With its much-criticised algorithm, YouTube has been accused of radicalising its users through an ever-escalating autoplay videos; however, new research shows how its far more likely that the video streaming platform is, in fact, giving already radical views a place to find other like-minded people.

This is according to researchers from Penn State University, Kevin Munger and Joseph Phillips, who find that YouTube’s algorithm is not radicalising its users more than other media, but its capacity to form communities has seen a particularly influential right-wing channels that dominate discussion and present a contrast to mainstream news.

Not only are alternative political channels growing, according to Munger and Phillips, they have recently surpassed the three largest US cable news networks.

Among its arguments, the paper seeks to challenge the idea that its YouTube’s own algorithmic recommendations that are growing far-right content on the platform. The authors suggest that this view grew out of largely unsubstantiated reports and opinion pieces that haven’t been subjected to academic scrutiny; any prior studies have struggled to show the recommendations algorithm had any discernible effect.

“We think that it has rapidly gained a place in the center of the study of media and politics on YouTube because it implies an obvious policy solution,” the authors write in the paper, which was first picked up by WIRED.

The reality is more complex, the authors suggest. YouTube has a low barrier to entry, which commentators with non-mainstream views can put out videos and become a source for a fanbase, “without needing to acquire power or legitimacy by working their way up a corporate media ladder.”

On the other side, they find that YouTube hasn’t radicalised people, instead finding a radical right-wing audience that had otherwise been constrained.

“The novel and disturbing fact of people consuming white nationalist video media was not caused by the supply of this media ‘radicalizing’ an otherwise moderate audience.”

Part of the research involved a metadata analysis of a range of 50 channels that go from merely liberal right through to Alt-Right content: ranging from libertarianism at the tamest level and radical white supremacist content at its most extreme. These were named by the researcher Rebecca Lewis the “Alternative Influence Network.”

From 2013 to 2016 across the right-wing spectrum all viewership in the US increased. However, since 2017, the research finds that viewership of the most extreme channels decreased; critics has pointed out that the research doesn’t take into account banned channels.

The scary part is that despite decline, the remaining viewers of the most extreme videos are significantly more engaged; YouTube’s benefit as an interactive space for all has given a similar platform to violent, racist ideologies which are extremely difficult to undo.

“The true threat posed by YouTube is the capacity to create radical alternative political canons and interpretive communities to match”.

Sourced from Pennsylvania State University, WIRED