The YouTube Manipulation Effect (YME): A Quantification of the Impact that the Ordering of YouTube Videos Can Have on Opinions and Voting Preferences

62 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2023

See all articles by Robert Epstein

Robert Epstein

American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology

Alex Flores

American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology (AIBRT)

Date Written: July 31, 2023

Abstract

Recent research has identified a number of powerful new forms of influence that the internet and related technologies have made possible. Randomized, controlled experiments have shown, for example, that when results generated by search engines are presented to undecided voters, if those search results favor one political candidate over another, the opinions and voting preferences of those voters can shift dramatically – by up to 80% in some demographic groups. The present study employed a YouTube simulator to identify and quantify another powerful form of influence that the internet has made possible – the YouTube Manipulation Effect (YME). In two randomized, controlled, counterbalanced, double-blind experiments with a total of 1,463 politically-diverse, eligible US voters, we show that when a sequence of videos displayed by the simulator is biased to favor one political candidate, and especially when the “up-next” video suggested by the simulator favors that candidate, both the opinions and voting preferences of undecided voters shift dramatically toward that candidate. Voting preferences shifted by between 51.5% and 65.6% overall, and by more than 75% in some demographic groups. We also tested a method for masking the bias in video sequences so that awareness of bias was greatly reduced. In 2018, a YouTube official revealed that 70% of the time people spend watching videos on the site, they are watching content that has been suggested by the company’s recommender algorithms. This gives Google (YouTube’s parent company) unprecedented power to impact thinking and behavior, and YouTube video sequences have also been implicated in many cases of political radicalization. The fact that no laws or regulations exist to limit Google’s ability to use YouTube as a manipulative tool should be a matter of great concern to leaders and public policy makers worldwide.

Keywords: YouTube Manipulation Effect, YME, online influence, Search Engine Manipulation Effect, SEME, ordering of YouTube videos, autoplay

Suggested Citation

Epstein, Robert and Flores, Alex, The YouTube Manipulation Effect (YME): A Quantification of the Impact that the Ordering of YouTube Videos Can Have on Opinions and Voting Preferences (July 31, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4527207 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4527207

Robert Epstein (Contact Author)

American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://aibrt.org

Alex Flores

American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology (AIBRT)

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