In her book,Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Cathy O’Neil writes about the models and their potential harmful impact, especially with the criminal justice system. She refers to the particularly harmful models as “WMDs” (“weapons of math destruction”). The criteria for these “WMDs” are whether or not the models are opaque or invisible, if they are unfair, and if they can scale. As O’Neil explains, she believes that if the answers to those three questions are yes, that a model has potential to harm many people, outweighing any possible benefit.
As I was reading these things, the first thing that came to mind was Youtube. Youtube seems like an internet paradise, people can make videos to share whatever they please, and maybe they could get popular and even make a living off of making videos and having fun. However, it is not that simple. Since Youtube does not cost money for viewers, the way creators make money is from ad revenue. So, when a bunch of advertisers pulled themselves from Youtube, it was a big deal. Their reasoning was that their brand was being advertised on content they did not condone (such as seeing a Coke ad before a very racist video), which caused them to want to stop advertising on Youtube. The real issue came with Youtube’s response, they developed models for demonetizing videos or reducing ad revenue for videos they deem inappropriate for various reasons.
What happened next was that videos people posted were being tagged as inappropriate and being demonetized. Creators were left very confused and hurt as they lost revenue on content they worked on and felt were comedic and/or appropriate. As put by h3h3productions (an account that currently has 6 million subscribers), larger creators could survive, but it hurt smaller creators and possibly even prevented them from being able to fund production. Many videos were posted about this topic, with h3h3 and others talking about the negative impact of this process, and even contemplating leaving Youtube.
This whole debacle, in my opinion, could be considered a “WMD” as it was invisible (creators could not follow explicit guidelines to make their videos appropriate and the process of flagging was hidden), unfair to many creators (as they did not believe videos being flagged was uniform and fair), and it was on a very large scale (affecting everyone on Youtube).
In more recent times, Youtube has had another “WMD” issue. This time with subscribers. Youtube allows viewers to subscribe to channels, to be notified when they make new content and to streamline their experience on Youtube. What Youtube didn’t make clear to viewers or creators was that they do not notify all subscribers. Youtube had developed a system of identifying who they believed most wanted notifications and notified them, with many subscribers never being aware of any content being posted. This was a huge deal as creators, especially smaller ones trying to make it full-time, were not getting the number of views and ad revenue they would have expected with their number of subscribers. This was another invisible process that harmed all creators on Youtube, and this time it hurt viewers as well as they may not see the content they wanted.
To summarize, Youtube is not simple and is not a paradise. It’s use of “WMDs” and hidden changes to how the site operates has been very detrimental to many people. I do not have exact answers for how Youtube should handle advertiser issues, or who to notify for new videos, but it seems to consistently hide these changes and processes, creating “WMDs” and harming each and every viewer on its site in their enjoyment, and even in ruining their livelihood.