Media: Angry advertisers will never fix YouTube
“YouTube is under fire again,” said Richard Nieva in CNET.com. Last week, a video blogger named Matt Watson detailed how pedophiles can enter a “wormhole” of YouTube videos to see “footage of children in sexually suggestive positions.” They can then jump from video to video, helped by YouTube’s recommendation engine, and fill them with lewd comments. Brands such as Disney, AT&T, and Epic Games pulled their ads from YouTube, and the company responded by banning more than 400 accounts. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time that Google-owned YouTube has had this kind of child-safety flare-up. In 2017 alone, disturbing knockoffs appeared on the YouTube Kids platform that depicted Disney and Marvel characters in troubling ways; then sexually explicit comments appeared under videos of kids’ gymnastics. “In response to those scandals, CEO Susan Wojcicki overhauled YouTube’s safety guidelines.” Yet two years later, the same problems keep cropping up.
It’s not just the comments that are problematic for YouTube, said Kevin Roose in The New York Times. The platform “has been reckoning with the vast troves of misinformation and extreme content” it harbors, such as conspiracy videos and hoaxes that are popular with millions of viewers. Here, again, the recommendation engine is part of the problem: It sends viewers of misinformation to similar videos with more misinformation. “Conspiracy theories and viral hoaxes top the list” of recommendations for viewers of many popular channels. Young people repeatedly battered by these recommendations often start to reject mainstream sources. To fix this, YouTube needs to recognize “how deep these problems run and realize that any successful effort may look less like a simple algorithm tweak, and more like deprogramming a generation.”
That won’t happen, because if history is any guide, the advertisers will be back soon enough, said Jillian D’Onfro in Forbes. AT&T, for instance, took a two-year hiatus when its ads were found on videos featuring hate speech and violence. It came back in January, left in February, and will probably come back again. Advertisers make a show of yanking their budgets “only to return to the world’s largest video platform once the outrage over exploitive behavior dies down.” For marketers, “this is just the latest in a long line of supposed brand-safety crises,” said Shareen Pathak and Jack Marshall in Digiday.com. A few big brands have paused their ads, but of 100 media buyers polled by Digiday, only 14 thought this would be anything but a temporary lull. Advertisers just can’t match YouTube’s performance in making sales. Says one industry exec: “They give you the views, they give you the conversions.” YouTube might be risky for brands, “but it works.” ■