YouTube hints its next “misinformation” crackdown will curb videos that get referral traffic from other sites

The video-sharing platform suggested that changes would be coming as part of its "ongoing improvements."

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Throughout 2020, YouTube has aggressively censored independent creators by implementing far-reaching rules that prohibit content that questions or challenges the mainstream perspective on many newsworthy topics and boosting so-called “authoritative” mainstream media outlets in search and recommendations.

Yet in a recent update, the video-sharing platform hinted that it plans to introduce further restrictions that target videos that have lots of views because of referral traffic from other sites.

In the update, YouTube discussed how its algorithm tweaks had resulted in mainstream media sources dominating YouTube search and recommendations and wrote:

“Despite these encouraging results, we recognize there’s always more to do. For example, while problematic misinformation represents a fraction of 1% of what’s watched on YouTube in the U.S., we know we can bring that number down even more. And some videos, while not recommended prominently on YouTube, continue to get high views, sometimes coming from other sites. We’re continuing to consider this and other new challenges as we make ongoing improvements.”

While the paragraph is vague and doesn’t detail how YouTube plans to suppress “problematic misinformation” that’s getting lots of off-site referral traffic, the measures YouTube and other Big Tech sites have previously used against viral videos and specific domains provide some insight into the approaches YouTube could take.

Age-gating videos that are getting lots of referral traffic from other sites, blocking referral traffic to videos from specific links, or showing warning screens to users that attempt to view a video via referral links are all potential tactics that could be used to restrict off-site traffic to popular videos.

YouTube already age-gates some of its videos while Facebook blocks its users from sharing or posting certain links and Twitter displays warning screens when its users attempt to visit certain sites.

The increased use of these tactics by Big Tech platforms throughout 2020 suggests that they are effective at throttling popular videos and referral traffic.

YouTube’s hint about these further restrictions follows a year of unprecedented restrictions that have made it almost for independent creators to get their content seen in YouTube search and recommendations.

Countless videos offering an alternative perspective on topics such as the 2020 US presidential election and the coronavirus, two of the year’s biggest news stories, have been censored under YouTube’s far-reaching rules.

Even when content from independent creators isn’t removed, it’s often heavily suppressed in YouTube search and recommendations with content from mainstream media outlets boosted instead.

The restrictions are now so extreme that independent creators are 20x less likely to top the search results for coronavirus-related topics, 14x less likely to be recommended on election-related content, and 10x times less likely to top the search results for some newsworthy events.

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