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Is social media on a trajectory to become an old-media like gatekeeper?

What a joy it was to realize that it really was possible to publish anything we wanted on a blog, or comment on other people’s blogs. Sharing witty remarks on Twitter and holiday beach photos on Facebook was better than prime time television. Happy times. Gradually, everyone realized it was possible to post anything on social media channels: hate speech, fake news, horrifying photos, anything. So here we are. The greatest invention since the sliced bread has turned into a machine that even the richest corporations on earth find difficult to control. Let’s take an example that shows what is going on: YouTube.

YouTube recently published a Transparency Report for the period of April-June 2022. The statistics tell that the number of videos YouTube continually removes from the service are mind-boggling.

The Transparency Report says Youtube removed almost 4 million channels (3,987,509) from the service during 2q2022. The channels were erased because they breached the service’s Community Guidelines that doesn’t allow severe abuse (such as predatory behavior), spam, nudity, or disinformation. When YouTube terminates a channel, all of its videos are removed. More than hundred million videos (108,156,480) were removed from the terminated channels during 2q2022.

youtube transparency report
Video channel removal reason top 3. Source: Google/YouTube Transparency Report 2Q2022.

It means that every day, the social media video service removed 43,818 entire channels from the platform. Every day, 1,188,532 videos published on terminated channels disappeared as well.

In addition, Youtube removed 4.5 million individual videos from the service during the three-month period. So, more than one million videos are deleted from the service every day because they feature content that is not regarded appropriate for general audiences. One million videos per day is a seriously big number, but is it big or small if we compare it to the total number of videos uploaded to YouTube?

In 2019, a Youtube representative revealed that 500 hours of content is uploaded to the service every minute. If we assume that the average length of a video on Youtube is 10 minutes (this report estimates it is 11.7 minutes), we get a total of 4,320,000 video clips uploaded every day to the platform.

Youtube reports some statistics but likes to hide other statistics which is why data used in this article could be more precise, but I wouldn’t categorize this as fake news either. This is an effort to find a reference level so that we know if removal of one million video clips every day is a big deal.

Yes, it is a big deal.

Every day, more than four million videos are uploaded to YouTube. The service trashes more than one million videos every day. About a quarter, 27.5%, of all uploaded YouTube videos are junk (according to YouTube’s own rules).

As an internet technology organization Youtube has developed algorithms that quickly scan new uploaded videos, and look for signs of banned content. Nearly all videos that were removed from the site were detected by an algorithm.

Do Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and other popular social media services have the same problem? Probably. Do they have algorithms that scan all incoming content? Probably.

So how close popular high volume social media services are to the old media gatekeeping operational model? Remember how newspapers had editors who read letters sent by readers, and published a few extracts on a page dedicated to the reader feedback. All content was reviewed first by the publication and only after that it was published or thrown to trashbin.

Although many social media services like to give their users an impression that they can share their videos, photos or written thoughts, and only if the new post is reported to be against the guidelines, it will be reviewed, and decided if it stays or is removed. Algorithms running on powerful computers in data centers can scan all new content so quickly that no user has an opportunity to view the new post before the algorithm has already decided to trash it. This is confirmed by the YouTube Transparency Report.

The honeymoon period of the mythical wild and free internet and social media services is over. Social media services are adopting practices that produce a similar result as old media operational model produced. EU has already established rules (DSA and DMA) that point exactly to the same direction.

Humankind seems to require protection from harm it does to itself.

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