YouTube (Google) is yet another in a series of tech behemoths that feel the need to declare their stance on content, including its effective algorithmic manipulation, just as US primaries are ushering the country into another year of presidential elections.
Beating around that bush – Google representatives now talk about processes, procedures, and tools of censorship of health-related information that, unfortunately, can easily be “repurposed” to serve other, for example, political ends.
Much of the conversation rests on what Google wants to portray as its laurels from “the previous epidemic” – which too many people and creators see from a diametrically opposed point of view, as a dark time of nearly unbridled censorship and suppression of free speech.
A video now published by Yahoo Finance reveals not only that Google has a “chief clinical officer,” but also how that officer, Michael Howell, sees the role of this super powerful tech corporation in determining what users are likely to see, see first, or see at all on a platform like YouTube.
Howell, naturally, sees nothing wrong with this and even, to all intents and purposes, brags that YouTube is working to make sure legacy media have advantage over independent creators, and that the latter may easily face censorship.
That’s the takeaway from his words, which he chose to phrase thus: YouTube works to “lift up high quality content, even as we work to lower, and make less prominent content that isn’t accurate or helpful to users.”
The whole interview is positioned as an exploration of how “misinformation grows and spreads” supposedly in sync with the amount of content and the number of users. There is even the assertion made by Yahoo that medical sector “misinformation” is not only very present among users but also “in the broader medical community.”
While this may or may not signal continued censorship of “disfavored” medical professionals, YouTube Head of Healthcare & Public Health (yes, that’s a YouTube job title these days, too) Dr. Garth Graham shared that the platform is the first to start “labeling health information that’s coming from licensed doctors, licensed nurses, licensed healthcare professionals.”
And even after all these years of sometimes completely arbitrary censorship YouTube is supposed to be taken as a “credible source of information (users) can trust” – as it works with the National Academy of Medicine and of course, the World Health Organization (WHO) to craft its definitions, and then “raise that up” – i.e., algorithmically promote, at the expense of other content.
Graham had more curious things to say, such as that while clearly committed to censoring what (or, whatever) Google decides is “delicate (sic) and dangerous information” – people are still supposed to view it as an “open platform”!
Either Graham doesn’t know what an open platform is, or he hopes YouTube/Google users don’t.
There’s also a good amount of patronizing toward those users, as in them needing to be hand-held (by Google) pretty much all the way in order to discern information from misinformation and make appropriate decisions.
“So, you know, we’re an open platform, but the real goal is how do you balance getting good information to people at the right time (…) while making sure that we remove delicate or dangerous information.”
Asked how Google has already managed (shocker) to get the government to participate in posting videos promoting their policies and what “conversations” preceded this, the Google exec said that “the entire healthcare eco-system” was already “energized” to get their message across.
And he counted the government as well as hospitals and physicians as part of this eco-system. One of them, last but not least, is the WHO.
What we know for certain from a great number of internal documents that have emerged over the past months both from Twitter and Facebook is that these two were being “led” to do certain things by the government and its agencies.
Google’s position in the interview is suggested to be the opposite – namely, at one point Howell is asked if the company basically instructed all these national and international healthcare players on what content to make, and have “trending” (mostly artificially, one might add.)
Howell dances around this question – or statement – by saying that the (pandemic) produced a community of creators from the health sector.
But as we know, many of them also got their voices silenced, however, that is not something anyone should expect Google to address.
Instead, the talk is obviously about the “approved” community of healthcare creators.
But, says Howell: “If there’s no good content out there that people want to watch, it’s very hard to show (that) content to users.”
And, cynics would say – then you write an algorithm that shoves that content into everybody’s “recommended” videos anyway.