The report concerned the alleged manual intervention resulting in changes to YouTube’s search results via a blacklist that serves to employ an alternative algorithm. The goal of the effort is said to be preventing pro-conservative and anti-liberal leaning videos from ranking highly in the search results.
In a tweet on Wednesday Wacker, until recently a Google employee, confirmed the claims made in the article and directed readers towards a Medium post he penned earlier explaining the problem in detail.
If you want the backstory of how I uncovered it, you can read this Medium post I wrote about Google's manual interventions in search results.https://t.co/Gsmdw6nfs2
In the post, Wacker notes that Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the US Congress that no manual tweaking of the search algorithm was taking place and that instead, the results were unbiased and based on as many as 200 algorithmic signals.
But Wacker writes about a special file, “youtube_controversial_query_blacklist” that could be manually manipulated to switch the normal algorithm to an alternative version, which then produces what are effectively censored results that downrank politically “sensitive” topics.
Breitbart writes there are two reported instances when the blacklist of unwanted search terms was used, both triggered by journalists from left-leaning media outlets – Slate and MSNBC – who complained about content surfaced as top search results on YouTube.
One concerned the Irish abortion referendum, and other videos critical of the US Federal Reserves.
The latter case was the one reported by Breitbart earlier in the week, and now Wacker specified that the relevant blacklist entries were added on September 7, 2018.
That would be just one day after MSNBC’s Chris Hayes complained about YouTube search producing results critical of the Fed – which suggests Google was very quick to appease the journalist – and in turn, suggesting the giant’s political bias.
A YouTube representative on Wednesday told Breitbart search results are tweaked to keep down spam and conspiracies, and also, allow “authoritative” content to rise to the top. However, all this is done algorithmically, the spokesperson said.
In his original Medium post, Wacker touched on the poorly explained “authoritative” part of the argument, to write:
“Of course, the million-dollar question is exactly what an ‘authoritative’ source is. Who wins or loses with these alternative search results, and how does Google decide when to use them? For example, does this change favor mainstream sources such as CNN while disfavoring grassroots sources such as Live Action?”