Well, well, well — if it isn’t the government trying to silence the truth! That was, at least in the way your truly intended it, sarcasm; but that’s also the way conspiracy theorists will likely interpret this move.
The internet has a truthfulness problem, and misinformation is spreading faster than ever. In this brave new post-truth world, separating fact from fiction is becoming increasingly difficult, and the conspiracy theorists (whether manipulative or just ill-informed) are becoming better and better at hiding the truth and replacing it with their own version.
Conspiracy theories have presumably been around since the dawn of man, and they’re still constantly lurking in the shadows or our day to day lives. Who hasn’t heard of alien abductions, mysterious brainwashing experiments, or more recently, vaccines causing autism? We see them in the movies, we read about it in the press, and of course, we hear about them on social media.
Social media has proven the perfect platform to spread conspiracy theories, and Youtube is probably the king. It’s not that Youtube is necessarily doing something wrong, but it’s all about the very nature of the platform. Videos can be much more convincing than a written article or a photo, and it’s much easier to convey the narrative you want to in a video. Also, Youtube recommends related videos, so it’s easy to go on a conspiracy-theory binge from video to video. The website is even kind enough to recommend other videos based on your past preference — what’s not to like? It’s the best place to start going down the conspiracy rabbit hole. But Youtube, it seems, has had enough of it.
Youtube has recently started adding fact-confirming text below videos about climate change. A Wikipedia snippet simply reads “multiple lines of scientific evidence show that the climate system is warming.” It’s quite funny to hear videos going on and on about how global warming is a fraud, only to see the Wikipedia snippet bluntly refuting everything below the video. YouTube is also using Encyclopedia Britannica as a source for facts.
The company has been quite secretive about what sources it uses and what conspiracy theories it tries to address, but Wikipedia themselves have written about this. Here are some of them, but be warned — some of them are quite weird.
- Global warming
- Dulce Base
- Lilla Saltsjöbadsavtalet (Little Saltlake Bath Agreement)
- The 1980 Camarate air crash
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- The Kecksburg UFO incident
- MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine
Youtube have also invested $25 million in grants to news organizations that wish to expand video operations and combat fake news and conspiracy theories, in line with their parent company’s approach (Google has also started a digital news initiative to promote quality journalism and tackle fake news).
The feature is not available in all countries, and Youtube hasn’t announced where it is available. They did say, however, that an algorithm is deciding on what videos — videos are not manually tagged. The video uploaders have not been notified by this change and if their videos are targeted by this. Of course, this new feature has left uploaders of conspiracy videos fuming. YouTuber Tony Heller, who also uploads climate change denial videos, described the policy on Twitter as YouTube “putting propaganda at the bottom of all climate videos.” However, the move was praised by scientists, with climate scientist Michael Mann likening it to the warning label on a pack of cigarettes: “Warning — this video may or may not be promoting actual facts about climate change.”
Will this be a wrench in the wheels of conspiracy theories, or will it simply be ignored and business will continue as usual? It will be interesting to see. For now, only time will tell.
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