On Monday, people around the world watched as the Notre Dame cathedral went up in flames. Several outlets — like CBS — immediately began to livestream the fire on YouTube. Then, something strange happened.
People noticed that beneath the the Notre Dame livestream, YouTube began to insert information about the 9/11 attacks. Multiple people on Twitter posted screenshots, including Joshua Benton, the director of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab.
“Why in the world is YouTube putting information about9/11 underneath the Notre Dame livestream from France 24?” Benton tweeted, adding, “(Especially since it seems like, at least for right now, ongoing renovations are the most likely cause, no indication of terror).”
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) April 15, 2019
The gray box feature is a part of YouTube’s plan to tackle misinformation by rolling out disclaimers and other tools if people search for sensitive topics. By clicking on it, people would be taken to an article giving information about 9/11.
The disclaimers were removed, according to Buzzfeed News, but it’s a problem that they showed up in the first place. Alluding that the Notre Dame fire was connected to terrorism when authorities themselves never hinted at such is irresponsible.
Seeing as the box is meant to tackle misinformation, this situation is clearly ironic. However, it plays back into larger concerns about YouTube and its tendency to promote conspiracy theories or other problematic content within its algorithms.
YouTube made plans to stop recommending conspiracy theories, but what happens when the site’s own fact-checker is playing into them?
Information is still being gathered about the fire. For now, authorities are saying it was caused by renovations, as reported by USA Today.