YouTube Search Automatically Suggests Conspiracy Theories for Florida Shooting

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YouTube suggests terms associated with conspiracies around the high school shooting.
YouTube suggests terms associated with conspiracies around the high school shooting. Credit: via YouTube

"David Hogg Can't Remember His Lines When Interviewed for Florida school shooting." "David Hogg, crisis actor." "David Hogg exposed."

Those are just some of the videos on YouTube now sowing disinformation about last week's mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Hogg is one of the Parkland students vocally criticizing the government's inaction on gun violence in the wake of the shooting, which killed 17 of his classmates. He has been sucked into the vortex of internet conspiracies that inevitably seize on these types of events, as happened after the Las Vegas mass shooting in October and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.

On Wednesday, the No. 1 trending video on YouTube for a time was "David Hogg the actor," which used a local CBS news report from six months ago that featured Hogg in a story unrelated to the Florida shooting.

It and many others claim to "expose" Hogg as a "crisis actor," the term conspiracy theorists use to discount firsthand accounts by people in news stories that they insist are hoaxes. YouTube eventually removed that particular video, but not before it amassed nearly 200,000 views.

Other videos targeting Hogg remain up. One that appears to show Hogg struggling with his words during an interview after the shooting suggests it's because he "forgot his lines."

YouTube autosuggests certain search terms that would lead people directly to the clips. If a person typed "David Hogg" in YouTube's search bar midday Wednesday, for example, some of the suggestions would include "exposed" and "crisis actor."

Hogg is aware of the conspiracy attacks, and addressed it an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. "I'm not a crisis actor," Hogg said. "I'm someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that."

For its part, YouTube told CNN that the video that reached No. 1 on trending slipped through its filters because it's from a legitimate news source. YouTube was not immediately available for further comment.

YouTube has been under heavy criticism for how it vets videos and monitors channels. Last month, one of the most popular YouTube personalities, Logan Paul, posted a video that showed a dead body after a suicide. YouTube removed his clips from a premium ad program that's ostensibly reserved for high-quality channels. Within weeks, it blocked him from showing any ads at all because of what YouTube deemed bad behavior in videos.

Advertisers have become more vigilant about monitoring YouTube. Last year, some advertisers pulled back on spending there until it could assure them that their ads would not run on fake news channels or near any extreme subjects. Since then, YouTube overhauled how channels become eligible to show ads and how advertisers control where ads appear.

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