Examine the consumption of radical content on YouTube

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Importance

The daily share of news consumption on YouTube, a social media platform with more than 2 billion monthly users, has increased in recent years. By constructing a large dataset on the trajectories of users across the entire political spectrum over the period 2016-2019, we identify several distinct communities of information consumers, including ‘far-right’ and ‘ anti-alarm clock ”. The far right is small and does not increase in size during the observation period, while the anti-alarm clock increases and both increase in consumption per user. We find little evidence that the YouTube recommendation algorithm draws attention to this content. Our results indicate that video-based political news consumption trends are determined by a complicated combination of user preferences, platform functionality, and the dynamics of web supply and demand in the web. wider.

Abstract

Although it is under-researched compared to other social media platforms, YouTube is arguably the largest and most engaging online media consumption platform in the world. Recently, the YouTube scale has fueled concerns that YouTube users are being radicalized via a combination of biased recommendations and ostensibly apolitical “anti-wake-up” channels, both of which have been claimed to draw attention to political content. radical. Here, we test this hypothesis using a representative panel of over 300,000 Americans and their surfing behavior at the individual level, on and off YouTube, from January 2016 to December 2019. Using a labeled set of political news channels, we find that the consumption of news on YouTube is dominated by dominant and largely centrist sources. Far-right content consumers, although more engaged than average, represent a small and stable percentage of news consumers. However, the consumption of “anti-wake-up” content, defined in terms of opposition to progressive intellectual and political agendas, has grown in popularity and is correlated with the consumption of far-right off-platform content. We find no evidence that engagement with far-right content is consistently caused by YouTube recommendations, nor any clear evidence that anti-clock channels serve as a gateway to the far right. On the contrary, the consumption of political content on YouTube seems to reflect individual preferences that span the entire web.

Footnotes

  • Author contributions: research designed by HH, AG, AC, MM, DMR and DJW; HH and AG carried out research; HH and AG analyzed the data; and HH and DJW wrote the paper.

  • The authors declare no competing interests.

  • This article is a direct PNAS submission.

  • This article contains additional information online at https://www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.2101967118/-/DCSupplemental.


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