For many young adults, YouTube has become a place to be taught and entertained on various subjects. According to the site, it has over 1.9 billion logged-in users that stream YouTube each month, and every day people watch over a billion hours of video that generate billions of views.
The video creators, also popularly known as “YouTubers,” can upload any video they desire as long as it follows a few basic guidelines to keep it “PG-13,” to some extent, but one of the most popular users today is pushing the guideline boundaries, causing a more censored YouTube community.
Shane Dawson’s YouTube channel first started in April 2010 with mostly teen-friendly videos that were mainly entertainment-based, but in 2015, Dawson started to curate videos that would appeal to the conspiracy theory audience with subjects ranging from Disney to secret societies, capturing wide ranges of audiences.
Dawson recently sparked conversation regarding the most popular conspiracy theories that subscribers wanted to know about, mainly iPhones secretly recording without the user knowing, the recent Wildfires in Northern and Southern California being caused by lasers in space, cartoons glorifying suicide, and many others.
Dawson’s view count for his conspiracy videos have gained traction since 2015. In his first year, his controversial videos started out at around 1 million views, but his newest conspiracy theory series has about 52 million views collectively and counting.
YouTube released a blog post at the end of January saying that there will be a filter in the Recommendation section that will prevent viewers from watching videos that do not relate to the video a viewer might be watching and could be false.
YouTube states, “...we’ll begin reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways — such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.”
Though the site’s new changes will help prevent viewers from seeing falsely informed claims, it could take back the amount of views YouTubers could be earning even though it is still searchable in the YouTube search engine.
Zack Tweedy, a Physics major at Sonoma State, thinks that false theories and ideas have the capability to spread much faster than they ever have before due mostly to technology. “From a purely historical standpoint, the problem isn't new,” Tweedy said.
Other social media platforms such as Facebook, Reddit, and Tumblr have made an effort to censor any fake news attempts, so YouTube may merely be following their attempts. Tweedy, though, thinks there could be a thin line between censoring false claims, like autism being linked to vaccinations, and other claims that have been tested in recent years to be false.
On the other hand, heavy censorship could be dangerous to society. Tweedy adds to this idea by saying that countries like China take censorship to a new level. They censor anything that could make the government look corrupt and many sites that are allowed in the US are not allowed in China.
Taylor Plorin, a Electrical Engineering student at Sonoma State, thinks differently. “If the user looks up and occasionally watches similar videos, then I believe it is okay to have conspiracy theory videos appear in those sections,” she said. Ultimately, she said, these videos do not cause harm since they are open for the public and people can make their own choices.
YouTube makes it very clear that they are not taking down any videos unless it conflicts with their Community Guidelines to keep the website clean from anything vulgar or extreme to watch, but popular videos with millions of views, like Dawson’s, will not be seen in the Recommendation, Up Next, or Trending section of the website.
In a time where the internet is becoming more censored and “fake news” seems to be all around us, it is important to research all sides of a theory, idea, or argument, according to Tweedy.
“The most eager solution to this phenomenon is not to censor, but actively recruit and teach critical thinkers.”