300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. The Google service’s effort to implement its new ban on Nazi content ran afoul of the error rate of trying to cope with these impossible numbers.
The casualties included history teachers who had uploaded historical videos, activists documenting Neo-Nazi rallies, and people uploading Hitler meme videos from Downfall. Despite Google’s boasts about its algorithms, they’re no more accurate than the ones that flag any comment which mentions Hitler.
Algorithms are good at making positive recommendations, but despite a cottage industry of machine learning censorship that took off after Trump’s victory and the media’s fake news moral panic, they’re not any good at filtering out negative content. Deeper analysis can spot how an item is promoted, leading to claims of inauthentic activity and bot networks that now fill the news, but cannot pass judgement on the actual content. But despite that, the dot coms will keep on trying.
YouTube is especially motivated because unlike Facebook, it isn’t profitable. In 2015, the Wall Street Journal suggested that despite a billion users and $4 billion in revenues, it wasn’t making it money. Since then, Google has become more mysterious about the numbers resulting in some wrangling with the SEC. The service’s varying efforts to solicit a paid subscription model that would compete with Netflix and Prime have failed. YouTube Red only managed 1.5 million subscribers. Last fall, Premium’s originals went public. YouTube TV managed to gain 1 million subscribers. That’s less than half of Sling TV’s numbers.
Content moderation is expensive and ugly. The content that really needs to be moderated isn’t political, it’s violent and sexual, running the gamut from videos of bloody car crashes to pedophilia. The cheapest way to do content moderation is to outsource it to a third world country where the staff won’t have to be paid as much and where their therapy bills won’t show up in Silicon Valley. But you can’t expect a content moderator in the Philippines to understand the difference between a history lesson about Hitler and a video glorifying Nazi Germany, or a video documenting a hate rally and one celebrating it.
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