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YouTube Shares Overview of its Content Recommendation Systems, and the Key Factors that Define Reach

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YouTube has published a new overview of how its content recommendations system works, which is one of the central drivers of video reach and views on the platform, and may help YouTube marketers get a better understanding of what guides optimal response.

YouTube actually published a similar overview earlier in the year, as part of its ongoing effort to maximize transparency, with this new explainer giving a little more historical insight as to how its systems have evolved, and how it’s working to improve its processes.

As explained by YouTube:

Our recommendation system is built on the simple principle of helping people find the videos they want to watch and that will give them value.”

Of course, ‘value’ is a fairly vague term in social media metrics, and especially in measurement, but the idea, according to YouTube, is to show people more of what they like, based on not only their own behaviors, but other, similar users as well.

“You can find recommendations at work in two main places: your homepage and the “Up Next” panel. Your homepage is what you see when you first open YouTube – it displays a mixture of personalized recommendations, subscriptions, and the latest news and information. The Up Next panel appears when you’re watching a video and suggests additional content based on what you’re currently watching, alongside other videos that we think you may be interested in.

YouTube Recommendations surfaces

The ‘Up Next’ panel has been one of the more scrutinized elements of the platform in recent years, with some users saying that these recommendations can lead them down conspiracy-fueled rabbit holes, and even radicalize them based on the content they find.

So how might that happen?

Here are some of the key notes on exactly how YouTube’s recommendations process works.

Foundationally, YouTube’s recommendations are based on four key elements:

  • Clicks  The videos you click on provide YouTube with a direct indicator of your interest in the content. But it’s not always the thing that defines your experience. For example, you might click through on a video looking for something, then not find it in that specific clip, so that click, in itself, is not a strong indicator of what you want. Which is why YouTube also measures ‘Watchtime’ as an additional qualifier. 
  • Watchtime As it sounds, watchtime measures how long you actually watch each video you click on for, which helps YouTube recommend more specific content aligned with your interests: “So if a tennis fan watched 20 minutes of Wimbledon highlight clips, and only a few seconds of match analysis video, we can safely assume they found watching those highlights more valuable.”
  • Sharing, Likes, Dislikes YouTube also measures your share and like activity, another direct response measurement in the app. “Our system uses this information to try to predict the likelihood that you will share or like further videos. If you dislike a video, that’s a signal that it probably wasn’t something you enjoyed watching.”
  • Survey Responses Finally, and in addition to these explicit response indicators, YouTube also conducts regular viewer surveys to find out if users are having a good experience in the app. For example, if you watch a clip for 20 minutes, YouTube may ask you if you enjoyed the clip, and to give it a star rating to better guide its recommendation systems.
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All of these elements you likely could have guessed would be factored in, so there’s no major insight, necessarily. Though it is also interesting to note that YouTube additionally seeks to help you find content that you might not even know exists, based on the content that other people with similar viewing profiles to you watch.

“So if you like tennis videos and our system notices that others who like the same tennis videos as you also enjoy jazz videos, you may be recommended jazz videos, even if you’ve never watched a single one before.”

That’s likely how people come across those conspiracy theory trails – you look up one video on a topic that you’re interested in, then YouTube hits you with a range of related viewing that other people have watched as a result. If you fall into the wrong viewer profile, that could lead to a host of questionable stuff – though YouTube does also note that it is working to address such recommendations, and limit exposure to what it identifies ‘low quality content’.

So what qualifies as ‘low quality’ in this context?

“We’ve used recommendations to limit low-quality content from being widely viewed since 2011, when we built classifiers to identify videos that were racy or violent and prevented them from being recommended. Then in 2015, we noticed that sensationalistic tabloid content was appearing on homepages and took steps to demote it. A year later, we started to predict the likelihood of a video to include minors in risky situations and removed those from recommendations. And in 2017, to ensure that our recommendation system was fair to marginalized communities, we began evaluating the machine learning that powers our system for fairness across protected groups – such as the LGBTQ+ community.

In addition to these, YouTube also bans content that includes false health claims (like COVID conspiracy clips), while it’s also taking more steps to address political misinformation. Some of this type of material still gets through, of course, but YouTube is working to improve its systems to ensure that such material is not recommended via its discovery tools.

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A key consideration in this element relates to “authoritative” or “borderline” content.

In seeking to limit the reach of borderline clips – those that don’t necessarily break the platform’s rules, but do present potentially harmful material – YouTube uses human evaluators to assess the quality of information in each channel or video.

“These evaluators hail from around the world and are trained through a set of detailed, publicly available rating guidelines. We also rely on certified experts, such as medical doctors when content involves health information.”

