Vegas Shooting Horror: Fixing YouTube’s Continuing Fake News Problem

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas last Sunday, survivors, relatives, and observers in general were additionally horrified to see disgusting, evil, fake news videos quickly trending on YouTube, some rapidly accumulating vast numbers of views.

Falling squarely into the category of lying hate speech, these videos presented preposterous and hurtful allegations, including false claims of responsibility, faked video imagery, declarations that the attack was a “false flag” conspiracy, and similar disgusting nonsense.

At a time when the world was looking for accurate information, YouTube was trending this kind of bile to the top of related search results. I’ve received emails from Google users who report YouTube pushing links to some of those trending fake videos directly to their phones as notifications.

YouTube’s scale is enormous, and the vast rivers of video being uploaded into its systems every minute means that a reliance on automated algorithms is an absolute necessity in most cases. Public rumors now circulating suggest that Google is trying again to tune these mechanisms to help avoid pushing fake news into high trending visibility, perhaps by giving additional weight to generally authoritative news sources. This of course can present its own problems, since it might tend to exclude, for example, perfectly legitimate personal “eyewitness” videos of events that could be extremely useful if widely viewed as quickly as possible.

In the months since last March when I posted “What Google Needs to Do About YouTube Hate Speech” (, Google has wisely taken steps to more strictly enforce its YouTube Terms of Service, particularly in respect to monetization and search visibility of such videos. 

However, it’s clear that there’s still much work for Google to do in this area, especially when it comes to trending videos (both generally and in specific search results) when major news events have occurred.

Despite Google’s admirable “machine learning” acumen, it’s difficult to see how the most serious of these situations can be appropriately handled without some human intervention.

It doesn’t take much deep thought or imagination to jot down a list of, let’s say, the top 50 controversial topics that are the most likely to suffer from relatively routine “contamination” of trending lists and results from fake news videos and other hate speech.

My own sense is that under normal circumstances, the “churn” at and near the top of some trending lists and results is relatively low. I’ve noted in past posts various instances of hate speech videos that have long lingered at the top of such lists and gathered very large view counts as a result.

I believe that the most highly ranked trending YouTube topics should be subject to ongoing human review on a frequent basis (appropriate review intervals to be determined). 

In the case of major news stories such as the Vegas massacre, related trending topics should be immediately and automatically frozen. No related changes to the high trending video results that preceded the event should be permitted in the immediate aftermath (and for some additional period as well) without human “sanity checking” and human authorization. If necessary, those trending lists and results should be immediately rolled back to remove any “fake news” videos that had quickly snuck in before “on-call” humans were notified to take charge.

By restricting this kind of human intervention to the most serious cases, scaling issues that might otherwise seem prohibitive should be manageable. We can assume that Google systems must already notify specified Googlers when hardware or software need immediate attention.

Much the same kind of priority-based paradigm should apply to quickly bring humans into the loop when major news events otherwise could trigger rapid degeneration of trending lists and results.


How to Fake a Sleep Timer on Google Home

UPDATE (October 17, 2017): Google Home, nearly a year after its initial release, finally has a real sleep timer! Some readers have speculated that this popular post that you’re viewing right here somehow “shamed” Google into final action on this. I wouldn’t go that far. But I’ll admit that it’s somewhat difficult to stop chuckling a bit right now. In any case, thanks to the Home team!

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I’ve long been bitching about Google Home’s lack of a basic function that clock radios have had since at least the middle of the last century — the classic “sleep timer” for playing music until a specified time or until a specific interval has passed. I suspect my rants about this have become something of a chuckling point around Google by now.

Originally, sleep timer type commands weren’t recognized at all by GH, but eventually it started admitting that the concept at least exists.

A somewhat inconvenient but seemingly serviceable way to fake a sleep timer is now possible with Google Home. I plead guilty, it’s a hack. But here we go.

Officially, GH still responds with “Sleep timer is not yet supported” when you give commands like “Stop playing in an hour.”

BUT, a new “Night Mode” has appeared in GH firmware, at least since revision 99351 (I’m in the preview program, you may or may not have that revision yet, or it may have appeared earlier in some cases).

This new mode — in the device settings reachable through the Home app — permits you to specify a maximum volume level during specified days and hours. While the description doesn’t say this explicitly, it turns out that this affects music streams as well as announcements (except for alarms and timers). And, you can set the maximum volume for this mode to zero (or turn on the Night Mode “Do Not Disturb” setting, which appears to set the volume directly to zero).

This means that you can specify a Night Mode activation time — with volume set to minimum — when you want your fake “sleep timer” to shut down the audio. The stream will keep playing — using data of course — until the set Night Mode termination time or until you manually (e.g., by voice command) set a higher volume level (for example, in the morning). Then you can manually stop the stream if it’s still playing at that point.

Yep, a hack, but it works. And it’s the closest we’ve gotten to a real sleep timer on Google Home so far.

Feel free to contact me if you need more information about this.