The New York Times article “YouTube Unleashed a Conspiracy Theory Boom. Can It Be Contained?” focuses on YouTuber Shawn Dawson, who accrued a fanbase of teenagers by understanding what kind of content they would like to see. In recent years, the content desired by viewers revolved around any and all conspiracy theories from the staging of the moon landing to Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants recycling uneaten pizza and serving them as new slices. However, YouTube is now vowing to clean up the site by removing misinformation that may lead to real-world harm. The video-sharing platform changed its algorithm to reduce content that can “misinform users.”
Now, who is to say what is considered “harmful?” There is no reason that a conspiracy theory video on 9/11 should be considered more dangerous than one of Big Foot or a mermaid. This is an attempt by YouTube and parent organization, Google, to censor what the general public is able to see. The search engine and other social media platforms have begun to change the way they handle search results for breaking news stories so that preferred sources are given priority.
If Google were not the World’s biggest purveyor of information then maybe their actions might have gone under the radar. However, their selective access to information about a news item, political candidate or business, can skew an individual’s way of thinking.
Google indexes more than 45 billion web page. Its next-biggest competitor, Microsoft’s Bing, indexes a mere 14 billion, which explains why many prefer the latter. In 2014, a Florida company called e-Ventures Worldwide filed a lawsuit against Google for “completely removing almost every website” associated with the company from its search rankings. Because online censorship is entirely unregulated at the moment, victims have little or no recourse when they have been harmed.