How do I get YouTube to stop recommending alt-right videos?
February 16, 2022 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm not sure what I watched which set them off, but lately YouTube has started recommending Jordan Peterson videos to me. How do I get them to stop?

Mostly I watch videos about Minecraft, Skyrim, and Stardew Valley, with occasional forays into TaskMaster and/or Craig Ferguson clips. Over the last few weeks, YouTube has started recommending Jordan Peterson clips/"debates"/etc.

I'm not interested in what Peterson has to say, and I've even unsubscribed from, then blocked, one of the Minecrafters' channels after someone in one of their videos made a positive remark about Joe Rogan which the host was apparently in agreement with.

Is there some secret "YouTube thinks you're interested in" area like Facebook has (or had)? (Facebook's was famously terrible [and might still be, I don't know; I deleted my account there years ago]; the Venn diagram of who Facebook thought I was and who I actually am was very nearly an infinity symbol.) Or is my best option here just to keep blocking channels when they show up in the suggestions?
posted by johnofjack to Technology (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
clicking the 3 vertical dots next to the video preview and selecting "not interested" and never, ever, clicking the video itself or letting it auto-play with the closed-captions on seems to be as good as it gets
posted by Dr. Twist at 1:24 PM on February 16, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: You can also simply delete your entire search/watch history, but that's going to require you to "re-seed" it by watching videos that you like in order to improve its recommendations.
posted by meowzilla at 1:32 PM on February 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

I like it when they recommend those videos because then I get to block that channel, and that hurts their stats and makes them less profitable for YouTube to carry.
posted by jamjam at 1:34 PM on February 16, 2022 [30 favorites]

I have tried the "don't recommend channel" trick to no avail, fwiw.
posted by adamrice at 1:37 PM on February 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've told Google/YouTube to just stop paying attention to my watch history. This means that I usually only get recommendations based on the channels I've subscribed to rather than videos I've watched, which seems (so far) to mean less crap in my recommendations. It does mean that you might not see things you may actually be interested in, but IMO it's worth it to keep Google one step back.
posted by fight or flight at 1:49 PM on February 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

I also have an uptick in this content and I think the ultimate answer is that Google and YouTube love fascist content and are pointedly trying to get you to watch it. I don't think there's a trick, but I have stopped "don't recommend" and gone straight to reporting it as hate content.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:37 PM on February 16, 2022 [23 favorites]

OMG I am having the same problem. It appears to be Jordan Peterson specifically for me, and I can't possibly understand why. It seems...deliberate. Like whoever is writing the algorithm has a hard-on for JP and is certain it's the content we all need.
posted by SinAesthetic at 3:09 PM on February 16, 2022 [5 favorites]

There's always the nuclear solution of creating a brand new youtube account and re-subbing to your channels. It probably doesn't hurt to log out of the old one as well so never the two shall meet.
posted by cgg at 4:06 PM on February 16, 2022

Mostly I watch videos about Minecraft, Skyrim, and Stardew Valley...

You watch gaming videos. Gaming culture, unfortunately, is heavily polluted with right-wing asshats. I suspect the algorithm is going “oh, hey, johnofjack likes gaming! These other game fans love Jordan Peterson. Johnofjack’s gonna love him, too!”

That, or JP has made a big promotion buy on YouTube.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:35 PM on February 16, 2022 [14 favorites]

I have had decent success with "don't recommend channel" but maybe it depends on what else you watch.
posted by juv3nal at 5:58 PM on February 16, 2022

Oh something occurs to me which might be relevant: I do subscribe to 267 channels. Recommendations often come from channels to which I'm already subscribed so that may have something to do with it.
posted by juv3nal at 6:00 PM on February 16, 2022

Response by poster: Well, this gives me some options to work with. I'll try a few and post back about the results (probably in a week or so, just to try to make sure if particular suggestions do/don't have the desired effect).
posted by johnofjack at 6:18 PM on February 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

I found that hitting “don’t recommend channel” really judiciously and preemptively on any thumbnail that looks vaguely asshattish over a period of a week or so did the trick for me.
I get no recs for JP, Rogan, or any “soandso DESTROYS feminist/leftist/etc” videos, and mostly only have to hit “don’t recommend channel” on anything new that comes up maybe a couple times a month now.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:21 PM on February 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

You can also simply delete your entire search/watch history

I've done this, just don't have YouTube keep track of what I watch and my recommendations are a lot more based on what I am watching RIGHT THEN and also who I am subscribed to. I subscribe to maybe a few dozen channels. The downsides are it doesn't remember what I am watching if I don't, so I try to add anything I want to see again to any of a dozen playlists. I also have to miss out on content it might think I might like but... I'm not that into the algo. So if I'm watching a bunch of 80s hair band videos the sidebar will show me other hair band videos but won't remember that I went on an 80s hair band video binge which is probably just as well. I just checked, the worst content I have is some ultimate fighter stuff, no alt-right content.
posted by jessamyn at 8:34 PM on February 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Another thing you could try that I don’t see mentioned yet is to seek out forward thinking voices that you might like. Look for women of colour, queer, less able bodied, or anybody non-white-male-straight to follow. There are a lot of amazing people on YouTube. Your options aren’t limited to Watch Jordan Peterson or find ways to block Jordan Peterson!
posted by iamkimiam at 11:07 PM on February 16, 2022 [7 favorites]

Sadly this is a very well documented "feature" of youtube. There are many, many magazine and newspaper articles about how the alt-right content magically shows up in people's recommended videos. Here's one 2018 Guardian article with a flowchart showing connections that lead to alt-right content.

