Now live: Our monthslong project on YouTube radicalization.

As YouTube diverts more and more users down far-right rabbitholes, could its algorithm, in a way, radicalize an entire society?

To find out, we went to YouTube's 2nd-largest market: Brazil.…
We expected, at most, faint hints that YouTube helped inch far-right Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency.

Instead, Bolsonaro allies and far-right lawmakers all told us YT put them in power. Far-right activists gratefully credited YT's algorithm with their "political awakening."
But the most shocking things we found went beyond politics. Everywhere we looked—and we looked so many places— YouTubers were leveraging the algorithm to sow misinfo and outrage. Schools in chaos, activist groups shuttered by threats, a lot of fear. Always began w a viral video.
This blew my mind: YouTube (and Google) divert users who search basic health terms to conspiracy videos that told them to fear vaccines & their doctors

Experts and fomer govt officials told us that "Dr. YouTube" is driving MULTIPLE public health crises, including Zika resurgence
YouTube's algorithm leveraged the Zika crisis to enormous gain, hooking in users desperate to understand the disease crippling their infant children. In Zika-afflicted areas, we found parent after parent virtually addicted to the platform — and served dangerous misinformation.
Our story also reveals two new studies on how YouTube shapes your reality, both exclusive, from @ufmg + @BKCHarvard

They independently confirm what many suspected: YouTube has been systematically diverting its millions of Br users toward far-right bloggers + conspiracy theories.
@ufmg @BKCHarvard The @ufmg @virgilioalmeida study found that, just as YouTube installed its new algorithm, pro-Bolsonaro channels saw their reach explode. And ***comments sitewide*** suddenly shifted in favor of Bolsonaro + Bolsonaro-promoted conspiracies. The platform was shaping user sentiment.
@ufmg @BKCHarvard @virgilioalmeida The @BKCHarvard study found YouTube's algorithm over & over redirecting users toward far-right and conspiracy videos.

Crucially, the algo is linking the channels together, creating an ecosystem where none had existed. Its pathways just happen to be ideal radicalization vectors.
@ufmg @BKCHarvard @virgilioalmeida It’s not about any political agenda at YouTube. Incremental extremism — the rabbit hole — is just what works. But it goes beyond indulging preexisting impulses. It trains users to have them. Much like the child sexualization ring we found during reporting:
@ufmg @BKCHarvard @virgilioalmeida We've spent two years reporting on the causes and consequences of online radicalization. Nothing disturbed me as much as this story, because it shows that we are all deeply vulnerable. Here's our @readercenter on how this fits into our other reporting:…
@ufmg @BKCHarvard @virgilioalmeida @readercenter Please watch @TheWeekly episode on FX / Hulu on this story. I love the written word but was blown away by the power of film, and of feeling like you're meeting some of the incredible people we met while reporting this. Please do watch:…
@ufmg @BKCHarvard @virgilioalmeida @readercenter @TheWeekly Any journalists or researchers interested in digging in to this further, please get in touch! Happy to share our findings, sources, etc. Our story covers maybe 5% of what we found, and I suspect even that barely scratches the surface. The more of us looking into this the better.

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More from @Max_Fisher

Apr 28
Two stories today highlight that authoritarianism doesn’t come with a tank rolling up to the capital anymore. It comes with a leader promising to do whatever it takes to control the dangerous minorities or radicals in our midst, to protect “us” from “them.”
In El Salvador, Bukele’s iron-fist crackdown on crime is winning grudging public support, even as he hollows out the judiciary and independent institutions. If they try to check his power, they must oppose the people’s will or support the criminals, right?…
Hungary’s initial turn toward authoritarianism looked, @zackbeauchamp shows, a lot like parts of America today: a patriotic leader pledging to “take back” social and cultural institutions from the radical minorities who’d corrupted them.…
Read 6 tweets
Mar 26
I would strongly urge people to wait for the context on Biden’s speech before repeating that he called for regime change in Russia, much less made this US policy. The nine-word quote being passed around does not, on its own, support this.
Maybe it will turn out that, in context, he did say this. But folks may be overinterpreting based on a very unusual stretch in 2011, when Obama said similar things to signal when the US was dropping support for MidEast leaders facing Arab Spring protests. Not really the same.
Unclear whether this was a case of lost context, a gaffe/misstatement, or a post-speech walkback. Maybe some combination.
Read 7 tweets
Feb 21
If Moscow stops at DNR/LNR recognition, even with a bloody invasion to 2014 borders, it’s very easy to imagine certain European capitals using that as an excuse to declare the worst averted and walk away from Biden’s full sanctions proposal. Might be part of the calculus.
Berlin was already signaling its fear of sanctions blowback, and it was always going to be a stretch for Scholz to sell German voters on economic self-sacrifice for the sake of Kyiv, much less Mariupol…
Barely a few hours since the DNR/LNR announcement and already big cracks emerging in European unity behind sanctions
Read 4 tweets
Mar 23, 2020
South Korea and Italy had near-concurrent outbreaks that initially followed a parallel, terrifying trajectory.

Mere weeks later, as Italy reports 793 deaths in one day, Korea has two. Some days it has *zero*.

Me and Choe Sang-Hun report how they did it:…
Two common misapprehensions about Korea:

1) That it prevented an outbreak. In fact, their success was subduing an epidemic already underway
2) That Korea relied on special magical technology. In truth, its methods and containment tools are not prohibitively complex or expensive.
What blows my mind about Korea’s coronavirus success:
• The speed of its turnaround. The numbers are staggering.
• The simplicity of its model. No futuristic gadgets fueled by unobtainium. No China-style mass lockdowns. It’s mostly political will, public will, and some planning
Read 4 tweets
Mar 20, 2020
I keep thinking about Lodi and Bergamo, two small cities in northern Italy both hit by coronavirus around Feb 23

Their infection rates looked identical for weeks, until, on March 8, Bergamo’s surged so rapidly that the military was later sent in to relieve overwhelmed morgues
What happened on March 8? Well, nothing. By then, both had similar policies in place, including social distancing.
The crucial moment was Feb 23, when the first cases appeared. Lodi immediately imposed social distancing interventions. Bergamo waited two weeks, until March 7.
Read 10 tweets
Jun 3, 2019
YouTube’s algorithm has been curating home movies of unwitting families into a catalog of semi-nude kids, we found.

YT often plays the videos after users watch softcore porn, building an audience of millions for what experts call child sexual exploitation…
Each video might appear innocent on its own, a home movie of a kid in a two-piece swimsuit or a nightie. But each has three common traits:
• the girl is mostly unclothed or briefly nude
• she is no older than age 8
• her video is being heavily promoted by YouTube’s algorithm
Any user who watched one kiddie video would be directed by YouTube's algorithm to dozens more — each selected out of millions of otherwise-obscure home movies by an incredibly sophisticated piece of software that YouTube calls an artificial intelligence. The families had no idea.
Read 16 tweets

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