For years, YouTube executives ignored proposals from its own staff to address dangerous videos flourishing on the site, Bloomberg News reports. YouTube staffers repeatedly made recommendations to curb videos spreading conspiracy theories and explicit content long before these issues became well-known to the public, the report says. Executives ignored the suggestions, instead focusing on increasing engagement, according to more than 20 current and former staffers. “It’s an addiction engine,” said Francis Irving, a computer scientist who has written critically about YouTube’s AI system that works to keep people on the site. Lawyers verbally advised employees to avoid searching on their own for questionable videos, according to one former executive. If YouTube knew these videos existed, it could be legally culpable. Federal law shields YouTube from liability for the content on its sites, but the company could lose this protection if they take too active an editorial role.
Yonatan Zunger, a privacy engineer at Google, which owns YouTube, suggested in 2016 that videos “close to the line” of the takedown policy be removed from recommendations. His proposal went to the head of YouTube policy, but was turned down. Videos espousing misinformation and political extremism have garnered millions of views—but were rarely an issue before the 2016 U.S. election. “We were so in the weeds trying to hit our goals and drive usage of the site,” said one former senior manager.