YouTube algorithm promotes fake news on Florida shooting

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 23 February 2018

YouTube’s has unwittingly promoted conspiracy theory videos claiming that survivors of last week’s Florida school shooting are “crisis actors”, raising further concerns about the platform's ability to prevent fake news and misinformation from spreading.

Many of YouTube's top search results for real life high school student survivor David Hogg were found to be videos by alternative news channels that mischievously suggested he was an actor hired by gun control advocates to push an anti-gun agenda. One clip briefly became YouTube’s No 1 trending video on Wednesday.

YouTube later removed the video for violating its policy on harassment and bullying; the platform doesn’t have a specific policy for dealing with misinformation.

YouTube said in a statement: "This video should never have appeared in Trending. Because the video contained footage from an authoritative news source, our system misclassified it. As soon as we became aware of the video, we removed it from Trending and from YouTube for violating our policies. We are working to improve our systems moving forward."

Similar videos and links also flooded Facebook and Google on Wednesday, some attracting tens of thousands of shares. It is unclear if advertising was running next to the harmful content.

Facebook and Google searches for "crisis actor" or the student's name, "David Hogg," return a mix of links. Some are legitimate news sources citing Hogg's denial of the claim and some are spreading the false report.

A search for Hogg's name on YouTube today shows several clips of him denying the conspiracy allegations.

The incident is the latest example of social media companies inability to police fake news on their platforms and raise further concerns about whether user-generated platforms are same environments for brands to advertise. 

While Facebook and Google have put in new measures to stop the spread of fake news, the tech companies are still unable to prevent the spread of misinformation despite an avalanche of criticism they've been hit with since the 2016 election and YouTube's now infamous brand safety saga last year.

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