It's a fairly common joke among the intensely online — that you can look up guitar overdrive pedal reviews on YouTube, and within three steps, somehow still end up on some extreme conspiracist right wing bullshit video. But that joke's not funny anymore, or perhaps it never was, according to a recent Mozilla study that was highlighted thusly in the MIT Technology Review:
Mozilla researchers analyzed seven months of YouTube activity from over 20,000 participants to evaluate four ways that YouTube says people can "tune their recommendations"—hitting Dislike, Not interested, Remove from history, or Don't recommend this channel. They wanted to see how effective these controls really are.
They found that YouTube's controls have a "negligible" effect on the recommendations participants received. Over the seven months, one rejected video spawned, on average, about 115 bad recommendations—videos that closely resembled the ones participants had already told YouTube they didn't want to see.
Hitting Dislike, the most visible way to provide negative feedback, stops only 12% of bad recommendations; Not interested stops just 11%. YouTube advertises both options as ways to tune its algorithm.
As it turns out, the best way to beat YouTube horrid algorithm (and protect yourself from accidentally getting radicalized by some Antisemitic Flat-Earth Groomer bullshit) is to simply not interact with the platform, except to watch the video you went there to watch. Sure, you can click "Remove from history" or "Don't recommend this channel," and that will likely do a decent job of suppressing the ugly stuff, according to the Mozilla report. But even if you do that, there's still a 55-70% chance that you'll inevitably end up getting recommended something by the channel you explicitly told YouTube not to show you.
Hated that video? YouTube's algorithm might push you another just like it. [Hana Kiros / MIT Technology Review]
Does this button work? Investigating YouTube's ineffective user controls [Mozilla]