If you searched for "Brie Larson" on YouTube a couple of days ago, the main search results were called for a boycott of Captain Marvel and furious comments about Larson's participation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With a small change, YouTube made all that disappear.
This week, YouTube recategorized "Brie Larson" as a search term worthy of news. That does a very important job: it makes the search algorithm come to the surface of videos from authoritative sources on a topic. Instead of videos from individual creators, YouTube responds with videos from Entertainment Tonight, ABC CBS CNN and other news outlets first
The Algorithmic News Tool was released for the first time in October 2017, after massive criticism of how the YouTube search favored conspiracy videos about the real news after a mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival. The change of the algorithmic search that comes from labeling an event as news can be seen below.
This is a fascinating discovery: YouTube seems to have changed the immediate search results of "Brie Larson" to News. That pushes authoritative sources and, in turn, pushes trolls or MRA-style videos far enough from the page. This is what it was compared to now. pic.twitter.com/ifw9JjXQie
– julia alexander (@loudmouthjulia) March 7, 2019
Many of the answers seen in the first image of the previous tweet are not news, but fall under comments or criticism in response to Larson's request for more diverse journalists in the press forums. The trolls started using sites like Twitter and YouTube to campaign against Larson and Captain Marvel . The campaign even led Rotten Tomatoes to institute a new anti-revision bombing measure to deal with the cavalcade of angry people trying to topple the Captain Marvel page before its launch.
A YouTube spokesperson declined to comment when a certain issue, such as Brie Larson's against Captain Marvel is delegated as news. But The Verge confirmed that this is part of YouTube's ongoing campaign to ensure that when people use YouTube as a way to search for news about a topic, the company relies on authoritative sources in the first place.
The remarkable change in the answers speaks of an even bigger conversation about the YouTube search algorithm: if this is a way of prioritizing the highest quality videos when people are looking for a topic, could it also be used to topics not related to the news?
Some creators see it as a problem if YouTube prefers videos from approved news media instead of individuals. On Twitter, some critics and creators called it YouTube censorship, while others praised the site for taking some kind of action. YouTube has millions of creators on the platform who struggle to see their videos; If the traditional media are shown favoritism, it is a cultural change that will see an immense response from a large part of the creative community.