Evaluating the scale, growth, and origins of right-wing echo chambers on YouTube

Although it is understudied relative to other social media platforms, YouTube is arguably the largest and most engaging online media consumption platform in the world. Recently, YouTube’s outsize influence has sparked concerns that its recommendation algorithm systematically directs users to radical right-wing content. Here we investigate these concerns with large scale longitudinal data of individuals’ browsing behavior spanning January 2016 through December 2019. Consistent with previous work, we find that political news content accounts for a relatively small fraction (11%) of consumption on YouTube, and is dominated by mainstream and largely centrist sources. However, we also find evidence for a small but growing “echo chamber” of far-right content consumption. Users in this community show higher engagement and greater “stickiness” than users who consume any other category of content. Moreover, YouTube accounts for an increasing fraction of these users’ overall online news consumption. Finally, while the size, intensity, and growth of this echo chamber present real concerns, we find no evidence that they are caused by YouTube recommendations. Rather, consumption of radical content on YouTube appears to reflect broader patterns of news consumption across the web. Our results emphasize the importance of measuring consumption directly rather than inferring it from recommendations.

Tags: echo chamber, Extreme Right, recommendation algorithm, YouTube