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Firefox Extension to Help Uncover How Users Are Directed to Harmful YouTube Videos

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YouTube users are being called on to use a browser extension to help uncover how the site’s algorithm can lead people down the path of radicalisation.

Mozilla, the non-profit which produces the popular Firefox web browser, has created a new ‘RegretsReporter’ extension. The extension will allow YouTube viewers to record and submit information about harmful content served up by the site’s algorithm. This includes the series of videos they watched in order for the harmful content to be recommended to them in the first place.

Mozilla’s head of engagement and advocacy, Ashley Boyd, said: “For years, people have raised the alarm about YouTube recommending conspiracy theories, misinformation, and other harmful content.

“One of YouTube’s most consistent responses is to say that they are making progress on this and have reduced harmful recommendations by 70%. But there is no way to verify those claims or understand where YouTube still has work to do.

“That’s why we’re recruiting YouTube users to become YouTube watchdogs. People can donate their own recommendation data to help us understand what YouTube is recommending, and help us gain insight into how to make recommendation engines at large more trustworthy.”

Outside of the company, the inner workings of YouTube’s algorithm are not fully understood. In a report published over two years ago, the Guardian exposed how the algorithm served ‘dangerously skewed’ video recommendations. Since the report, YouTube’s viewers have continued to express shock and distress over the harmful content they have been recommended by the site.

“More than 70% of all videos viewed on YouTube are suggested by the site’s recommendation engine,” said Mozilla. “But even the basics of how it works are poorly detailed. The organisation says it wants to research the answers to questions like what type of recommended videos lead to racist, violent, or conspiratorial content, and whether there are specific YouTube usage patterns that lead to harmful content being recommended. The company says it will share findings from the research in an open-source fashion.”

There is a lot riding on the new extension for Mozilla. The company earns the bulk of its revenue from Google, by setting Google Search as the default search engine on their browser. Despite trying to set up alternate revenue streams, 70 members of staff had to be laid off earlier this year due to lack of funds.

Harry Pererra
Harry Pererra

Harry turns on his experience in journalism and programming to write about the latest news in the world of tech and the environemtn. When he isn’t writing for usave he is working towards his Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and prefers dogs to cats.

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