If you search “conspiracy theory” on YouTube you get the choice of over 2 million video results. Some of them are mostly harmless, such as “Pop Music Conspiracy Theories” by Shane Dawson, a popular YouTube conspiracist with over 12 million subscribers. Others are more extreme and scary, like the latest video by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, where, according to CNN, he claimed the Parkland school shooting was a “false operation” and the survivors were actors. YouTube has since taken the video down and is turning to Wikipedia to help fight conspiracy theories and hoaxes like these.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced that in the coming weeks they will start adding text boxes, called “information cues”, that will directly link to third-party “fact-based” sites, including Wikipedia. These text boxes will work to offer an alternative viewpoint on videos that include content that questions science, like chemtrails, or conspiracy theories about major events, such as the U.S. moon landing.
— Maureen Fitzgerald (@movandy) March 13, 2018
“When there are videos that are focused around something that’s a conspiracy — and we’re using a list of well-known internet conspiracies from Wikipedia — then we will show a companion unit of information from Wikipedia showing that here is information about the event,” Wojcicki said during a panel at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, according to The Verge.
These information cues will appear directly below the video as it plays, with a link to Wikipedia should the viewer want to read more information. However, Wikipedia isn’t always a trusted source of information since it relies on crowdsourcing information, meaning anyone can update a Wikipedia article. Most university and college students aren’t even allowed to use it for academic purposes since it’s seen as an untrustworthy source. Some are concerned that this move will encourage more users to edit the Wikipedia pages to include the conspiracy theory angle in the story.
Only time will tell if the introduction of these “information cues” will help with the problem of conspiracy theories or if Youtube is fuelling a whole other problem of incorrect editing on Wikipedia pages.