A research team from the Federal University of Minas Gerais dedicated itself to studying how YouTube helps modify the reality that its users perceive. In Brazil, YouTube is very popular and its use has become viral among citizens, many of them turned to extreme right ideologies due to (…)
A research team from the Federal University of Minas Gerais dedicated itself to studying how YouTube helps modify the reality that its users perceive.
In Brazil, YouTube is very popular and its use has become viral among citizens, many of them turned to far-right ideologies due to the algorithms of the social network that created a “hate ecosystem”, according to the Brazilian activist women's rights, Debora Diniz, who had to leave Brazil after receiving death threats from right-wing trolls.
The rise of Jair Bolsonaro, who gained more and more followers through YouTube with political videos and conspiracy theories, was due much to both the fall of the Brazilian establishment and the circulation of the content it produced, many of them viralized through the famous algorithm.
But not only Bolsonaro has been benefited by YouTube, but also other figures such as the conspiracy guitarist Nando Moura and Carlos Jordy, today head of the municipality of Niterói since 2017, and who acknowledged: «If there were no social networks, I would not be here. And Jair Bolsonaro would not be president ».
Therefore, the team of the University of Minas Gerais analyzed transcripts of thousands of videos on YouTube, as well as the comments they received. They found that Brazilian right-wing channels had managed to expand their audiences much faster than others, and seemed to be altering the entire political content of the site.
“In the months after the change in the YouTube algorithm, Bolsonaro's positive mentions increased, as did the mentions of conspiracy theories he had raised. At that time, the polls still showed him as someone extremely unpopular, which suggests that the platform was doing more than reflecting political trends, ”summarizes the columnist of The New York TimesMax Fisher
Another team, this time from the Harvard Berkman Klein Center, set out to study whether the YouTube recommendation engine had driven the meteoric rise of the Brazilian far right on the platform.
- For the analysis, they programmed a server in Brazil to access a popular YouTube channel or search term in that country and open the main recommendations that emerged from those videos.
- Then, the server followed the recommendations resulting from those suggested channels or videos and so on.
- By repeating that thousands of times, researchers tracked how the platform moved users from one video to the next.
- They found that YouTube's recommendations often favored right-wing channels full of conspiracies, such as Moura's.
- A key element of the investigation is that it found that if users saw a single extreme right channel, then the system used to show them many more.
- The researchers concluded that the algorithm had linked channels that were previously marginal and then created an audience for them.
- One of those channels was that of Bolsonaro, who used the platform for a long time to publish deception and conspiracies. He was one of the pioneers on YouTube Brazil, although his political base had not grown much until then thanks to his online presence; I barely had voters or followers nationwide.
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