Are Your YouTube Recommendations a Mess? Mozilla Wants to Know

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Mozilla wants to know what makes your YouTube recommendations tick.

The Firefox maker on Thursday announced plans for a browser extension that will let web users notify Mozilla about recommended YouTube videos they regret watching. It’s an extension of YouTube Regrets, a campaign Mozilla launched last year that let people submit “YouTube recommendation horror stories” in order to “pressure YouTube to take the problem with their recommendations seriously.”

As the New York Times highlighted last year, that problem is a recommendation system that some say leads people down rabbit holes of disinformation and questionable content.

“Our goal is to help all of us—including YouTube—understand how users feel about their recommendations and identify specific ways these systems can be improved,” said Brandi Geurkink, senior campaigner at Mozilla. She pointed to a tweet from Yelp founder Jeremy Stoppelman (a long-time Google critic) about a push notification he received that recommended a YouTube video called “Civil War Is Coming.”

“I watched the ‘Civil War Is Coming’ video and I believe that there’s nothing in it that violates YouTube’s policies or warrants it being removed from the platform,” Geurkink said. “However, as Mozilla fellow and leading disinformation researcher Renee DiResta has written, ‘free speech is not the same as free reach.’ Even if this video is available on the platform, how and why did YouTube choose to actively promote it?”

When the Regrets Reporter extension launches on Thursday, Sept 17, users will be able to give Mozilla feedback on their own YouTube recommendations.

“We know that until YouTube itself provides this data to independent researchers our picture will be incomplete, but the stakes are too high for us to sit by idly as misinformation and harm from recommendations spread throughout our communities at a much faster pace than it otherwise would,” Geurkink said.

A YouTube spokesperson tells CNET that “it’s hard to draw broad conclusions from anecdotal examples and we update our recommendations systems on an ongoing basis, to improve the experience for users.”

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