Study says YouTube comments section can have radicalising effects on users

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It has long been accepted that the comments section of YouTube is not the most wholesome of places, especially when it comes to videos on divisive issues. According to new research presented at the ACM FAT (Fairness, Accountability and Transparency) conference this week, the comments section could also have a radicalising effect on YouTube users.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Switzerland’s Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais, says the comments section exposes users to several right-wing ideologies.

“Non-profits, as well as the media, have hypothesized the existence of a radicalization pipeline on YouTube, claiming that users systematically progress towards more extreme content on the platform. Yet, there is to date no substantial quantitative evidence of this alleged pipeline,” reads an extract of the study titled Auditing radicalization pathways on YouTube.

According to the study, it found that users who engaged with a moderate amount of right-wing content on the platform showed a likelihood to migrate towards far-right content. As always it is worthwhile noting that users who show an interest, even a passing one, might also be drawn deeper into the subject matter they are looking for.

That said, the evidence that this study has uncovered is hard to ignore.

“We analyze 330,925 videos posted on 349 channels, which we broadly classified into four types: Media, the Alt-lite, the Intellectual Dark Web (I.D.W.), and the Alt-right,” it adds.

“Processing 72M+ comments, we show that the three channel types indeed increasingly share the same user base; that users consistently migrate from milder to more extreme content; and that a large percentage of users who consume Alt-right content now consumed Alt-lite and I.D.W. content in the past,” the study continues.

The larger question is whether or not platforms like YouTube can or should do anything about this. Increased moderation and regulation could lead to an abuse of freedom of speech, and the site’s history in tackling such issues has been spotty at best.

Either way it seems like the best thing to do is steer well clear of the comments section.

[Image – Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash]

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.