These German YouTubers are Fighting to Figure Out How YouTube Works
They’re trying to use the full extent of the law to compel YouTube to lift the curtain on its algorithm
When the Irish government opened up its country to the burgeoning bevy of tech giants looking to find a home for their European headquarters by instigating a low corporation tax regime in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it probably didn’t imagine that its data protection agency, the Data Protection Commission (DPC), would become the frontline for some of the most contentious battles about how social media platforms work. But actions have consequences.
YouTube’s algorithm is an inscrutable black box that has been the subject of heated debate of late. (In the last two weeks we’ve twice written about the algorithm, once covering a controversial academic study of how it works, and another time how attention on the algorithm overlooks other issues about YouTube.) YouTube declines to explain how it works, resulting in an odd game of Chinese whispers any time you get more than three creators in the same room, sharing increasingly odd theories of how to please the algorithm as if it were some pagan god.
But a German YouTuber best known for firing crossbows and slingshots is trying to change that — and could end up in Irish court to do so.
Jörg Sprave is the creator behind the YouTube union, FairTube (which, full disclosure, FFWD has previously said stands little chance of succeeding). He’s currently battling to get the Irish DPC to compel YouTube to open up exactly how its algorithm works.
“We’re trying to find out what YouTube’s position is around the legal status of the classifications they assign to videos regarding monetization, recommendation, audience labelling and filtering — all these things we know happen,” says Michael “Six” Silberman, one of Sprave’s colleagues in the YouTube union. In part, we know how these things work thanks to the work by a collection of creators who spotted YouTube had accidentally begun leaking how each channel and video rated on an internal metric, the P-Score, late last year. (FFWD exclusively revealed the existence of the P-Score.) But the platform has little reason or compulsion to share how it works.