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Did Facebook’s faulty data push news publishers to make terrible decisions on video?
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July 10, 2018, 12:01 p.m.
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LINK: youtube.googleblog.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   July 10, 2018

Google-owned YouTube on Tuesday announced a few improvements it intends to make to the news discovery and viewing experience. The platform has had a bit of a bad run recently: surfacing videos that accuse mass-shooting survivors of being crisis actors, hosting disturbing videos targeting children, encouraging radicalizing behaviors through its recommendation algorithm, frustrating content creators trying to figure out monetization on the platform, blindsiding Wikipedia by saying it would use it to provide context and debunking. (YouTube employees themselves came under attack in April, when a woman shot three people at its headquarters in San Francisco before killing herself.)

The post about the platform’s coming changes, rosily titled “Building a better news experience on YouTube, together,” outlines new initiatives, including $25 million worth of grants for news organizations around the world to build out their video operations and tests of local news boosts in YouTube’s connected TV app (which it will expand to “dozens more markets like Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Kansas City”).

Importantly, YouTube also says it will make “authoritative sources readily accessible,” adding text-based news article snippets to search results during developing events. A Wired piece pointed out a potential problem with those “authoritative” sources:

In the coming weeks, YouTube will start to display an information panel above videos about developing stories, which will include a link to an article that Google News deems to be most relevant and authoritative on the subject. The move is meant to help prevent hastily recorded hoax videos from rising to the top of YouTube’s recommendations. And yet, Google News hardly has a spotless record when it comes to promoting authoritative content. Following the 2016 election, the tool surfaced a WordPress blog falsely claiming Donald Trump won the popular vote as one of the top results for the term “final election results.”

YouTube will also provide links to more information on a “small number of well-established” topics, and won’t just lean on Wikipedia for those.

Starting [Monday], users will begin seeing information from third parties, including Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica, alongside videos on a small number of well-established historical and scientific topics that have often been subject to misinformation, like the moon landing and the Oklahoma City Bombing.

As of midday Tuesday, I didn’t see these links out to third-party sources yet, but here’s YouTube’s illustration of what would come up when someone searches for “Moon Landing”:

YouTube also said it’s committed to hiring more people who will directly work with news organizations, and it’s convening a working group of representatives from news organizations to help surface issues and develop features (Vox Media, Brazil’s Jovem Pan, and India Today are cited as members of the group).

The company’s full announcement is here.

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