YouTube Recommendations Can Lead To A Dark Place. Here’s How To Protect Yourself

Have you ever used YouTube and then, at the end of a video, the app suggested a follow-up video that’s way off base? If so, you’re not alone. We asked YouTube users to tell us whenever they watched a video on the platform and ended up regretting it. According to our research, 71% of those regrettable views were of videos recommended by YouTube’s algorithm.

Most of the videos watched on YouTube are videos suggested to you by the platform — around 70%, according to the company. Put another way, when you visit YouTube, the site takes you by the hand and leads you down a path filled with the videos it thinks you’ll want to watch. Which you might be okay with most times, yet regret every so often when that one video appears that you really didn’t want to see.

Recommendations can be a useful feature, but how do you make sure you get the right ones? How can you be sure you get them only when you want them? You can’t turn YouTube recommendations off outright, but here are a few tips you can use to make sure they’re tailored to your liking:

Turn Off Autoplay

You know how Netflix or Hulu automatically plays the next episode of a sitcom when the current episode finishes? YouTube does the same thing, except instead of being the next video in a series, sometimes it’s whatever video it thinks will make you stick around. You can avoid falling into a YouTube rabbit hole by turning off autoplay. Previously, users had to click on the gear icon in the bottom right corner of a video to toggle autoplay. Now there’s a dedicated play/pause toggle next to the gear icon that serves the same purpose

Turn Off Autoplay

Improve Your Recommendations

If you’ve ever regretted clicking on a recommendation that YouTube served you, you’re not alone — our Regrets Reporter campaign is filled with stories from folks just like you. You might not be able to turn off YouTube recommendations, but you might be able to better tailor them to your liking. “Many people like that they receive recommendations from YouTube, the problem is when they’re suggested a video that they don’t want to see,” says Brandi Geurkink, senior manager for advocacy at Mozilla Foundation and YouTube Regrets lead. “YouTube doesn’t make it easy to find info about how to change your recommendations, but it does let you hand-pick which videos and searches should affect your recommendations.” Geurkink provides a pro-tip: Head to YouTube’s data management page, and click ‘X’ next to a search to remove it from your history and prevent it from affecting your suggestions.

We’d add a more drastic option: if your recommendations have become absolutely too much, you can delete your search history by clicking on your profile icon in the top right of the mobile app, clicking the “Settings” gear icon, tapping “History & privacy” and then “Clear search history.” Deleting your YouTube watch history in the same settings panel would also help. This serves as a 'hard reset' on your recommendations, pulling you out of the rabbit hole if you’re in too deep. Just know that as soon as you start watching videos again, YouTube will be watching you, and feeding your views into your new recommendation list.

Turn off notifications

If you find that YouTube continually pings you to watch videos (sometimes even from channels you aren’t subscribed to), you can turn off recommended video notifications. Simply open the YouTube app, tap on the top right profile icon, head to “Settings,” tap Notifications and toggle the “Recommended videos” option. That way, you’re watching videos when you want to, not when the app wants you to.

Recommended videos

Use Private Browsing Mode

In an effort to preserve your YouTube recommendations, YouTube Regrets lead Geurkink says you may want to watch videos in private browsing mode. “Using your browser’s private browsing mode so you’re not logged in and your watch history isn’t saved can help prevent one video from throwing off all your video suggestions,” says Geurkink. If a friend sends you a video and you don’t want it altering the videos you see, open a private window in your web browser (located in File > New Private Window in the menus for Firefox desktop, for example) or even use an app like Firefox Focus to keep it out of your history list.

Private Browsing Mode

Limit your YouTube time

YouTube’s mobile app has a feature that reminds you to take a break every so often (found in Settings > General). Though if YouTube’s take a break limiters aren’t to your liking, many smartphone’s offer a similar feature nowadays too. Both iOS and Android have options to limit how much of an app you’re allowed to use. Essentially, your phone can play the role of parent and tell you when you’ve had too much YouTube for the day. If that’s not enough, there are always the nuclear options of closing the laptop or turning your phone off. It may not be the most high-tech tip for preempting YouTube rabbit holes, but we stand by the recommendation.

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