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YouTube algorithms recommending ‘incel’ videos


An Australian internet advocacy group is calling for lawmakers to force social media platforms to share details about their algorithms after its research found YouTube’s recommendation engine is pushing men towards misogynist content.

Reset Australia, which is privately funded and has been backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, conducted a study which it says suggests YouTube is directing male users towards anti-feminist content and trapping some men in far-right internet bubbles it describes as a ‘manosphere’.

The group, which is critical of social media, created 10 accounts on the dominant video sharing service designed to mimic young men and boys aged between 13 and 20.

Reset Australia argues YouTube should be forced to be more transparent about its algorithms and be held accountable for a wider array of harm.Credit:Getty Images

Eight of the accounts, which were run by analysts from the UK anti-extremist think tank the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, were set up to follow generalist right-wing accounts ranging from United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly to the fringe right-wing extremist Blair Cottrell. Two were left blank.

Within hours of watching and liking videos recommended by YouTube on both its primary product and YouTube Shorts, which is focused on shorter clips similar to TikTok, all of the accounts were served up anti-feminist clips. In the fortnight-long study others were later also shown clips of music videos in honour of fascist leaders.

“This is yet another example of the business model of big tech placing profit ahead of safety – women’s safety,” said Reset board director Catriona Wallace. “We need to urgently put in place regulation that forces social media platforms to be transparent about the risks of their algorithms and redesign how they promote content so that they align with the feminist futures we want to create.”

The federal government has led a worldwide crackdown on big technology companies in recent years, introducing tough regulations for livestreaming of violent videos, threatening platforms with defamation liability and establishing the media bargaining code.

But Reset argues it ought to go further by focusing on the algorithms that power the platforms. Otherwise, Reset said, social media risked serving as a pipeline directing men and boys into extreme forms of misogyny that can escalate to violence.

The study is small scale and its findings do not include a statistical analysis of the videos recommended to the accounts. The test accounts under 18 were mostly shown age appropriate content on YouTube proper, but were shown the same content as older accounts on YouTube Shorts. The platform has parental supervision tools for younger users.

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