YouTube and the Echo Chamber of Secrets

There has been a variety of talk around the topic of how big the impact of social media networks was on elections in recent history. Most of the focus was on the platforms Facebook and Twitter and what role they played in them especially when it came to the topic of ‘filter bubbles’ and ‘echo chambers’ on those websites. However, many of those discussions forgot about one big play when it comes to the life online which is YouTube.

The Google Home Page - Photo by: Caio Resende
The YouTube App on a smartphone- Photo taken from freestocks.org

Social media networks have become a huge part when it comes to how people find their news daily. For instance, research by the “Pew Research Centre” shows that around 65% of the adult citizens in the USA get some of their news via Facebook which a lot people do not like. In addition to people not liking that their feed is full of news stories every day, there are people like Eli Pariser who are actively warning of the effects this development might have on politics and society in general. In one of his ‘TED Talks’, he says that people getting their news from social media will become a big problem because at this moment of time the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see and not what we need to see. Thus, it is creating personal bubbles for each person separately which in his opinion will be hard to escape for people

“I’m already nostalgic for the days that social media was just a fun diversion.”

Andrew Wallenstein, Co-Editor-In-Chief of Variety Magazine

 

An example of the increase of personal bubbles online can be found in the increase in the number of news organizations who are currently working on their own personal news services. Some of the news organization in questions are the New York Times and the Washington Post who both are currently working on their own version of personalized news services for their customers. However, there is already one platform who can do something similar to that which is YouTube. The platform is able to do that by using the data it has gathered on its users while also employing a great team in data analytics who are able to make the most out of that data. One instance of this is the recommended videos feature on the platform who makes use that data.

There are a variety of people who believe that this data usage, however, might also create problems. Kenneth Boyd, for instance, argues that because of that there is a risk that people could end up watching the same content repeatedly on YouTube and thus live in their own echo chamber on the platform. In addition to that, he also says that this is not a problem when it comes to cute cat videos but that it might be an immense problem when it comes to the spreading of misinformation and fake news on the platform

To investigate the claims made by Boyd and Pariser concerning the risk of people ending up in their own echo chamber on things like YouTube. Therefore, this article will have a look at the network’s videos create when one has a look at their recommended videos, which can be done via the help of tools from the Digital Methods Institute. To do that, 3 different media sources from the USA, with different political stances, BuzzFeed News, NBC News, and Fox News,, were used who all released videos around the same topic, the impeachment hearings in 2019.

The network graph of the recommended videos for the Buzzfeed News video “Let's Hear It For The Whistleblower - Impeachment Today Podcast - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYBUtaPpqFc”
The network graph of the recommended videos for the Buzzfeed News video “Let’s Hear It For The Whistleblower – Impeachment Today Podcast – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYBUtaPpqFc”

First of all, the above graph shows the various categories of recommended videos YouTube gives it users when it looks up a video on the impeachment hearings on BuzzFeed News. The graph shows that most of the videos people get recommended are videos which deal with the topic of news and politics. However, when one combines this network of videos with the network of videos of FOX News and NBC News, as seen in the graph below, one can see that those videos for BuzzFeed News do not have any connection to the other outlets. Furthermore, when looking at the videos of the other two media outlets one can see that there is an overlap between them. There were four videos, three on the side of FOX News and one on the side of NBC News, which played prominent roles in the network of the other media outlet.

The combined graph of the recommended videos networks for the FOX News video “Tucker's big takeaways from the Trump impeachment saga - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSlX9m1iZ6M” and the NBC News video “Highlights: Fiona Hill And David Holmes’ Impeachment Hearing Testimony | NBC News - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kvx2cZefnUg”
The combined graph of the recommended videos networks for the FOX News video “Tucker’s big takeaways from the Trump impeachment saga – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSlX9m1iZ6M” and the NBC News video “Highlights: Fiona Hill And David Holmes’ Impeachment Hearing Testimony | NBC News – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kvx2cZefnUg”

As a consequence of that one can see that both graphs show interesting aspects of how YouTube is making use of its recommended video feature. Firstly, it shows that when people are looking for news, they tend to get news like seen in the case of BuzzFeed News. However, it also shows that there is strong chance that people who only watch BuzzFeed News might just stay in their own bubble because the YouTube algorithm does not recommend them videos from sites like NBC News or FOX News. Moreover, it is also striking to see that this might also be the case with FOX News viewer because even though the graph shows ties between FOX News and NBC News, the videos which tie them together are all videos from FOX News themselves and from no other sources.

“… good idea to consider what is not being shown to you.”

Kenneth Boyd

Because of things like the creation of bubbles as seen with BuzzFeed News and with FOX News, Kenneth Boyd is warning about the risks of relying too much on platforms like YouTube when it comes to gathering news. In his opinion, it is important to hear about an political argument from all sides of the aisle and it is clear that YouTube does not offer that when looking at its recommended video feature.

Nevertheless, it has to be said that, in the end, people cannot start putting blame on platforms like YouTube for not showing people a wider view of videos and creating personalized bubbles and echo chambers but that it is rather the job of each citizen on their own to try to seek out as many diverse sources as possible on political issues and not rely on YouTube or other platforms to do that for them.