How Conspiracy Theories Start Trending on YouTube

February 21, 2018

YouTube was caught up in controversy again Wednesday after a widely debunked video about the Parkland, Fla., shooting not only went undetected by its filters, but actually became a top trending piece on the site.

Axios reporter Sara Fischer says the video slipped through the cracks because it featured visuals from a “real news source.”

“The bad actor that uploaded that...manipulated it with bad comments and bad language,” she said.

The video claiming a survivor of the Parkland shooting was an actor planted by gun control advocates was eventually taken down. YouTube said it’s “working to improve our systems moving forward.”

Social media platforms have been criticized for the secrecy of algorithms that drive trending content, especially during breaking news situations. But lifting that cloak of mystery may not be the silver bullet.

“[These companies] don’t want bad actors to game the system. And how will they do that? They’ll do that if they know exactly how the algorithms are being tweaked,” explained Fischer.

Tech companies are taking steps to combat the spread of “fake news”. Twitter has worked to get rid of bots that automatically retweet content, and Facebook is going to start down-ranking “non-authoritative news” and “up ranking local news.”

Still, problems persist.

“It’s hard to get 100% perfect and retain that openness,” adds Fischer. “That openness is actually sometimes what helps break the actual news. So it’s a delicate dance that they have to do.”