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YouTube fought Brie Larson trolls by changing its search algorithm

YouTube fought Brie Larson trolls by changing its search algorithm


How a simple ‘news’ tag can change everything

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Marvel Studios ‘Captain Marvel’ Premiere - Red Carpet
Amy Sussman/Getty Images

If you searched “Brie Larson” on YouTube a couple of days ago, the top search results were calls for a boycott of Captain Marvel, and angry rants about Larson’s involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With one small change, YouTube made all of that disappear.

This week, YouTube recategorized “Brie Larson” as a news-worthy search term. That does one very important job: it makes the search algorithm surface videos from authoritative sources on a subject. 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 first rolled out in October 2017, following mass criticism over how YouTube’s search favored conspiracy videos over actual news after a mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival. The change from the algorithmic search that comes from labeling an event as news can be seen below.

Many of the responses seen in the first image in the tweet above aren’t news, but they fall under commentary or criticism in response to Larson calling for more diverse journalists at press junkets. 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-review bombing measure to deal with the cavalcade of angry people trying to tear down Captain Marvel’s page before its release.

A YouTube spokesperson declined to comment on when a certain topic — like Brie Larson versus Captain Marvel — is designated as news. But The Verge confirmed this is part of YouTube’s ongoing campaign to ensure that when people use YouTube as a way of looking for news on a topic, the company relies on authoritative sources first and foremost.

The noticeable shift in responses speaks to an even bigger conversation about YouTube’s search algorithm: if this is a way to prioritize higher-quality videos when people are searching for a topic, could this be used for non-news topics, too?

Some creators see it as a problem if YouTube favors videos from approved news outlets instead of individuals. On Twitter, some critics and creators called it censorship from YouTube, while others commended the site for taking some kind of action. YouTube has millions of creators on the platform who are fighting to get their videos seen; if traditional news outlets are shown favoritism, it’s a cultural shift that will see immense backlash from a large portion of the creator community.