The YouTube-Born Terrorist

Lucas Regnér


Personalization permeates the World Wide Web today and search engine-, social networking-, and social media websites—like Google, Facebook, and YouTube—use algorithms to tailor search results and content to web users’ interest and past behavior on the Web. Author and Internet activist Eli Pariser has raised concerns about this trend and coined the term “the filter bubble” to describe the information silos he argues web users may find themselves in when browsing the Web. If Pariser’s theory holds true—that personalization algorithms presents self-similar content to web users based on the users’ past web behavior—what type of online world will users that consume far-right or far-left radical content find themselves in?

In this research project, I develop a methodology that studies how personalization algorithms affect YouTube users’ experience of the website. I apply the methodology to the case of far-right and far-left radical web users, and I quantitatively study the videos they encounter when YouTube’s personalization algorithms govern their content discovery.

Borrowing theoretical and methodological frameworks from Internet studies, political socialization, social network analysis, and communications studies, I find that the users do experience significant personalization on YouTube, while it’s unclear to what extent personalization furthers radicalization processes.

Although the findings are somewhat inconclusive, the methodology provides an opportunity to systematically study a users web experience. A scaled-up version of the method could yield more decisive findings. However, considering the dynamic nature of the web, it is important that the results are considered in their temporal contexts.


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YouTube, Personalization




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