Top Senate Intel Dem warns of YouTube manipulation by foreign intelligence groups

Top Senate Intel Dem warns of YouTube manipulation by foreign intelligence groups
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs Biden administration pushing to include IRS proposal in spending bill despite criticism White House tries to lock down deal with Manchin, Sinema MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is concerned that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm could be manipulated by foreign governments.

“Companies like YouTube have immense power and influence in shaping the media and content that users see,” Warner told The Guardian on Monday. “I’ve been increasingly concerned that the recommendation engine algorithms behind platforms like YouTube are, at best, intrinsically flawed in optimizing for outrageous, salacious, and often fraudulent content.”

“At worst, they can be highly susceptible to gaming and manipulation by bad actors, including foreign intelligence entities,” he noted.

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Warner’s criticism follows a Guardian investigation that found that YouTube’s ad algorithm had consistently pushed anti-Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to attend World Series Game 4 in Atlanta Pavlich: Democrats' weaponization of the DOJ is back Mellman: The trout in the milk MORE conspiracy videos around the time of the 2016 presidential election in its automated video recommendations.

The newspaper’s analysis found that the video streaming platform was six times as likely to push anti-Clinton content than it was for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China WSJ publishes letter from Trump continuing to allege voter fraud in PA Oath Keeper who was at Capitol on Jan. 6 runs for New Jersey State Assembly MORE.

YouTube has challenged the Guardian’s research, saying that it “strongly disagreed” with the outlet’s findings.

“It appears as if the Guardian is attempting to shoehorn research, data and their conclusions into a common narrative about the role of technology in last year’s election,” a YouTube spokesperson told the outlet. “The reality of how our systems work, however, simply doesn’t support this premise.”

Google, which owns the online video platform, has consistently downplayed the presence of Russian-led influence efforts on its platform, compared to such campaigns on Twitter and Facebook. 

“We believe that the activity we found was limited because of various safeguards that we had in place in advance of the 2016 election, and the fact that Google’s products didn’t lend themselves to the kind of micro-targeting or viral dissemination that these actors seemed to prefer,”said Google general counsel Kent Walker during the Nov. 1 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.