YouTube Cracks Down on Flat-Earth Videos and Other Conspiracies

Video giant says it’s reducing recommendations for “borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways”

YouTube is cracking down on “borderline content and content that could misinform,” the company said in a blog post on Friday morning.

The Google-owned video site said it’s tweaking its recommendation algorithm to “reduce” the number of conspiracy videos suggested to users. That includes “videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historical events like 9/11,” according to YouTube’s post.

The company said that this applies to content that “comes close to–but doesn’t quite cross the line of — violating” its user guidelines, and its wide-ranging rule book that includes bans on nudity and videos that promote violence. Cutting back on conspiracy video recommendations impacts less than 1 percent of videos on YouTube, according to the company. But considering YouTube serves more than 1 billion hours of content each day, there’s still a mountain of videos peddling bogus claims.

YouTube’s decision only cuts back on recommending conspiracy videos, rather than purging them altogether. It’s still easy to find these videos on the platform. A YouTube search for “earth is flat,” for example, highlighted a video touting “5 facts that prove the earth is flat” as its second-highest result on Friday.

YouTube has been heavily criticized for its recommendation algorithm in the last two years. An investigation from The Wall Street Journal last year showed its recommendations “often lead users to channels that feature conspiracy theories, partisan viewpoints and misleading videos, even when those users haven’t shown interest in such content.” Perhaps most notably, Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, who said he was a “big conspiracy theorist” in 2017, said last October that his belief the world was flat was exacerbated by going down a YouTube “rabbit hole.”

Another likely reason behind YouTube’s decision is its ongoing push to woo advertisers. AT&T, two years after it left YouTube for “promoting terrorism and hate,” decided the site was once again advertiser-friendly earlier this month.