YouTube’s algorithms have yet again fallen victim to manipulation by black hat conspiracy theorists.
A far-right conspiracy group believing in “Qanon,” a theory centered around allegations that democratic public figures are part of child sex trafficking rings, has been uploading their propaganda videos to YouTube and ranking them against certain keywords. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were among those targeted on Monday, along with Cemex, a Mexican cement company.
Viewers searching for Tom Hanks on YouTube were greeted with a slate of recently-uploaded videos featuring wildly unsubstantiated claims from users with display names like “End Times Prophecy News.” Search autocomplete was also including top-ranking suggested searches, like “cemex child trafficking.”
This is what happens when you search Tom Hanks on YouTube today.
Last week, Qanon folks decided he was a pedophile. If you were to search YouTube today, you'd believe it. pic.twitter.com/OQfL97YOWz
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) July 30, 2018
The Qanon conspiracy group appears to stem from content posted to 4chan, a meme-focused discussion board known for its lack of censor.
This isn’t YouTube’s first issue with hijacked algorithms. After the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, the top trending video on YouTube was from a conspiracy theorist claiming that David Hogg, a student at the school, was a trained “crisis actor.”
While YouTube didn’t issue a statement, the conspiracy videos appear to have been removed and search rankings returned to normal by Tuesday afternoon.