YOUTUBE has been accused of causing harm to its users by having a ‘damaging’ recommendations algorithm.
The issue is being referred to as “falling down the YouTube rabbit hole” and internet giant Mozilla has collected several accounts of how it’s affected innocent viewers.
According to the Mozilla Foundation, one concerned parent said: “My 10-year-old sweet daughter innocently searched for “tap dance videos” and now is in this spiral of horrible extreme “dance” and contortionist videos that give her horrible unsafe body-harming and body-image-damaging advice.
“I’ve tried to go in and manually delete all recommended videos, put in parental controls, everything (including blocking the app) — but she’s finding ways to log on using browsers and school computers.
“These terrible videos just keep being recommended to her. She is now restricting her eating and drinking.”
We can’t know for sure whether all the accounts are true but Mozilla has said it shared a representative sample of the messages it received.
The company, best known for its Firefox browser, asked the public to send them their “YouTube regrets”, meaning any videos they’d watched on the platform that had led them down a dark path.
Mozilla reportedly received over 2,000 responses in five languages.
It revealed 28 of them to the public and some of them are quite concerning.
One respondent wrote: “I started with a regular documentary about cod liver oil. Within a couple hours, I ended up with recommended videos about the government controlling people’s minds using fluoridated water.
“The theories were stupid, but comments seemed to be coming from people who took the video very seriously.”
Another said: “Once I was looking for videos about Vikings and Nordic heathenism, and was led to videos promoting racism and white supremacy!
“I’m not into that at all.”
One respondent even accused the YouTube algorithm of promoting homophobia.
They said: “Any search for positive LGBT content results in a barrage of homophobic, right-wing recommendations.
“I can only imagine how harmful this would be to people still figuring out their identity.”
A YouTube spokesperson told us: “While we welcome more research on this front, we have not seen the videos, screenshots or data in question and can’t properly review Mozilla’s claims.
“Generally, we’ve designed our systems to help ensure that content from more authoritative sources is surfaced prominently in recommendations.
“We’ve also introduced over 30 changes to recommendations since the beginning of the year, resulting in a 50% percent drop in watchtime of borderline content and harmful misinformation coming from recommendations in the U.S.
“This update has also begun rolling out in the UK and we expect similar results.”
It has also stressed that the vast majority of content on YouTube is not harmful.
Top tips for keeping children safe online
Here’s some measures parents/guardians can take…
- The Sun previously spoke to online safety expert Claire Stead, who shared her top tips for parents who want to make sure their kids aren’t getting access to any dodgy material online.
- 1. Teach yourself: If you familiarise yourself with popular apps like Instagram and Snapchat then you’ll have a better idea of the risks your kids face, and how to prevent them.
- 2. Check privacy settings: Major apps and services – like Facebook or your Sky TV box – have ways of restricting access for young people, so check through the settings thoroughly before letting your child onto a device.
- 3. Get them offline: It’s key to remind children that there’s a whole world offline too, to help dampen the impact of potential cyberbullying – which Claire calls “the biggest concern around online safety”.
- 4. Talk to them: Make sure children know the risks they face but also make them aware that they can talk to you when things go wrong – particularly if someone is being mean to them, or being sexual with them, online.
In other news, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have announced they will introduce a tool that limits how much time people spend on their sites.
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And, Instagram has rolled out an anti-bullying ‘Restrict’ tool that lets you hide nasty comments posted by users without them knowing.
Have you ever experienced any of these issues with YouTube? Let us know in the comments…
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