YouTube’s business model creates an unwitting incentive to put addictive conspiratorial content in front of people
The engagement maximization strategy by YouTube is explicit. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki took over the division of Google in 2014, and her goal was to get users to watch a billion hours of video a day, ten times more than they were watching in 2012. Such a change meant YouTube engineers had to find ways to addict people to YouTube content, and keep them watching with user interface tricks.
Wojcicki was just following industry trends, and did not have the fortitude to stand up to groupthink and the goal short-term profit maximization. But why should we expect her to have that? Why should we expect anyone to have that? We shouldn’t. That’s why it’s time to start reexamining our public policy assumptions. We must make it unprofitable to spread harmful content. Does that mean removing by law the ability of information utilities like YouTube to run ads? Maybe it does. Or maybe we can just remove the liability protections under Section 230 for any large information utility that runs ads. Banning user interface tricks leading to addiction or manipulation might be another path. Restoring antitrust is another.
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