YouTube took down twice as many videos as usual from April to June because the pandemic forced it to rely on moderation algorithms

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki at the Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts in San Francisco in 2018. Kim White/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
  • YouTube on Tuesday said it took down a record 11 million videos from the start of April to the end of June, almost twice as many as in the previous quarter.
  • It said this was because it decided to rely more heavily on its algorithms to remove content during the pandemic, rather than human moderators.
  • The shift meant more videos were removed erroneously, with YouTube saying it got twice as many appeals about removed videos as usual.
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YouTube says its reliance on automated moderation algorithms during the coronavirus pandemic caused the platform to take down a record 11 million videos from the start of April to the end of June – almost twice as many as in the previous quarter.

In its quarterly Community Guidelines Enforcement Report published Tuesday, as first reported by Protocol, YouTube said it reduced office hours as the pandemic began to bite in March, forcing it to rely more heavily on algorithmic decision-making to moderate its site.

“When reckoning with greatly reduced human review capacity due to COVID-19, we were forced to make a choice between potential under-enforcement or potential over-enforcement,” YouTube wrote in a blog post.

YouTube said that if it continued to operate using the same balance of algorithmic and human review, this would have caused bottlenecks for its moderator workforce. Alternatively, it could let its algorithm take on more of the work – accepting that it would probably cause more errors.

“Because responsibility is our top priority, we chose the latter – using technology to help with some of the work normally done by reviewers,” YouTube said.

“The result was an increase in the number of videos removed from YouTube; more than double the number of videos we removed in the previous quarter.”

From April to June, YouTube said, it took down 11.4 million videos, the most it’s removed in a quarter, compared with 6.1 million from January to March. YouTube said appeals from creators claiming their videos were removed in error had doubled along with the success rate of those appeals.