YouTube’s recommendation algorithms may steer young users to violent gun-related content, new research shows.
A study by the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit research group and big tech watchdog, shows YouTube frequently recommended videos about guns and gun violence to the accounts of young boys who had an interest in video games.
Researchers made accounts that simulated two nine-year-old boys who were fond of first-person shooter video games. One account watched the recommendations that YouTube provided, and the other ignored them. The accounts were otherwise identical.
The account that followed YouTube’s recommendations received more than ten times as many gun-related video recommendations: 382 in a single month.
Accounts simulating 14-year-old boys generated similar results.
The accounts were recommended videos that showed scenes depicting school shootings and other mass shootings; that showed graphic visuals of the damage guns can inflict; and that showed instructions for converting a semi-automatic weapon handgun to fire fully automatically.
The research shows some of the recommended videos violated YouTube’s own rules on violence and child safety.
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“Video games are one of the most popular activities for kids,” Tech Transparency Project director Katie Paul told The Associated Press. “You can play a game like “Call of Duty” without ending up at a gun shop — but YouTube is taking them there. It’s not the video games, it’s not the kids. It’s the algorithms.”
Officials at Google-owned YouTube have said the platform takes steps to protect young users on the platform. Users under the age of 18 have to get parental permission to start their accounts. Those under 13 — including the simulated 9-year-old viewers in this study — have to have theirs account linked to an age-verified parent’s account.
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