I was just trying to sleep.
Unlike Netflix with its hated “are you still watching” (yes, yes I am) popover, YouTube’s autoplay function will theoretically play forever, making it something of a godsend for the chronically overstimulated trying to get some shuteye. Last night, I decided to give it a try, wondering what video I’d wake up to after the site’s suggestion algorithm ran amok for several hours.
Around 3am—still awake—I heard German and there was a picture of Hitler on my screen. (Yes, even algorithms seem to follow Godwin’s law.) “Please, please don’t be pro-Nazi propaganda,” I thought, running the title “Mysteriöse Bauten - Im Schatten der Alpen - Doku 2016 (NEU *HD*)” through Chrome’s translate function. Luckily, the video in question was a documentary: “Mysterious Buildings - In the Shadow of the Alps.”
But as autoplay continued to run, something strange happened. Every video was also titled “Mysterious Buildings - In the Shadow of the Alps,” uploaded by dozens of different channels. And subscriber counts looked... weird. The number of likes on this glut of “Mysterious Buildings” videos climbed until it well surpassed the number of people on Earth. Were German documentary channels using bots to upvote their videos? Was autoplay stuck in a loop at the end of its suggestions?
The problem is actually an easily-replicable bug caused by Chrome’s translation function, resulting in some cosmetic aberrations on YouTube—and it appears to work on any video. Here’s how it’s performed:
- Start any YouTube video in Chrome and right-click. Select “Translate” from the dropdown menu. English to English works but it appears to cause more severe issues when translate works harder, so start with a non-English title or ask it to turn English into another language.
- Play any other video. Clicking something from the sidebar is fastest but this bug will affect searched content as well—so long as it’s within the same tab. Whatever the translated title of that first video was, so it shall remain for every other video viewed in that tab.
- The thumbnail images of and links to suggested videos will change, but video titles and channel names will display incorrectly.
- The more videos watched within the tab, the worse things get. Subscriber counts will sometimes display alongside one another (e.g. SUBSCRIBE 325K 40K 523) and like/dislike counts appear to compound as well.
- Eventually, the subscribe button and like/dislike counts will become so large they’ll run into the right rail and off-screen.
As far as we can tell, this bug is purely an aesthetic concern, but a bizarre one at that—especially because Alphabet owns both Chrome and YouTube and would seemingly have done a fair bit of testing to make sure the features of both products would play nicely with one another.
Does it any present imminent security risks? Probably not. What it amounts to is a fun bug to goof off with if you want to temporarily ruin the layout of the second-biggest website on earth.