A video calling David Hogg — a 17-year-old survivor of the Florida school shooting — an "actor" was the No. 1 trending video on YouTube on Wednesday, prompting massive backlash against the company.
The video contained local CBS News footage of Hogg's 2017 interview about recording his friend's viral confrontation with a lifeguard on Redondo Beach.
The video has since been repurposed by right-wing conspiracy theorists in their efforts to prove that many of the survivors of the shooting who have become advocates for gun reform are really "crisis actors" planted to propagate an anti-Trump narrative and push for liberal anti-gun legislation.
Several false conspiracy theories have targeted Hogg, who has been been outspoken in his call for lawmakers and politicians to take action against guns. Right-wing websites such as Gateway Pundit have suggested that Hogg was "coached" by his father, a former FBI agent, to push an anti-Trump rhetoric in the aftermath of the tragedy.
The right-wing movement to discredit the young survivors has gained momentum as prominent Trump supporters, including former Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke and conservative author Dinesh D'Souza, have endorsed the conspiracy theories that the students' push for gun reform is an orchestrated left-wing political effort. Donald Trump Jr. also liked two tweets peddling conspiracy theories about Hogg.
People on Twitter slammed YouTube for letting the conspiracy video used to attack Hogg trend at No. 1.
Some said that YouTube was still reeling from a wave of recent criticism over the company's handling of high-profile YouTuber Logan Paul, who posted a video of a body while filming in Aokigahara, Japan’s so-called suicide forest.
Before the Paul controversy, YouTube was already facing a massive content crisis when it was forced to delete disturbing and exploitative viral videos depicting children in abusive situations. BuzzFeed News provided the company with dozens of examples.
YouTube had promised to increase the number of moderators following the Paul controversy, but people pointed out that its algorithm continued to promote conspiracy videos attacking the Florida school shooting survivors.
Around 12 p.m. ET Wednesday, YouTube said it had removed the Hogg conspiracy video from Trending and from YouTube, "as soon as we became aware of it." But this HuffPost reporter pointed it out at 9:43 a.m. ET.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, YouTube added that "our system misclassified" the video.
"This video should never have appeared in Trending. Because the video contained footage from an authoritative news source, our system misclassified it. As soon as we became aware of the video, we removed it from Trending and from YouTube for violating our policies. We are working to improve our systems moving forward," the statement said.
YouTube does not have humans curating which videos appear in the Trending list. The Trending tab is curated by a human-trained algorithm that considers view count, rate of growth in views, and age of the video.
However, YouTube's search results for "David Hogg" listed multiple conspiracy videos attacking the teen with false allegations of being a crisis actor and for forgetting his rehearsed lines during a television interview.
In a statement to Business Insider, a YouTube spokesperson said that changes made to its search algorithm in 2017, to get better results from "authoritative news sources," were not "working quickly enough."
The statement said:
In 2017, we started rolling out changes to better surface authoritative news sources in search results, particularly around breaking news events. We've seen improvements, but in some circumstances these changes are not working quickly enough. In addition, last year we updated the application of our harassment policy to include hoax videos that target the victims of these tragedies. Any video flagged to us that violates this policy is reviewed and then removed. We're committed to making more improvements throughout 2018 to make these tools faster, better and more useful to users.
YouTube did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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