiences while spewing racism, sexism and homophobia that YouTube claims doesn’t actually violate its harassment and cyberbullying policies. At best, Bee noted, YouTube will demonetize certain channels, which cuts off the user’s ad revenue and allows YouTube to keep all the money for itself.
Towards the end of the segment, Bee noted that at this point, YouTube has no incentive to change its algorithm because it’s making the company billions. Even when YouTube employees tried to raise concerns about toxic videos, they were effectively told to not rock the boat. But the algorithm itself is just one part of a larger problem.
“The algorithm was designed by people,” Bee said. “Algorithms are racist because people are racist. Algorithms are greedy because people are greedy. Algorithms constantly try to sell me bras with one enormous cup and one tiny cup because, well, who knows, obviously it’s a bug.”