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Photo: Carsten Rehder/picture alliance via Getty Images

A damning report from Bloomberg Tuesday revealed that top YouTube executives debated for years whether extremist viral videos on its platform were really a problem — often rejecting solutions to manage the situation — in an effort to maximize growth and profits.

Why it matters: Tech companies have long been criticized for harboring hate, but as the consequences of their inactions begin to unfold more visibly in the real world, companies like YouTube are facing more pressure to address whether their ignorance was actually malpractice.

Driving the news: The most poignant aspect of the Bloomberg report is a narrative similar to one that's been reported about Facebook's handling of Russian misinformation: top executives were repeatedly briefed that there was a problem, and chose to downplay it for the sake of focusing on business outcomes.

  • The Bloomberg story alleges that the company focused on platform "engagement" above all other goals, which deterred corporate leadership from taking action against internal alarms about the ways hate content was flourishing on the platform.
  • It details ways YouTube's "neural network" AI system acted like an "addiction engine," pushing users to consume more videos, regardless of the fringe nature of their content.
  • The report says that after the 2016 election, YouTube, under the helm of CEO Susan Wojcicki, attempted to mitigate the problem by adding a not-well-known measure of “social responsibility” to its recommendation algorithm.
  • It explains that YouTube dissuaded employees from looking for bad videos, because doing so would expose YouTube to more legal liability.

The big picture: The report comes as Facebook is scrambling to manage hateful content and misinformation on its platforms ahead of upcoming elections in India and the coming round of U.S. presidential primaries.

  • The tech giant extended its ban on hate speech to speech that promoted or supported white nationalism and white separatism.
  • It announced Tuesday that it added a tip line for misinformation on its popular messaging app WhatsApp, since the encrypted network makes it nearly impossible to track misinformation.

Be smart: Calls for change have started to pick up in the wake of real-world outcomes occurring as the result of people who have been radicalized by hateful or conspiracy-minded content. As Axios has previously noted:

  • Anti-vaccination content that's long appeared in search results and on social media is now being regulated by social platforms after the U.S. government attributed recent measles outbreaks in part to reduced vaccination levels in some areas.
  • Terrorist attacks and mass shootings, like the recent New Zealand mosque attack, highlight ways that extremists are using social media channels to inspire hate and spread horrifying footage of mass killings.

Bottom line: Two years after the 2016 election, it has become increasingly apparent that Google and Facebook, despite warnings about ways their platforms' algorithms allowed bad content to flourish, shied away from doing much about it for business reasons. Now, facing elections and misinformation crises around the world, they are being forced to reckon with those decisions.

Go deeper

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.

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