Conspiracy theories were what kept YouTube going, in its early days. Videos like the notorious Loose Change were shared millions of times, eventually allowing the rise of sites like InfoWars. But in the wake of the fake news epidemic, and criticism as conspiracy videos claiming Parkland, FL shooting survivors were “crisis actors” shot up the site’s charts, YouTube announced a new initiative that would pair Wikipedia links with conspiracy theory videos. One problem: Nobody at YouTube bothered to tell the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, and it’s beginning to look like YouTube isn’t trying to fix its problems, just pass the buck.
Announced at SXSW by YouTube’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki, the proposed idea is simple. If you search Google for videos about common conspiracy theories, whether it’s fluoridation in the water as mind control or that Alex Jones is secretly Bill Hicks, the video will prominently place a Wikipedia link on the site for users to click through and read the thorough debunking.
Today, the Wikimedia Foundation weighed in on Twitter, and pointed out that not only were they not informed of this, they have some serious problems with YouTube’s solution:
What goes unmentioned here, possibly out of politeness, is that this means Wikipedia will be bombarded by conspiracy theorists, sticking the site’s massive volunteer editing force with the job of filtering out bad citations and outright graffiti. As funny as it is when somebody adds politicians to the list of known invertebrates, a volunteer does need to go in and fix that.
It’s also worth noting that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. As anybody who’s attended a Thanksgiving dinner knows, human beings aren’t easily swayed from their opinions once they form, even in the face of contradictory evidence. In fact, proving definitively a person’s opinion or belief is wrong is more likely to reinforce that belief. Just because the link is there, doesn’t mean it’ll be clicked. And even if the link is there, that still, fundamentally, doesn’t address the problem.