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YouTube is under fire for again perpetuating conspiracy theories. Motherboard reports that conspiracy vloggers are rigging the search algorithm on the platform and the auto-fill responses for their videos are coming up this week. These include “conspiracy 2018,” “agenda 21,” “laser beam,” “lasers,” and “directed energy weapon.”
As of Friday, many of the conspiracy-linking auto-fills no longer show up on YouTube when searching for “california wildfire” and “california fire.”
The videos themselves appear based on fabricated and manipulated images that are taken out of context to back the outlandish claims. Claims that laser beams caused the wildfire and that houses were specifically targeted have been popular conspiracies.
According to a Pew Research survey, 38 percent of adults use YouTube as a source of news while 53 percent consider the site as an integral part in helping them understand current events. With these insights, YouTube said that it’s doing efforts to curb fake news and misinformation, writing this year in a blog: “Over the last year we’ve worked to better surface credible news sources across our site for people searching for news-related topics.” In March YouTube began to display Wikipedia articles within conspiracy videos.
But as BBC technology correspondent Rory Jones points out on his analysis, “Google is constantly tweaking its search algorithm to make sure it produces better results, but it is facing an army of opponents determined to skew it in a different direction for commercial or malicious purposes.”
The California wildfires that began this month have left 84 dead and more than 800 missing.
Julie Ann Nealega is a multimedia journalist based in Manila, Philippines. She is a trained investigative reporter with extensive experience in the field as a segment producer and researcher. She’s produced multiple award-winning investigative documentaries with ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs. She's a co-founder of Postcards From Disasters, a social media-driven campaign fighting for the human rights of disaster victims. She's also managing a Philippine organ donation advocacy platform.