Confronting the Social Media menace

Part 3 – YouTube’s rabbit holes recommendations

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Part 3 – YouTube’s rabbit holes recommendations

Do we know that 94% of people access YouTube at least once a month and more than 80% kids watch cartoons, animations on YouTube. With 79% of internet users having their own YouTube accounts and every day people watch 1 billion hours of videos on YouTube it looks like nearly impossible to get away from YouTube, but why should we get away from it? There is good stuff and its your choice to watch whatever you want to! Who compels you to watch unethical music videos or films, lust clips, pranks, blasphemy instead you can watch science videos, educational content or religious lectures, content?

Sounds too good to be true in reality because you might enter YouTube with a choice but what happens next is not a journey by choice. You get trapped in a machine learning extremely powerful algorithm known as rabbit holes which softly holds your hands and your fingers start to gradually move back, up, down and then you click a video which you never intended or came to watch on YouTube. The recommended videos which keep on coming to you whenever you are watching something and also keeps on changing is not just a random pick relevant to what you are watching.

Remember our last discussions that engagement is key to Social media success. With engagement they want to keep you attentive. The more you engage in this case on YouTube and more you watch Videos the more exposure you have on Advertisement. But its not just about Ads, if YouTube has decided to support some candidate in elections then you will see recommendations coming on Videos to prepare the minds for that party of candidate. The media sounds independent but they are all state controlled and state sponsored.

The recommendation engine does not work in a sequel. Say you are watching an Islamic lecture on a subject of Islamic Unity and you will get recommended videos only on that subject. Certain videos will be related to your subject of interest, but at the same time you will also see one odd video on something contradictory to your subject. If you click on that it means you are interested in controversies on this subject as well. Then you will also see certain recommendations coming up based on your previous searches. From videos of your subject of interest you will then see one or few videos which are totally out of context. These are Rabbit holes. If you jump inside this, you get more far and far deeper inside.

The term rabbit hole is used to refer to a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation or environment, typically one from which it is difficult to extricate oneself. No matter what you do you keep on going deeper and deeper inside a rabbit hole. The recommendation engine algorithm makes you to do so.

So as a Muslim you might get on to YouTube to watch some religious but after sometime you have ended up clicking something which was never there in your mind at all. On average as per research done it takes 9 clicks and you will be in the wonderland of Alice where you are watching content which you never expected or thought to watch. As per a report presented in early 2020, YouTube at some point takes you towards that content which as per your profile, modelling is against your beliefs, ideology and desires which eventually is sexual, lust content  or anti-faith which has more views and hence adverts. This is hypnotisms.

As a matured, elderly person you might still say I can differentiate between right and wrong, but what about our children? Can they differentiate? they might get attracted by color, image and just click. The way nursery rhymes and young kids cartoons on YouTube works is so complex the it develops a high degree of addiction on children and they can get into a different world by clicking through recommendations. Its not just clicks, most of the time your settings are such that next recommended video plays auto.

Another challenge with recommendations is that more than 70% recommended videos are those which are above 100,000 views unless your subject is too scarce and not many high view videos are found, then you might see low view videos coming up in recommendations. But when you see high views videos coming up and if you click, it means you are following the trend of majority, you don’t have any say of yours. This is known as development of public opinion. All this data is captured, sliced, diced and profile of people, religion, sect is created across geographies.

Addiction is one more big issue with YouTube, as you keep on clicking you are watching videos continuously, you do not realize that you have spent hours. A big quantum of people has been watching YouTube for 15.9 hours per day, means not doing anything else. There is also a drive by YouTubers to get as many subscribers on their channel, views so that they can make money or become popular. And this only happens when YouTube starts to push videos in an intelligent manner whereby you get full involved. Don’t remember that the pioneers at Google say that Machine learning was created by us humans but now it has gone out of control. There is no one who can precisely control the algorithm, it has been modelled and is doing its own job.

How to protect yourself from falling inside the menace of these rabbit holes

  1. First you need to be strong, clear and determined for what you have gone on YouTube
  2. Just be on that only, even if you see some good content coming up as Rabbit hole, do not click it immediately, you can add it to your watchlist or save the link to see later. This way you break the spell of recommendations on you.
  3. Always use a different, separate account for YouTube login and not the same account you use to browse on Google. YouTube is part of Google so whatever you search on Google is used on YouTube as well for recommending videos to slowly get you trapped in rabbit holes. It is also recommended to use better safe search engines like Duckduckgo and some others.
  4. Never try to experiment on unethical video search or something that would be religiously, spiritually undesirable to do even for the sake of few seconds experimentation or even educational purpose. If you do once also YouTube will pencil it as your interest and then you will see such videos coming up in your recommendations as you walk down the rabbit holes. In case you need to do for educational purpose or research do it using a different YouTube account.
  5. All the above might sound hard to do, the easiest way is to develop your own Halal YouTube infrastructure where only useful, beneficial content is uploaded and gets moderated before being published. People need content, so don’t stop them from watching content, they won’t stop also instead provide an alternative that is effective and not harmful. This alternative should be on both platform as well as content, specifically for children who get easily trapped.  If 100K Muslims decide to spend $10 a month, you can have a mega Muslim Tube created which provides a secure content environment. And if you cannot do this much, then even 10K Muslims can take a start and scale up.
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