YouTube algorithms serve up violent gun-related content to kids playing video games: study

·2 min read

Impressionable young boys playing video games on YouTube are fed algorithmic recommendations featuring graphic gun violence that include everything from instructions on amping up firepower to movie clips depicting school shootings, a recent study found.

However, the boys in the study were not actually children. They were researchers at the nonprofit Tech Transparency Project who set up four YouTube accounts — two mimicking the preferences of 9-year-old boys, and two of 14-year-old boys. The researchers watched gaming videos from a playlist to program the algorithms to the fictional subjects’ preferences.

One set of “boys” of each age clicked on YouTube’s recommendations, while the other two did not. Those who did were inundated with graphic videos ranging from a schoolgirl wielding a handgun to a film about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. There were scenes of school shootings taken from TV shows and movies, and a video that demonstrated the effect of a .50-caliber gun firing on the head of a true-to-life dummy.

The recommendations are at the very least traumatic, and at worst a path to extremism and violence, said researchers at the Tech Transparency Project, which analyzes social media and published their latest findings on Tuesday.

“Video games are one of the most popular activities for kids. You can play a game like ‘Call of Duty’ without ending up at a gun shop — but YouTube is taking them there,” said project director Katie Paul. “It’s not the video games, it’s not the kids. It’s the algorithms.”

The account mimicking the 9-year-old boy who clicked on YouTube’s recommendations received 382 different gun-related videos in one month — about a dozen per day. The 9-year-old who did not watch YouTube’s recommendations was served just 34 such videos. The 14-year-old accounts got similar results.

The YouTube recommendations for the boys were startlingly similar to those created and followed by mass shooters, the research group said. While YouTube has removed some of the videos they found, many others about suicide, guns, violence and drugs are readily available — and served up as recommendations.

YouTube did not immediately comment on Tuesday. The Google-owned platform’s leaders have vowed to identify and remove harmful content, and the platform requires users under age 17 to have parental permission to use the site. Anyone younger than 13 must be linked to a parent’s account.

With News Wire Services