In a controversial move, Youtube will now be redirecting certain searches for extremist content.
From now on, when Youtube users search for content deemed to be extremist in nature, the website will instead provide them with anti-extremist search results.
This seems like a good idea in some ways, assuming it would help to prevent impressionable internet users from radicalisation, but there are also obvious issues with this kind of program.
For example, what about journalists, students, and members of the public who might have a legitimate, non-extremist reason for wanting to view extremist content?
And how does Youtube determine the boundary between extremist and non-extremist content in the first place?
Keep in mind that Youtube already has an occasionally controversial content removal policy, so many extremist videos would already be removable for violation of Youtube’s terms of service.
And if a video meets those terms of service, is it really extremist? Apparently the answer to that question will be up to Youtube.
Whenever companies feel compelled to make these decisions about uploaded content, it causes controversy. But for websites like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Youtube, with huge amounts of uploaded content, there’s clearly a real risk of extremist propaganda finding a larger audience.
So clearly, Youtube has to do something to address this problem.
But imagine if public libraries were to institute a similar policy, so that when you asked your librarian for a book written by an extremist, you were instead provided with a book of essays opposing extremism.
That’s not what you asked for. And while there’s an obvious difference, in that Youtube doesn’t have a duty to the public in the same way that public library does, well…that’s kind of the point.
But in an age when people increasingly do all of their research online, websites like Youtube and Wikipedia are often finding themselves socially responsible enterprises.
When you’re researching a controversial topic, whether online or at the library, you expect to have a full range of research material at your disposal. Hopefully, Youtube keeps this in mind as it starts to tinker with our search results in this way.