New Study Reveals What We All Know: YouTube’s Recommendation Algorithms Are Terrible

It’s a pretty common joke among the intensely online – that you can search for reviews of guitar overdrive pedals on YouTube, and in three steps you still end up on a conspiratorial far-right bullshit video. But that joke isn’t funny anymore, or maybe it never was, according to a recent Mozilla study which was thus highlighted in the MIT Technology Review:

Mozilla researchers analyzed seven months of YouTube activity with more than 20,000 participants to assess four ways YouTube says people can “adjust their recommendations” — hit Do not like, Not interested, Delete from historyWhere Do not recommend this channel. They wanted to see the real effectiveness of these controls.

[…]

They found that YouTube controls had a “negligible” effect on the recommendations participants received. Over the seven months, a rejected video resulted in, on average, about 115 bad recommendations – videos that looked a lot like the ones participants had already told YouTube they didn’t want to see.

[…]

Struck Do not likethe most visible way to provide negative feedback, stops only 12% of bad recommendations; Not interested stops at only 11%. YouTube advertises both options as ways to tune its algorithm.

Turns out the best way to beat YouTube’s horrible algorithm (and protect yourself against radicalized by Flat-Earth Groomer anti-Semitic bullshit) is simply to do not interact with the platform, except to watch the video you went there to watch. Of course, you can click “Remove from history” or “Do not recommend this channel”, and that will probably do a decent job of deleting the ugly stuff, according to Mozilla’s report. But even if you do that, there’s still a 55-70% chance that you’ll inevitably end up being recommended by the channel you explicitly told YouTube not to show you.

Clean!!1

Did you hate this video? YouTube’s algorithm might push you another one like this. [Hana Kiros / MIT Technology Review]

Does this button work? Investigating YouTube’s Ineffective User Controls [Mozilla]

Sharon D. Cole