To determine ‘authoritativeness’, YouTube says that its evaluators answer a few key questions:

  • Does the content deliver on its promise or achieve its goal?
  • What kind of expertise is needed to achieve the video goal?
  • What’s the reputation of the speaker in the video and the channel it’s on?
  • What’s the main topic of the video (eg. News, Sports, History, Science, etc)?
  • Is the content primarily meant to be satire?

YouTube’s evaluators assess the reputation of a channel/creator based on a range of qualifiers, including online reviews, recommendations by experts, news articles and Wikipedia entries (you can check out the full listing of potential qualifiers here).

All in all, the system is designed to utilize explicit and implicit signals to highlight more of what each person wants to see, while also filtering out the worst kinds of content, in order to limit potential harm. The actual specifics of harm are a factor in this calculation, and limiting that reach – but again, YouTube says that it is working to update its recommendation tools to ensure higher quality content, based on these qualifiers at least, ends up getting more exposure in the app.

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YouTube has also shared this overview of how its recommendations algorithms have evolved over time.

YouTube Recommendations development history

In assessing the various measures from a marketing and performance perspective, the key consideration is audience response, and creating content that appeals to your target viewers.

You can measure this in your YouTube analytics, and with users able to directly subscribe to your channel, there are some strong, key indicators that you can use to assess your performance, and ensure you’re aligning with viewer interests. That will then see your content also shown to other people with similar audience traits, while ensuring that you have a good website reputation, and a strong general web presence, will also limit potential penalties in YouTube moderators’ assessment.

It’s also worth checking your content against the above listing of ‘authoritativeness’ as a quick measure that you’re adhering to YouTube’s goals.

None of these elements will guarantee ultimate reach success, but failing to tick the right boxes will limit your potential. It’s worth noting these keys, and considering each aspect in your marketing effort.

Socialmediatoday.com

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Germany weighs ban on Telegram, tool of conspiracy theorists

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Germany has seen regular, sometimes violent, protests against Covid-related government restrictions


Germany has seen regular, sometimes violent, protests against Covid-related government restrictions – Copyright AFP Wakil KOHSAR

David COURBET

The German government is considering a ban on encrypted messaging app Telegram after it was repeatedly used as a channel for spreading anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and even death threats.

The app has also played a key role in mobilising turnout at some of the most violent protests in opposition to the German government’s Covid-19 policies since the start of the pandemic.

With parliament due to begin debating compulsory vaccination on Wednesday, authorities fear that the controversial issue could risk firing up another wave of rage.

With this in mind, politicians have set their sights on tighter controls on Telegram.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser will unveil plans by Easter to require the app to delete messages that contain death threats or hate speech and identify their authors.

If Telegram fails to comply, the government could even ban the service completely.

“We will ensure that those spreading hate are identified and held accountable,” Faeser told the Bundestag lower house of parliament in mid-January.

She also told Die Zeit newspaper that Telegram could be deactivated in Germany if it failed to comply with local laws and “all other options have failed”.

Telegram chat groups, which can include up to 200,000 members, have been used by some anti-vaccine protesters to share false information and to encourage violence against politicians.

In December, German police seized weapons during raids in the eastern city of Dresden after a Telegram group was used to share death threats against a regional leader.

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The same month, Telegram was used to mobilise a group of coronavirus-sceptics to mass outside the house of Petra Koepping, the health minister of Saxony state, armed with flaming torches.

A message viewed by 25,000 people had called for people opposing Covid restrictions to share private addresses of German “local MPs, politicians and other personalities” who they believed were “seeking to destroy” them through pandemic curbs.

– New avenues –

At the height of a refugee crisis that erupted in 2015, online social networking tools Facebook and Twitter fell foul of the authorities as they were seized by the far-right to spread virulent anti-immigrant content.

In 2017, Germany passed a controversial law that requires the social network giants to remove illegal content and report it to the police.

Facebook said in September it had deleted accounts, pages and groups linked to the “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers), a movement that has emerged as the loudest voice against the German government’s coronavirus curbs.

But that pushed opposing voices to other platforms, with Telegram emerging as the app of choice.

“Since the big platforms like Facebook no longer allow racist, anti-Semitic hate and far-right content like Holocaust denial, people who want to spread this are looking for new avenues,” Simone Rafael, digital manager for the Amadeu Antonio anti-racism foundation, told AFP.

“Currently, the most popular one in Germany is Telegram,” Rafael said.

While Facebook has an interest in maintaining a presence in Germany and has gradually submitted to national legislation, this is not the case with Telegram, the expert said.

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“Telegram is not cooperating with the judicial or security authorities, even on indisputably punishable and reprehensible matters such as child pornography,” a behaviour that “deprives the state of any capacity for action”, Rafael said.

