YouTube’s recommendation algorithm doesn’t have the best track record. It’s been caught mixing up inappropriate videos featuring popular kid’s entertainment characters, pushing home videos of children to pedophiles, and even radicalizing youths toward extremist politics. Against that backdrop, the video platform announced it’s going to start giving users greater control over what content pops up on their homepage and Up Next videos.
On Tuesday, YouTube outlined three changes it plans on implementing over the coming days. First, users will be able to explore topics and related videos if they scroll up on the homepage and when browsing Up Next videos. So if you like ASMR, you might find a topic suggestion for ASMR videos. If you’re an aspiring baker, you might find a “baking” topic. If you’re a Nazi well, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. YouTube says the options are based on existing personalized suggestions, but may also be related to a video you’re currently watching, or similar videos published by that channel.
The second change is you’ll be able to remove suggestions for channels you have zero interest in watching by tapping the three-dot menu and selecting “Don’t recommend channel.” Most interesting is YouTube’s third change. Suggested videos will now feature a small box underneath, explaining why this video, in particular, is being suggested for you.
All these are welcome, if not overdue, changes. YouTube’s algorithm has been vilified for its not so great role in radicalizing youths by plunking them down extremist rabbit holes. For instance, if a child watches an innocuous Let’s Play, they may then get recommended an extremist influencer because others watching video game streams have clicked on it. In one particularly disturbing example, YouTube’s algorithm encouraged pedophiles to watch home videos of children and it’s come to light that pedophiles were using YouTube comment sections to organize their activities. Those obvious problems continue alongside the more inscrutible and deranged content that YouTube regularly serves up to kids. At least by giving users more control and increasing its level of transparency into how the system works, you have a say in what you—or other people using your account—get shown.
That said, the rollout of these features will be gradual and somewhat sporadic. Explore topics will be available for signed-in users in English on the Android YouTube app only. The remove channel feature, however, will be available globally on Android and iOS starting today. Meanwhile, only iOS users will be able to figure out why videos are being suggested to them today. YouTube says all the features will come to every platform—iOS, Android, and desktop—soon, but didn’t offer up an exact timeline.
This is ultimately a baby step in the right direction, though it’ll take a while to see if this has any impact in addressing YouTube’s radicalization problem. But on the bright side, at least now you may not be haunted by extremist videos if you just happen to watch one out of morbid curiosity.