I seem to remember seeing a chart that looks like the ones in this study on youtube radicalization (← PDF) that included things like minecraft and counterstrike videos leading to Joe Rogan leading to Jordan Peterson, leading to worse, but can't find it at the moment.

The NYT had an excellent podcast called Rabbit Hole about how the youtube algorithm radicalized one person, and how they got out of it. I think I first encountered the main person's story here on the blue, but I can't find it at the moment.

Here's another FPP from 2021 on the phenomenon, as well, and it is also touches on escaping that algorithm.
posted by msbrauer at 6:44 AM on February 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: "Don't recommend channel" seems to be Google-ese for "let's play a game of whack-a-mole."

[at lunch]
12:05: YouTube: "Hey, did you know this Jordan Peterson guy has opinions?"
Me: "Don't recommend channel."
12:45: YouTube: "Hey, did you know this Jordan Peterson guy has opinions?"
Me: "Don't recommend channel."
[on break]
13:05: YouTube: "Hey, did you know this Jordan Peterson guy has opinions?"
Me: "Don't recommend channel."
[at home]
17:45: YouTube: "Hey, did you know this Jordan Peterson guy has opinions?"
Me: "Google, if I live to 712 I will still never GAF what Jordan Peterson thinks."

YouTube may or may not be assuming that videogamers skew right, but even if they are, I feel like that's probably an assumption which is 20-40 years out of date (probably when they came out you could assume something about the relative wealth of families who had just bought a TRS-80 or an Atari 2600--it required a certain amount of disposable income--and maybe from there you could have a decent chance of inferring politics without any additional information, but I doubt it, and those days are long gone, anyway. At this point, most people in industrialized nations have a computer and/or cell phone, which means an excellent chance of videogames). Assuming politics based on "plays videogames" is basically like assuming politics based on "eats bread."

I think next I'll seek out avowedly progressive videogamer channels, in hopes of unpoisoning the well. We'll see--
posted by johnofjack at 3:17 PM on February 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

As several folks have replied, this is a thing that YouTube does. The most benign possible explaination is that alt-right suggestions are the suggestions most likely to lead to more engagement so they push them hard. I think that's part of it, but this something YouTube actively does. Set up a new account on a new device, watch exclusively lefty shit and then see suggestions and ads for Prager U and worse come rolling in.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:00 AM on February 18, 2022

Response by poster: My point is that one of the mechanisms they've devised which is supposedly meant to address this sort of thing clearly doesn't work (and, on a bit of thought, even that doesn't do all it should; why can we block channels but not uploaders, when uploaders can have multiple channels?)

Next I tried "Not interested" instead. It had about all the effect I'd expect: this morning I was recommended a video by someone explaining why he's not a white supremacist ("Not interested") (I literally cannot imagine a video with that thesis being both genuine and thoughtful), then YouTube decided I must be interested in Black reactionaries and suggested some Dave Chappelle videos ("Not interested"), then this evening it wanted to remind me again that Jordan Peterson exists. At that point I decided to stop engaging with it in good faith, skipped the strategic subscriptions to other channels, and took meowzilla, fight or flight, and jessamyn's suggestions above about nuking/not keeping the watch history.

Alphabet is one of the most profitable companies on the planet, with probably some of the smartest workers on the planet, and YouTube is probably the biggest collection of video clips on the planet, and this is the best they can do with all that? I mean....
posted by johnofjack at 2:43 PM on February 18, 2022

Response by poster: One final update: My phone and my desktop browsers are not always making the same recommendations, even though they are logged in as the same user; and Chrome on Android makes different recommendations than the YouTube app on Android. Apparently after I cleared the watch history in all the browsers the YouTube app had still somehow kept it, and I had to go to that exact same link to do the thing I had already done, again. (I doubt this was a caching issue; the YouTube app was still trying to interest me in Jordan Peterson for days, through at least one hard reboot, and sometimes does even now.)

After repeatedly clearing the watch history and giving my subscriptions a hard look, both Chrome and the YouTube app decided I must be interested in NFL, ballistics, and golf. I am not interested in NFL, ballistics, or golf. It also decided I must be interested in conspiracy theories: flat-earther videos and one about the center of the earth supposedly being hollow and having some secret society at the center. Oh, and Nazi history, including some "genius or madman?" video which just JFC the world doesn't need that video. (I wish I were making this up. I am not making this up.)

After a few days I thought maybe I had figured out YouTube's NFL fetish--I must have liked Prince's halftime show, right? Or maybe Beyonce's? Wrong, and wrong.

After I blocked another two and a half million channels, it stopped recommending ballistics and golf, but still tries occasionally to interest me in Nazi history, conspiracy theories, and the NFL (and, if I'm in the YouTube app, every now and then it reminds me that Jordan Peterson said a thing).

Really at this point I have to agree it's not a me problem, it's a YouTube problem. I think it's just broken by design.

... Except it's also a me problem, because clearly I am killing time on YouTube way too much.

At any rate, thanks for the suggestions.
posted by johnofjack at 6:16 PM on February 28, 2022

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