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After sending content moderators home, YouTube doubled its video removals

The company said it had to "accept a lower level of accuracy" to protect YouTube users when it relied more heavily on algorithmic moderation.

After sending content moderators home, YouTube doubled its video removals

YouTube opted to over-enforce its policies in order to prioritize safety on the platform.

Photo: Szabo Viktor/Unsplash

When YouTube sent content moderators home in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it dramatically expanded its use of automated filters — and that led to twice as many videos being taken down in the second quarter of 2020 as the first. The spike stems from YouTube's decision to "cast a wider net" for potentially violative videos in the absence of human moderators, and highlights the imperfect science of automatically policing content.

"When reckoning with greatly reduced human review capacity due to COVID-19, we were forced to make a choice between potential under-enforcement or potential over-enforcement," the company wrote in a blog post accompanying its second quarter transparency report. "Because responsibility is our top priority, we chose the latter — using technology to help with some of the work normally done by reviewers."

YouTube removed more content last quarter in all but two categories: hateful videos and videos that encourage harmful or dangerous activities. But in the most sensitive content categories, including violent extremist content and content that could jeopardize child safety, YouTube saw a threefold increase in the number of videos it removed. YouTube explained that's because the company "accepted a lower level of accuracy to make sure that we were removing as many pieces of violative content as possible."

This means, of course, that YouTube removed plenty of videos that didn't actually violate its policies, leading to roughly double the number of appeals, from around 166,000 last quarter to 325,000 in the second quarter. The number of videos that were reinstated after appeal also nearly quadrupled, from around 41,000 in the first quarter to 161,000 last quarter.

YouTube's transparency report comes on the heels of a similar report from Facebook, which described markedly different results. Like YouTube, Facebook also opted to send its content moderators home in March. But unlike YouTube, which removed more content last quarter in almost every category, Facebook and Instagram saw steep declines — including in some of the most sensitive categories it polices.

On Instagram, for example, the company removed about half as much child sexual abuse material in the second quarter as it did in the first, while removals of suicide related content fell by a whopping 79%. That's not because there was less of it: According to Facebook, it's because moderators were unable to review this graphic imagery at home, and therefore couldn't log it in Facebook's automated systems, which is how the company is able to search the platform and remove other exact matches that pop up in the future. That means much of that content that would normally be removed was left online.

A YouTube spokesperson said the company ran into the same problem. But it compensated for that issue by removing far more content overall than it otherwise would have. Anticipating that would lead to a spike in appeals — and it did — YouTube maintained a skeleton crew to process appeals in a timely fashion, eventually reinstating about half of the videos that were removed.

Facebook, by contrast, scaled back appeals, suspending them entirely in some sensitive content categories, like violent and graphic content. That led to a massive drop in appeals and the amount of content that was restored after removal in almost every category. "We couldn't always offer [appeals]," Facebook's vice president of integrity Guy Rosen said on a call with reporters earlier this month. "We still gave people an option to tell us that they disagreed with our decision on a piece of content and our teams looked at these signals in aggregate to find potential issues and restore content where appropriate."

The comparison between Facebook and YouTube isn't exact. For one thing, YouTube doesn't report as much granular information as Facebook does: While Facebook shares stats on the amount of child nudity and sexual exploitation content it removes, for example, YouTube shares information more broadly on child safety, a category that also includes risky challenges and videos that could broadly "endanger minors." For another, Facebook did see a much bigger jump in the amount of hate speech it removed last quarter, compared to YouTube.

And yet, the two reports still illustrate an important point about how the COVID-19 era has affected what people see — and don't — online. Facebook and YouTube often get lumped together as two social networks filled with the same filth, both using a combination of AI and low-wage contractors to rid problematic posts from their platforms. But over the last six months, these two companies have taken two different approaches to the same problem, and they have yielded dramatically different outcomes.

Where YouTube has risked silencing users who have done nothing wrong, Facebook has risked not silencing them fast enough in the name of maintaining accuracy. Neither approach is perfect. Both show just how far automated systems still have to go.

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

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Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

In fact, most people are not aware we have a business in the U.S. because we are not a U.S. consumer-facing service that people use every day – nor do we want to be. Our consumers – nearly 900 million of them – are located in China.

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J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | Enterprise

Alphabet goes deep into industrial robotic software with Intrinsic

If it succeeds, the gambit could help support Google Cloud's lofty ambitions in the manufacturing sector.

Alphabet is aiming to make advanced robotic technology affordable to customers.

Photo: Getty Images

Alphabet launched a new division Friday called Intrinsic, which will focus on building software for industrial robots, per a blog post. The move plunges the tech giant deeper into a sector that's in the midst of a major wave of digitization.

The goal of Intrinsic is to "give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they're completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications," CEO Wendy Tan-White wrote in the post.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

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