YouTube changed its search algorithm for “Brie Larson” in a way that sidelines internet trolls

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It should perhaps surprise no one that the internet can be a horrible place. While it’s no doubt a revolution in how we communicate and access information, it has also given a voice to so many people who can live behind its supposed anonymity and feel it’s right to bash people who they disagree with. Take Captain Marvel for instance, which became the source of hate and review bombing by people who hadn’t even seen the movie, just because they disagreed with some of the actions of its lead star, Brie Larson.

YouTube recently tweaked its algorithm to drive a little of that hate away. With the pending release of the movie, YouTube categorised “Brie Larson” as a news-worthy search term, as The Verge confirmed. What this did was essentially ensure that the algorithm favours reputable news sources over the seedier side of the internet, meaning that people’s search feeds were kept more sanitary and away from radical outliers. What makes this occasion so different though is that normally only movies would get this type of treatment and not the stars of the movies themselves. A change which one twitter user was able to clearly demonstrate:

This is part of an initial algorithm change which Google first rolled out in 2017 following the mass criticism of YouTube favouring conspiracy videos over actual news following the mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival. This also follows similar action by Rotten Tomatoes on how it changed its review system to combat the review bombing the move was receiving. This is a great use of the search algorithms that protects people from the rather unsavoury side of the internet.  

This obviously begs a few questions though. Firstly, should internet powerhouses like Youtube be playing the role of censor to the world? It sounds a little heavy-handed, unnecessary and everything the information age shouldn’t stand for. However, I would argue for it because the world has shown that people perhaps do not know how to determine what is fake news and what is real. And following that, if the world is so unsure of how to tell the difference, shouldn’t all searches be deemed newsworthy and only aimed towards reputable information? And if not, how is this determined? Obviously, by doing this you then side-line smaller channels from trying to gain an audience who don’t fall under the conspiracy bracket.

This is an interesting dilemma and one with no obvious solutions for YouTube, Google or other players in the media space. I think it was an interesting move on YouTube’s part to protect against unsavoury videos of Brie Larson, but it could easily have greater implications as it would require them to be consistent with how they approach this in future across movies and their stars. Did YouTube do the correct thing in protecting Brie Larson here or have they simply opened up Pandora’s Box that will feed the trolls even more?

Last Updated: March 13, 2019

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