You get the ecosystems you design for

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The Daily

A few months ago, James Bridle wrote a widely spread Medium post about all of the awful things on YouTube Kids. It started an avalanche that is still rolling. Just the other day, Business Insider wrote that the app was recommending conspiracy videos to kids.

This is of course terrible. But it is hardly a surprise. Anyone that has used the app for more than five minutes knows that it is full of material that spans from the shady to the outright inappropriate. It’s everywhere. (And it isn’t just in their kids app either).

It’s also not surprising why this keeps happening. You get the ecosystems you design for. That’s why it is disingenuous when Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, makes comments like “I’ve seen how some bad actors are exploiting our openness to mislead, manipulate, harass or even harm”. You knew it was happening long before this came up. You designed an ecosystem that encouraged it.

When you design an ecosystem that encourages viewing time as part of the ranking algorithm, you get 8 hour long videos of lullabies. When you make no distinction between Disney’s Frozen videos and the creators just using their brand for SEO purposes, you get shitty videos like this one with Elsa, Spiderman, and the Hulk playing at the beach. When you don’t mark out videos with commercial intent, you get badly hidden advertising for kids masquerading as “toy reviews”.

Creators make what the ecosystem – and the ranking algorithm – encourages them to make. If you want to change that outcome, start by redesigning the variables that determine success in your ecosystem. Everything other than that is just PR.

Edit: I just learned of the incident currently taking place at YouTube HQ. I hope everyone is okay.

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