Why It Matters That YouTube Changed Its Verification System

Under the new system, YouTube maintains that verification is still not an endorsement of content but simply a reflection of notoriety and the strength of a brand, which is the squishiest bit of squishy subjectivity. After some mild badgering, YouTube clarified that the determination of “prominence,” like everything else on the platform, will be made by a combination of humans and algorithms. (“It’s a really interesting word choice, picking ‘prominence’ over ‘popularity'” says Brooke Erin Duffy, who researches social media and the online gig economy at Cornell University. “It has a moral quality.”) By way of example, YouTube repeatedly offered up Bon Appétit magazine’s channel, which in their estimation is more prominent than the scores of other food channels across many cultures and languages that use the phrase “bon appétit” as part of their branding.

So, what is the point of all this mess? When asked if they hoped this new approach to verification would curb the spread of the extremist, hateful, or conspiracy theorist content on the platform, YouTube ignored the question. Still, it seems to many like another part of the company’s efforts to clean up their video recommendations by heavily promoting well-known “authoritative” creators. YouTube does not take responsibility for the content published on its platform. De-verifying just about everyone reduces the likelihood of a viewer stumbling on somebody peddling propaganda and thinking that that information has been vetted by YouTube.

It’s not clear whether that will really work, since saying that their new system is un-gameable is kind of like saying the untested Titanic was unsinkable. Besides, verification is a tricky incentive. When you limit verification, you increase its power. “Fake news from verified users can spread faster in a larger scale and have a greater influence,” says Shuting Wang, who researches social media and verification at Baruch College. “Even if the verification policy does increase verified users’ costs of creating fake content, are the costs increased enough to cover the increased benefit of creating fake news?” If cutting down the number of verified accounts will help YouTube focus on combating fraud, Wang thinks it could be a positive step—but it all depends on implementation and enforcement.

Of course, there are other potential reasons for the policy change besides YouTube insulating itself from charges of peddling hate. “They’re strategically framing this as a way to protect users or ensure the authenticity and purity of the site. It’s all very fluffy and soft and comforting terms,” Duffy says. “They’re essentially thinly veiled efforts to hide their profit-making aims.” Duffy thinks changing up verification is likely to be yet another attempt to appease advertisers, creating another walled garden for creators and brands deemed safe and friendly.

For creators, the move is just another example of a giant corporation forcing its whims and experiments on their work—like Instagram deciding to hide likes and plunging the influencer economy into existential terror, or YouTube implementing a “family friendly” filter that hid even the most innocent LGBTQ+ content. To a certain extent, twas ever thus: “Cultural workers have always been beholden to rankings and ratings. If you work in TV, you have to pay attention to what Nielsen is doing, and learn how to play their game,” says Duffy.

Online, the imbalances of that dynamic are intensified because changes happen more often and much more quickly, and because online creators don’t work within traditional company structures that might empower or shelter them. “Content creators are stuck investing time and energy and sometimes money in learning how to work these platforms, and then they change overnight,” Duffy says. “It’s a really amplified level of precarity, and it’s their livelihood.”

Decisions like changing the verification system will only further entrench the lopsided status quo: YouTube accumulates more power, and bestows it on a small, handpicked group of influential creators who already occupy the highest echelons of the platform’s algorithmic and advertising preferences. “For smaller YouTubers, this just creates another barrier to visibility,” Duffy says. “And hence, income.” The rich and verified will get richer; the up-and-coming, more desperate. Creators are out there on their own—tiny, individual digital citizens trying to stare down Google.

social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/youtube-verification-system