It’s easy to create your own ‘filter bubble’ on YouTube. Anyone who watches political videos on YouTube immediately gets more videos from those parties on their front page. Moreover, the smart algorithms of the video platform come up with which related videos suit you even more, based on your viewing behavior, the NOS concludes after joint research with Pointer and De Groene Amsterdammer.
Videos of parties from outside your bubble are almost non-existent. With the exception of Forum for Democracy: videos of that party appear on all front pages, although they are most often seen if you also watch FvD films yourself. Why FvD videos pop up so often isn’t clear.
Created YouTube accounts yourself
For this research, we collected the recommendations we received on six different YouTube accounts for four weeks, which we created especially for this research and which all consciously provided political viewing behavior (see also the justification at the bottom of this article).
More than half of all six front pages are filled with all kinds of neutral videos: from sports clips and music to explanation and meditation films. Videos from established media also appear on all timelines. YouTube owner Google says it is making a conscious effort to do so. “We have invested heavily in recent years to make YouTube a more reliable source of news and information.”
Your YouTube front page is largely determined by your own viewing behavior. For example, anyone who mainly watches videos from the Forum for Democracy, JA21 and the Freedom Party, is then recommended videos from those parties. Those who watch videos of left-wing parties will immediately see suggestions to view more videos of those parties.
Those political videos are supplemented with matching videos from other channels. For example, watching videos of Christian parties leads to a range of religiously tinted videos: from psalms to church services. Those who watch FvD and PVV films, on the other hand, more often come into contact with vloggers and media of right-wing nature, channels where mainly fragments of right-wing politicians are shared and accounts where there is a lot of criticism of the corona measures.
The fact that you get to see so many videos that lie in your own street is a risk for some, says media researcher Judith Möller of the University of Amsterdam. “Most Dutch people like to be informed in various ways.”
If people only watch videos that confirm their right, they can be sucked into a filter bubble. “People like to be confirmed that they are right, and we see that algorithms can reinforce that,” says Paul van Lange psychology professor of the VU University.
However, the effects on the polls of social media are minor and traditional media still reach many people. Möller: “But for people with a different opinion, which is shared by few people, it can seem through a filter bubble that a lot of people share that opinion.”
Moreover, your own world view is confirmed by this dynamic, says psychologist Roos Vonk. “You think: you see, I’m right. A lot of people don’t take into account all the videos they don’t get to see.”
At the same time, the filter bubble is not absolute. For example, the right-oriented GeenStijl also appears in the bubble of Bij1, NIDA and Denk. The same goes for coronasceptic Virus Truth movies.
In all filter bubbles, at least one video with a conspiracy or misinformation came along, especially in the bubble of Forum for Democracy and the PVV and in the bubble of NIDA, Bij1 and Denk. Those videos didn’t pass by in a bubble without political videos at all.
“In a general sense, our systems do not, on average, point to more niche content,” said the Google spokesperson. “In practice, they refer to more popular videos, as is also shown in this study.”
The question is whether people click on those videos once they are in a filter bubble. “People do not consciously seek to invalidate their ideas,” says Vonk.
By just watching videos of like-minded people, people can become radicalized. “By watching videos you do not suddenly think completely differently about a subject. But within your own acceptance zone, as we call it, your opinion can gradually shift more and more because of this.”
And that can really happen to anyone, she emphasizes. “Never think: I am nuanced, that will not happen to me.”