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Something is wrong on the internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2017

Writer and artist James Bridle has noticed that something is wrong on the internet. Specifically, algorithmically chosen and produced content is taking over more and more of the internet, including what your young children are watching on YouTube.

Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level.

By his own admission, there doesn’t seem to be anything egregiously wrong or upsetting about many of the examples Bridle uses. I mean, have you read Grimm’s fairy tales? Some of them are really dark and/or weird, like Black Mirror for children. But the effect in the aggregate is huge, resulting in what he asserts is a system of abuse in which Google is complicit, a technology fueled by advertising and weaponized against its users:

The architecture they have built to extract the maximum revenue from online video is being hacked by persons unknown to abuse children, perhaps not even deliberately, but at a massive scale. I believe they have an absolute responsibility to deal with this, just as they have a responsibility to deal with the radicalisation of (mostly) young (mostly) men via extremist videos — of any political persuasion. They have so far showed absolutely no inclination to do this, which is in itself despicable. However, a huge part of my troubled response to this issue is that I have no idea how they can respond without shutting down the service itself, and most systems which resemble it. We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay. The asides I’ve kept in parentheses throughout, if expanded upon, would allow one with minimal effort to rewrite everything I’ve said, with very little effort, to be not about child abuse, but about white nationalism, about violent religious ideologies, about fake news, about climate denialism, about 9/11 conspiracies.