With Telegram not budging, German federal police are even planning to start flooding the company with requests for content deletion to push it into action, reported Die Welt daily.

– ‘Very bad signal’ –

One option for the government could be to require Google or Apple to remove Telegram from their app stores. However, this would not affect users who have already downloaded the app.

For Rafael, the only solution is to ban the app completely.

That would make Germany the first Western country to outlaw Telegram, created in 2013 by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, two opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin who sought to avoid surveillance by their country’s secret services.

The company is currently headquartered in Dubai, with its parent group in British Virgin Islands.

Telegram is already banned or heavily regulated in China, India and Russia.

But a move against the app could also spark further dissent in Germany.

Such a drastic step would “send a very bad signal”, according to digital journalist Markus Reuter.

“On the one hand we are celebrating Telegram’s lack of censorship and its importance for democratic movements in Belarus and Iran, and on the other, we are then disabling the service here” in Germany, he said.



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Meta Looks to Sell Off its Diem Cryptocurrency Project Due to Ongoing Challenges and Restrictions

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Meta Looks to Sell Off its Diem Cryptocurrency Project Due to Ongoing Challenges and Restrictions


After three years of development, and a raft of changes to its name, scope, leadership and purpose, it seems like Meta’s trouble cryptocurrency project may soon come to an end.

According to reports, Meta’s looking to pull the pin on its Diem/Novi crypto project, with company representatives seeking expressions of interest on its sale.

As reported by Bloomberg:

The Diem Association, a cryptocurrency initiative once known as Libra backed by Meta Platforms Inc., is weighing a sale of its assets as a way to return capital to its investor members, according to people familiar with the matter. Diem is in discussions with investment bankers about how best to sell its intellectual property and find a new home for the engineers who developed the technology, cashing out whatever value remains in its once-ambitious Diem coin venture, said the people, asking not to be identified because the discussions aren’t public.”

That would be a significant step back for Meta, which launched its original Libra crypto project to much fanfare in 2019, with former PayPal chief David Marcus at the helm of the initiative.

But the project saw strong resistance from the start.

Maybe it’s because it was coming from Meta (then Facebook), or maybe it was due to widespread distrust of crypto projects, but many regions came straight out and said that they would not support the company creating its own currency. The public backlash saw many of the initial big-name backers pull out, including Visa, Mastercard and PayPal, all key names which had leant credibility to the initial concept.

That, already, put the entire experiment in limbo, because without the support of major financial institutions, Meta’s options for the project were limited. It seemed, then, that the project would likely fade away, but then in May 2020, Meta announced that it was changing the name of its crypto wallet from Calibra to Novi.

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In October last year, after a long period of no news, then Novi chief David Marcus announced the next major step forward for the project, with the launch of a pilot of its Novi digital wallet in the US and Guatemala, enabling users to send and receive money between the two regions.

Novi

That was the first concrete steps we’d seen in making the project a workable reality, but still, many regions are still very skeptical of cryptocurrency, and with India, in particular, moving to ban cryptocurrencies outright, the value of the project was also lessened, potentially to the point where it’s now no longer viable in broader terms.

India, it’s worth noting, is where Meta sees the most potential for money transfers and eCommerce, as it looks to cement its apps as key connective tools in the emerging market.

Shortly after the launch of the Novi payments pilot, David Marcus left the project, and maybe that was the final flag, the signal that it was just never going to make it.

Which now leads to these new reports, that Meta’s looking to sell it off – though it is worth noting that the reports suggest that Meta is looking to get out of the Diem Association, the parent group overseeing the project, with no mention of the Novi payment project specifically.

I would assume that they are intrinsically tied together, but maybe there’s a way for Meta to continue to support and develop its Novi payments option independently, though that does seem like a stretch.

So what would a sale of Diem, and the failure of Meta’s crypto push, mean for crypto more broadly?

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I mean, resistance is steadily growing for cryptocurrencies in general, with more regions now moving to cut them off completely, including Russia, China and Indonesia in recent months. A report published the Library Law of Congress late last year showed that the number of countries and jurisdictions that have either banned or restricted cryptocurrencies has more than doubled since 2018, due to concerns around scam activity, market price fluctuations, and environmental impacts as a result of crypto ‘mining’.

Yet, at the same time, many western nations are seeing a boom in sales of crypto-aligned projects like NFTs, and with Web3 advocates essentially tying the growing tech movement into crypto development, it is actually gaining momentum in some circles, despite concurrently rising concerns.

But as noted, western markets are not where Meta saw the most potential value in its crypto project. Meta’s real aim has been to build native, in-stream payments into its apps, in order to further embed their use into developing markets, like India and Indonesia. Both of these regions see high remittance activity, with people transferring money back to family, and Meta originally saw Diem as a vehicle for removing fees from such exchanges, which would then get more people moving their money through Facebook and WhatsApp.

