Reviews | YouTube is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and internet extremism
Despite the proliferation of fringe ideologies on Youtube– and the availability of genuinely alternative information out there – the video hosting service protest status can be exaggerated. A FAIR analysis of the 100 most subscribers Youtube news channels around the world have found that the majority of the platform’s major news channels are not independent.
Youtube has a reputation for hosting news that challenges the status quo. In 2020, a Pew Research Center highlighted study Youtubepotential to shed light on more independent sources of information, indicating that 42% of Youtube news channels are not affiliated with traditional media.
The dark side of this observation is that Youtube is a breeding ground for internet conspiracy theories and extremist views (FAIR.org, 03/20/18). In fact, it was the platform on which QAnon conspiracy theories first emerged from the margins of 4 channels to the general public (New York Times, 10/15/20). An Anti-Defamation League 2021 study found that despite its efforts to remove extremist content from its site, YoutubeThe recommendation algorithm always pushes extremist and “alternative” content towards users, especially if they have searched for such content before, pushing them further down the rabbit hole.
But despite the site’s focus on independent and sometimes extremist offerings, 83 of the top 100 Youtube news channels—based on a listing from SocialBlade, a website that tracks Youtube statistics, as of May 4 — are corporate media, that is, owned and funded by large corporations or conglomerates. Only six of the top 100 news channels are independently run.
The major channels encompass journalism from around the world, with just 12 based in the US and 81 from the Global South. Of the 12 US-based chains, all but two are wholly or largely owned by six parent companies.
The cable giant Comcastthrough his NBCUniversal subsidiary, itself owns four of the 10: NBC (ranked 60th globally/8th in the US, with 6.7 million subscribers), Telemundo (ranked 77th/9th, with 5.7 million subscribers), MSNBC (ranked 97th/12th, with 4.9 million subscribers) and a stake in Vox Media (ranked 26th/3rd with 10.5 million subscribers). disney possesses ABC (ranked 19th/2nd with 13 million subscribers) and a stake in Vice (ranked 51st/6th, with 7.7 million subscribers).
Discovery of Warner Bros., through his Turner Broadcasting subsidiary, owns CNN (ranked 15th/1st) with its 13.7 million subscribers.
National amusementsthrough Primordialpossesses SCS, who produces Interior Edition (ranked 27th/4th with 10.5 million subscribers). The Murdoch family Fox Company possesses FoxNews (ranked 35th/5th with 9.4 million subscribers). Television Univisionheadquartered in Miami and Mexico City, owns universityincluding the news channel Univision Noticias is ranked 58th/7th, with 6.8 million subscribers.
The two independent channels are DramaAlert (ranked 78th in the world/10th in the US, with 5.7 million subscribers) and Cenk Uygur’s the Young Turks (ranked 89th/11th, with 5.2 million subscribers). dramatic alert, founded by online trolling Daniel M. Keem, aka Keemstar, covers and creates controversy on the internet and entertainment. The Young Turkshosted by Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, is a left-wing news commentary channel.
A global platform
Youtube is a global and multilingual platform, and the three most represented countries in the Top 100 news list reflect the three most common nationalities of its user base.
Half of the 100 most subscribers Youtube news channels (more BBC News in Hindi, which is based in both Britain and India) is headquartered in India. The United States is far behind, with 12 channels on the list (more Al Jazeera English, which is based in the UK, US and Qatar). Indonesia comes third, with six sources.
These figures coincide with the first three leading countries based on Youtube audience size (Statista, 1/22). India (the second most populous country in the world behind China, where Youtube is blocked) to 467 million Youtube users, followed by the United States (the third most populous country), which has 240 million users, and Indonesia (the fourth most populous country) with 127 million users.
The site’s top 100 news channels represent 18 different languages. The most spoken language, either the sole language or the main language on 33 channels, was Hindi, the most spoken language in India and the fourth most spoken language in the world. Another 29 channels were wholly or partially in English, including three in Hindi and English, two in Urdu and English, and one in Filipino and English.
Six channels on the top 100 list were in Indonesian, followed by five in Arabic and five in the South Asian language, Tamil. Four channels were each in Spanish, Thai and Urdu, the lingua franca of Pakistan. Other languages represented on the list were Bengali, Filipino, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, Vietnamese and the Indian languages of Malayalam, Marathi, Odia and Telugu.
Aaj Takpart of india TV network today and the New Delhi-based media conglomerate Living media group, is the most popular news channel on the platform, with 51 million subscribers. The pro-Modi government conglomerate is associated with several others Youtube channels on the top 100 list:
- News (ranked 43rd with 8.7 million subscribers)
- Good news today (ranked 70th with 6 million subscribers)
- India today (ranked 72nd with 5.9 million subscribers)
- Bharat Tak (ranked 75th with 5.8 million subscribers)
- tak of crime (ranked 80th with 5.7 million subscribers)
- UP Tak (ranked 79th with 5.7 million subscribers)
- Aaj Tak HD (ranked 90th with 5.2 million subscribers).
All together, Living media‘stop Youtube channels have nearly 94 million subscribers.
Seventy-three of the 88 non-US channels on the list are owned by corporations. Two are independent: Dastak national (ranked 73rd with 5.9 million subscribers), an online-only alternative outlet that focuses on marginalized sections of India, and Raffy Tulfo in action (ranked 5th with 23 million subscribers), a Filipino journalist whose show focuses on abuses of power against workers and ordinary citizens.
Six channels were government-funded or were the platforms of government figures (such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ranks 27th on the list with 11 million subscribers). Two channels were affiliated with the Qatari government. Al Jazeera Media Network. The affiliations of five channels were undetermined.
Disinformation and sensationalism
Some top 100 channels are notorious for misinformation and sensationalism. india Aaj Takthe n°1 news channel on Youtubecame under fire in 2015 after a video emerged of a journalist bribing a homeless child for a statement (BuzzFeed, 11/04/15). In 2020, the channel was fined for attributing fabricated tweets to Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput after his death (New Indian Express, 10/08/20).
The Indian Channel Zee News (#4, with 25 million subscribers) published fabricated stories, including allegations that an Indian mobster had billions of dollars worth of property seized in the United Arab Emirates (Janta Ka Reporter, 01/05/17). Thairath online (N°12, 14 million subscribers) is the video channel of a Thai tabloid which sparked controversy in 2020, when it called the Philippines a “Covid country” (Twitter, 08/10/20). Cidade Alerta Record (#98, 4.9 million subscribers) is a sensationalized detective and crime show that airs on Brazilian TV record. Misinformation has spread on Fox covered topics such as Covid, the climate and the 2020 elections (FAIR.org, 10/06/20; Pointer, 07/21/21; FAIR.org, 10/26/21).
Whereas Youtube offers opportunities for independent sites to reach a wider audience, its most subscribed news channels remain largely a reflection of the corporate biases of the global media landscape as a whole.