Lusting over the hype and popularity of media competitor TikTok, YouTube decided to create its very own short-form video-sharing platform: YouTube Shorts. Launching in 2020, the service offered users carousels of 60 second clips, using a so-called “smart algorithm” to predict and deliver an individual’s favourite content—much like the way in which your For You Page (FYP) might detect a particular interest (or obsession, in my case) with the ice haircut moulded out of gel and therefore keep you engaged with similar videos related to the odd new hair trend.
Since its kickoff, YouTube Shorts has struggled to compete with its slightly sassier cousin TikTok. As of September 2022, the platform has tried to combat this by unveiling a new way for creators to earn revenue from the short-video format. The Google-owned streaming service announced on 21 September that it would introduce advertising on its video feature Shorts and give creators, hello PNGTubers, 45 per cent of the revenue, as reported by Business Today.
Despite this supposed progress, it should also be highlighted that, as noted by Quartz, YouTube is currently facing an all-time low in regards to its advertising earnings—making it the official weakest link in Google’s conglomerate.
Advertisements aside, a greater problem is currently plaguing the infant feature as users and creators alike are beginning to make noise about the downsides of the platform’s algorithm. Most significantly, its tendency to promote transphobic and misogynistic content.
On 22 October, author, creator, and YouTube OG Hank Green tweeted: “TikTok definitely remains better than Shorts at not randomly showing me transphobic / misogynistic content just because I like science stuff and video game clips. It’s like ‘We’ve noticed you like physics, might I interest you in some men’s rights?’”
According to Mashable, despite the platform’s overwhelming initial success—reaching more than 1.5 billion monthly users in June 2022—numerous reports are now coming out from users who’ve reported being shown transphobic Shorts. And to make matters worse, this type of content is spreading across other social media websites too.
Regarding the growing problem within YouTube Shorts, some have taken to Reddit to air their frustrations. One user emphasised how, due to the nature of the algorithm, you can be served transphobic or harmful content despite having never consumed videos of that kind before—unlike the TikTok FYP, which delivers you content specifically based on your preferences.
“It can happen if you watch a non transphobic video from someone who’s made transphobic videos. Not that I ever do that deliberately but it’s easily done, you know? I even remember I watched a regular, non-bigoted YouTuber reviewer react to the Batwoman trailer and I got days of recommendations of incels screaming about the series,” they wrote.
A second Redditor stated: “I get ads for stuff like Ben Shapiro, Matt Walsh, Jordan Peterson—the list goes on… I watch political stuff sometimes so I get that’s why I’m bombarded with their crap. I report and say I don’t like it every time but nothing happens.”
It should also be noted that TikTok has faced similar criticism in the past. In February 2021, Insider reported that a number of trans creators had warned other members of the LGBTQIA+ community that the app, while allowing for them to find a sense of togetherness, was also designed in such a way that perpetuated a culture of transphobia and harassment.
Specifically, creators have explained how, unlike other social media platforms where users post content that is often only ever viewed by their list of followers, TikTok broadcasts videos to entire legions of users who may have similar interests but who have never searched for or seen their content before. This can then lead to extreme levels of abuse and harassment if viewers decide to voice their disagreement with the videos in question.
That being said, we know all too well that there remains a serious problem regarding the vicious spread of online hate within these platforms. Often, sites such as YouTube will explicitly state detailed regulations regarding their condemnation of online malicious harassment, abuse, and bullying—only to blur the lines later when ‘engagement’ gets mentioned.
Nevertheless, it’s crucial that these conversations continue to happen. Most importantly, because we have seen first hand how effective hate campaigns such as transphobia and the manosphere’s lethal love child incelism are, both at radicalising young individuals and turning that radicalisation into real-life harm.