Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Is the news industry ready for another pivot to video?
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April 23, 2020, 12:45 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   April 23, 2020

Today’s the 15th anniversary of the first-ever video uploaded to YouTube. “All right,” YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim begins. “So here we are, in front of the elephants.”

Since then, the platform has evolved from one video of elephants at the zoo to the most popular video platform on the Internet with an average of two billion monthly users. It’s also become a huge resource for parents and children during the coronavirus pandemic while millions are forced to stay home. “Every day is Saturday,” YouTube engineer Scott Silver told CNET, disagreeing with Morrissey.

According to CNET’s Richard Nieva, YouTube has seen a huge jump in people watching videos seeking factual information:

As people around the world shelter in place, the Google-owned site has attracted parents on the hunt for children’s content, consumers looking for news, and people just trying to find a distraction during stressful times.

The surge in usage, though, could prove thorny for a platform that has for years been plagued with misinformation, extremism and child exploitation. The latest blight on the platform has been conspiracy theories tying COVID-19 to 5G wireless towers.

Still, YouTube says it has a handle on the situation when it comes to misinformation. During the first three months of the year, the company says it has seen a 75% increase in people watching videos from “authoritative” sources, such as legitimate news outlets, government agencies and health authorities like the World Health Organization. YouTube declined to share specific viewership numbers.

To steer people toward credible information, the company says it has been proactive. YouTube reached out to the team of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to set up videos with prominent creators on the platform, including Phil DeFranco, Doctor Mike and Lilly Singh. The videos have tallied around 30 million views collectively. YouTube has also tried to highlight educational content for kids stuck in quarantine. Last month, the company launched a hub called Learn@Home for parents to find education videos. The company says queries of “home school” on YouTube have doubled since March 13.

Historically, YouTube has fumbled the ball with misinformation, from incentivizing climate change deniers to algorithm errors during times of crisis. Still, YouTube insisted to CNET that it’s in a much better place now to handle larger problems.

YouTube’s engineers are constantly under pressure to remove offending material. Those takedowns run the gamut: They can be as innocuous as a copyright violation or as horrendous as a terrorist attack. After a shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, live streamed himself killing worshippers at two mosques last year, tens of thousands of videos of the incident began to flow onto YouTube. The company’s engineers worked feverishly through the night to remove the content.

While the Christchurch tragedy played out online over a horrific several hours, the COVID-19 situation, from an engineering standpoint, will be a drawn out process of policing the site for objectionable content over at least the next few months. Earlier in April, YouTube made the call to ban coronavirus 5G conspiracy videos.

“What this feels like, in some ways, is a very, very long Christchurch,” Silver said, though he adds he wants to be careful about comparing the situations…

When it comes to the coronavirus situation, YouTube knows the tech won’t always be perfect. But the company says it’s in a better position to deal with the crisis — and the influx of people on the platform — because it’s used to working at a big scale. “We essentially built for that growth,” Silver said. “In many ways, a lot of what we prepared for has come true.”

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