Miscellaneous (한 + EN)

The hypodermic needle model of media effects

2019-10-30 20:04
"A prominent theme in theories claiming YouTube is a radicalizing agent is the recommendation engine ("the algorithm"), coupled with the default option to "autoplay" the top recommended video after the current one finishes playing.

The algorithm tends to recommend alternative media (the theory goes), leading users down a "rabbit hole" into which they become trapped, watching countless hours of alternative media content and becoming hardened opponents of liberal democratic values and mainstream knowledge production institutions. Even if we accept the premise that YouTube is an important space for radical politics, we argue that a model of YouTube media effects that centers the recommendation engine is implausible, an unfortunate update of the "hypodermic needle" model of media effects that enjoyed some prominence in the 1930s and 1940s but which has been consistently discredited ever since (Lasswell, 1927).

New cultural contexts demand new metaphors, so in place of the hypodermic needle, we call this the "Zombie Bite" model of YouTube radicalization. The reference is to Ribeiro et al. (2019)'s working paper (the most comprehensive quantitative analysis of YouTube politics to date) which deems people who comment on videos produced by figures associated with the "Alt-Right" as "infected," and that this "infection" spreads. We think this theory is incomplete, and potentially misleading. And we think that it has rapidly gained a place in the center of the study of media and politics on YouTube because it implies an obvious policy solution---one which is flattering to the journalists and academics studying the phenomenon. If only Google (which owns YouTube) would accept lower profits by changing the algorithm governing the recommendation engine, the alternative media would diminish in power and we would regain our place as the gatekeepers of knowledge. This is wishful thinking that undersells the importance of YouTube politics as a whole."

—Munger, K., & Phillips, J. (2019). A Supply and demand framework for YouTube politics.