And once they’re already shifting their money around in its apps, that would make it much easier for Meta to parlay that behavior into eCommerce, expanding utility, and importance, for the millions of people in these markets.

But it does seem like that’s not to be – and given that, it makes sense for Meta to move on.

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Though it’s not a great endorsement for the potential of crypto, in a broader sense. If Meta, with all of its resources and influence, can’t find a real use case for crypto, does that suggest that its potential value is not as high as some advocates think?

That might be a stretch, but as more regions move to ban crypto projects, and more big players step away from the sector, it does seem like the challenges are rising, which could, eventually, put the brakes on the entire crypto movement.    





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China restricts activists’ social media ahead of Olympics

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Multiple Chinese activists have seen their WeChat accounts restricted or disabled entirely in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Beijing


Multiple Chinese activists have seen their WeChat accounts restricted or disabled entirely in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Beijing – Copyright AFP Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

Laurie CHEN

Human rights activists and some academics in China have had their WeChat messaging app accounts restricted in recent weeks, multiple people affected have told AFP, as Beijing cracks down on dissent before the Winter Olympics.

China hopes to make next week’s Games a soft power triumph, although the lead-up has seen some Western powers launch a diplomatic boycott over Beijing’s rights record and cybersecurity firms warn athletes of digital surveillance risks.

For China’s ever-dwindling community of activists, the imminent arrival of the world’s best athletes has triggered a familiar clampdown.

Eight individuals told AFP that their WeChat accounts had been restricted in some form since early December, with some unable to use their accounts entirely and forced to re-register.

The restrictions came as authorities detained two prominent human rights activists, lawyer Xie Feng and writer Yang Maodong, while a third rights lawyer missing since early December is believed by relatives to be in secret detention.

“This storm of shuttering WeChat accounts is too strong and unprecedented,” said veteran journalist Gao Yu, whose account had features like group chat messaging permanently disabled for the first time on December 20.

China routinely suppresses the social media accounts and physical movements of dissidents during politically sensitive periods such as Communist Party gatherings in Beijing or key anniversaries like the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

A major Party Congress will take place towards the end of this year when President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in a generation, is expected to further cement his rule with a third term.

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The arrival of the Winter Olympics has presaged a clampdown similar to those surrounding other major events.

“The government now wants to make sure that people don’t cross the line online to poke the facade of a perfect Winter Olympic Games,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

– Ubiquitous app –

Tencent’s app WeChat is a mainstay of daily life in China, with users relying on it for a range of services including payments and scanning health codes that permit entry to public venues.

“I know many people who’ve been banned from posting in group chats or posting WeChat Moments lately,” a Beijing lawyer whose account was restricted last month said on condition of anonymity.

Beijing-based writer Zhang Yihe said her WeChat group chat and Moments functions — similar to Facebook’s Wall or Instagram Stories — were restricted on January 8.

Tsinghua University sociology professor Guo Yuhua confirmed her account was permanently blocked the same day, while prominent legal scholar He Weifang said he encountered the same on January 9.

“Isn’t this equal to removing an individual from a public space?” said Zhang, adding she can now only send WeChat messages to individual users.

“Before and during the Olympics is a major sensitive period,” added a Beijing-based activist whose account was restricted twice in the past two months.

Tencent, the owner of WeChat, did not respond to a request for comment.

– Offline crackdown –

In recent weeks, Chinese police have detained two prominent rights activists on suspicion of “inciting state subversion”, according to official notices shared with AFP.

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One of them, Yang Maodong, was unable to reunite with his wife in the United States before her death in early January.

Relatives of Tang Jitian, a human rights lawyer who vanished last month en route to an EU Human Rights Day event in Beijing, told AFP they believe he is being held under a form of secret detention commonly used against dissidents, possibly in his home province of Jilin.

“We don’t know where he is. I’ve reported him missing to the police but with no result,” said a relative who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“They said it doesn’t meet the requirements for filing a (missing persons) case and that he had scanned the Jilin province health code.”

People arrested for national security offences in China can disappear for months at a time into incommunicado detention before authorities charge them or reveal their fate.

Both Jilin and Beijing’s public security bureaus did not respond to requests for comment.

The International Olympic Committee said in an emailed response that it “has neither the mandate nor the capability to change the laws or the political system of a sovereign country”, adding that it “must remain neutral on all global political issues”.

Beijing Games organisers told AFP they “oppose the politicisation of sports” and were “not aware of these matters”.

Meanwhile, those still free lament mounting restrictions on speech under the current political climate.

“The space for public discourse is getting smaller and smaller,” said He.



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