YouTube Starts New Media Literacy Experiment, Running Advertisements Before Videos To Teach General Awareness About Identifying And Dealing With Online Misinformation

A new experiment by YouTube will involve playing short "media literacy" advertisements, in an attempt to encourage critical thinking in its userbase.

The idea for literacy experiments was posited in a Google Support webpage, updated on April 12th, 2021, as a part of YouTube's broader scope of experiments. These comprise a long list of test runs, dating back to the 5th of November, 2019, where YouTube was experimenting with the addition of new subheadings and topics to the Subscriptions feed (with examples such as All, Today, Continue Watching, Unwatched, Live, and Posts). A list of experiments currently in place and active starts off from January 2020, allowing content creators on the video streaming platform to share each other's videos, which will then appear in one's Community section as well as the video recommendations of subscribers.

These experiments are often very limited, appearing only in the YouTube interface of certain individuals in the United States, in efforts to properly test them out while also ensuring that any initial negative reactions to them don't affect the userbase as a whole. The Google Support page also actively encourages the YouTube community to share feedback in order to ensure that these new test runs have earned merit with users.

The latest in line of these experiments in simply entitled as "media literacy tips", and will appear to limited users in the form of a skippable, 15 second ad before the start of videos. The accompanying text further explains that these test ads will only be streaming in the USA, and will be attached to random videos (the text further stresses that the presence of an ad before a video is in no shape or form a judgement on the video itself). A video is also hyperlinked in accompaniment, allowing users to gauge what content these new ads feature.

The video further sheds light on the purpose of such ads. True to their name, media literacy ads take the form of PSAs that aim to teach the general YouTube userbase about gauging online information for its accuracy. The first (and currently only) 15 second ad is a small, non-interactive, animated video that informs users to always check for a source regarding new and/or dubious information encountered online. The source should then be linked back to its originating party, and it should be confirmed whether or not said party is an authority on the subject matter it refers to.

These ads may not be running in bulk, but their presence is well justified by recent online events. Ever since 2020 brought a wave after another of general misfortune, online information has become difficult to trust. With the US led by a president who chose to actively lie via his public messages, an entire pandemic that was swamped in conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination rhetoric, an entire Black Lives Matter wave that was actively slandered by far-right propaganda (which is still ongoing as the trial of Derek Chauvin has recently started), and then 2021 starting off with the US Capitol Riots that were both ignited and defended online, the internet isn't exactly a safe space for verifiable information right now. Videos like these might prove helpful in allowing users to take some initiative and confirm for themselves whether or not sources and articles are accurate and informative.

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