Mozilla News Byte

Welcome to the News Byte, an in-depth look at one of the most important stories about the internet this week. This week...

YouTube Regrets: Our Findings

YouTube’s recommended videos are a powerful part of the platform — in fact, recommended videos drive 70% of views, according to the company. The service often knows exactly which videos to dangle in front of us to get us to like/comment/subscribe. These highly engaging videos can be extreme, disturbing and surprising — leading people to regret watching the video at all.

For years, we’ve asked YouTube to share how this process of video recommendation works and how often it leads to recommendations of extreme content that users often regret watching. The company has not responded.

So, we decided to learn what we could on our own through a project called YouTube Regrets. As part of the project, over 37,000 volunteers shared their YouTube viewing data with us by downloading a browser extension. The premise is simple: participants told us when they regretted watching a YouTube video, and then we collected information about what they were watching prior to seeing the ‘regret’ video. After gathering over a year’s worth of data, we picked up on trends about the bad experiences people have on YouTube. Sadly, most of these regrets came from videos suggested by the site — including misinformation and other videos that violated the platform's own content policies.

Below we’ve dropped some links you can use to dive deeper into this topic. But if you take nothing else away from YouTube Regrets, project lead Brandi Geurkink wants you to keep this in mind: “If YouTube users are feeling like, ‘These recommendations aren’t working for us,’ then who is the recommendation algorithm really servicing?” (Via Wall Street Journal)

Help us learn more — Tell us your YouTube regrets!

The Numbers:

  • 37,380 users

That’s how many volunteers across 190 countries installed our RegretsReporter extension. This data, including the 3,362 reports filed by 1,662 users across 91 countries, taught us a lot about how frequent a regrettable experience on YouTube really is.

  • 71% of videos

Of all the videos people flagged as a regret, 71% were suggested by YouTube’s automatic recommendation system. We found that recommended videos were 40% more likely to be reported as a regret than videos a user searched for.

  • 60% higher

We found that users in countries where English isn’t the primary language, on average, saw 60% higher rate of video regrets. Users in Brazil, Germany and France were among those impacted the most.

Take Action:

Is autoplay turned on? Does YouTube send you recommendation notifications? Your YouTube settings might be able to help you from falling too far into regrettable video territory. Here’s where you can find tips to combat that.

Have you seen our snazzy YouTube Regrets page? It’s worth the click.

  • Share With A Friend

Interested in sharing our research or even just the YouTube video with a friend? Copy and paste away!

The News Byte

Written By

Xavier Harding

Edited By

Ashley Boyd, Anna Jay

Social By

Audrey Hingle, Xavier Harding

Art Direction

Nancy Tran

Email Production

Alexander Zimmerman, Will Easton

Sign up for our email list to receive the Mozilla News Beat every week in your inbox.

Related content