By Sebastian Moronta, SGA Correspondent
Since the advent of the internet, the looney-bin hopefuls of our society have congregated and shared the wildest of conspiracies and plots with each other anonymously, and their influence is growing. Technology makes it harder every day to distinguish between properly sourced news and the work of a Russian bot or a high school dropout clad in tin-foil. YouTube, one of the platforms most widely used to circulate conspiracy theories online, has recently announced plans to address the issue.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that we can no longer simply allow these falsities to continue swirling, as Comet Ping Pong learned in 2016 when one of these theorists walked in with a semi-automatic rifle to “self-investigate” a supposed child trafficking ring run by Democratic leaders out of the restaurant/concert venue’s basement. Shots were fired, no one was injured, and the event served as a wake-up call to many internet users and platforms alike.
In an interview at SXSW with Wired’s Nicholas Thompson, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki outlined the platform’s upcoming strategy to identify videos purporting false claims and add links to Wikipedia and other third-party sites that debunk the theories therein. For example, a video claiming humans never actually landed on the moon would be met with a link to Wikipedia’s page on the moon landing, etc.
Wojcicki made it clear Youtube wouldn’t be removing this content unless it directly violates the community guidelines. “People can still watch the videos, but then they have access to additional information,” she said, without giving a timeline on when this functionality would be implemented. The platform has drawn controversy in the past for their removal of certain content, with many conservatives claiming that the platform uses a liberal bias in removing or demonetizing videos from conservative creators.
I truly hope that this recent criticism isn’t what prevents YouTube from removing dangerous conspiracy theories from their platform, because I don’t think their recent measures go far enough to address the issue. First of all, the majority of people who are invested in theories that defy basic public knowledge likely won’t be swayed by third-party sources of info, especially if they are perceived to be part of some grand scheme, which many (crazy individuals) believe sources like Wikipedia to be. I’d wager the majority of those debunking links never get clicked.
It’s clear what YouTube must do: amend their community guidelines to include distribution of blatantly false and harmful conspiracies as a violation. Many will claim this infringes on the individual user’s right to free speech, but YouTube is a company not a government entity, and it’s a platform with complete dominion over its content. It’s also not the only platform on the internet where data or even videos can be shared, so the argument that they are being “shut out” doesn’t hold water.
Many are concerned with how YouTube uses its community violation take-downs now and would therefore take issue with this change. Whether or not you trust YouTube to make the right call on something that doesn’t espouse a conspiracy theory, it’s undeniable that there are large swathes of inherently false content that has led to violence and could very easily lead to violence in the future. I just want YouTube to give itself some teeth in their fight against this content, so they can keep improving their platform instead of letting it devolve into the insanity some of their users have succumb to.
Most importantly, it nips the problem in the bud. The real factor here is views. No one paid attention to the guy yelling “The end is nigh!” on the street corner because of the few hundred or so that passed by him, only a few were even listening to him, let alone spreading his message. The internet makes it so that guy on the street corner can say what he wants to hundred of thousands, increasing the likelihood that someone will believe him.
If this content never gets the views, that man on the street stays on the street, instead of floating on the gullible all the way to the White House.