#YouTubeRegrets is a crowdsourced public awareness campaign run by the nonprofit Mozilla. Mozilla collected YouTube users’ stories about the platform’s recommendation engine leading them down bizarre and sometimes dangerous pathways. This work was catalyzed by our own research on trustworthy AI; by stories in the New York Times and other publications; and by YouTube engineers who have spoken out.
Our campaign is an attempt to find out. We gave no specific guidance on what these stories should be about, so submissions were from people who self-identified particular content as being bizarre or dangerous.
#YouTubeRegrets is part of Mozilla’s larger focus to ensure that in a world of AI, consumer technology helps, rather than harms, humanity. We believe that AI should be designed with personal agency in mind, and that companies should be held to account when their AI harms people. You can learn more about our campaign to hold YouTube accountable here, and can learn more about Mozilla’s trustworthy AI work here.
We’re not advocating for specific content to be banned or removed. Rather, our campaign is focused on “reach” — drawing attention to the way that AI, in the form of recommendation engines, can amplify certain types of content more than others. We believe there should be greater transparency around YouTube’s methods for determining what gets recommended. It is up to YouTube to determine what kind of content their site encourages and recommends, and they must build social responsibility into their recommendation engine in the same way that they have optimized for user engagement.
We crowdsourced these stories over a two-week period beginning on September 10. We sent an email to our global list of newsletter subscribers asking them to submit stories, and also solicited stories on Twitter. Overall we received hundreds of submissions in five languages. We did not (and could not) verify the authenticity of these stories, so we used our best judgment to determine which ones to include in this showcase.
In early August we sent a letter to YouTube expressing our concerns about their content recommendation engine and providing a concrete list of things that the company should do to improve. We met with Google and YouTube representatives on 20 September to discuss the demands outlined in the letter and asked them the following:
You can read more about our demands and YouTube’s responses here. We are using #YouTubeRegrets to continue raising awareness about the harms of YouTube’s content recommendation engine, and over the coming months we will continue pressuring the company to take swift action on implementing the demands that have been made of them.