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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. nytimes.com/2019/08/11/wor…
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: nytimes.com/2019/08/11/rea…
@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: nytimes.com/2019/08/09/the…
@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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