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The Weekly | What Is YouTube Pushing You to Watch Next?

Episode 9: ‘The Rabbit Hole’

Producers/Directors Gemma Jordan and Alyse Shorland

A wave of vocal, right-wing provocateurs has been elected to public office in Brazil in recent years, riding a surge of enthusiasm from their loyal YouTube viewers. Watched more than almost any TV network in Brazil, the nearly ubiquitous social video platform even helped catapult a little-known populist named Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency.

Our correspondents Max Fisher and Amanda Taub found that in a country driven to the edge by economic and political crises, YouTube’s algorithms may have played a decisive role in Bolsonaro’s rise. The site’s recommendation feature boosts fringe videos into the mainstream and can unwittingly help spread conspiracies and misinformation about dangerous diseases, jeopardizing public health.

Max and Amanda go to Brazil to meet the YouTube stars-turned-politicians and speak to the targets of their divisive and often inflammatory online attacks.

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Max Fisher co-writes The Interpreter, a New York Times column and newsletter about the ideas shaping world events. Based in London, he has reported from countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. Follow him on Twitter at @Max_Fisher.

Amanda Taub is the co-writer of The Interpreter and is also based in London. A former human rights lawyer, Amanda writes about foreign policy, human rights and rapidly changing global politics. Follow her on Twitter at @amandataub.

Complete Coverage

Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in as president of Brazil in January, promising a rightward shift in Brazilian politics. He made good on that promise almost immediately upon taking office.

During his campaign he praised the country’s military dictatorship, advocated torture, threatened his political opponents, denigrated women and seemed to show no regard for the country’s democratic principles.

At the height of the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil, misinformation and conspiracy theories spread online. Our Science Desk looked at the most prominent theories making the rounds on social media, along with responses from scientists.

YouTube’s automated recommendation system — which drives most of the platform’s billions of views by suggesting what users should watch next — created a vast video catalog of prepubescent, partly clothed children, a team of researchers has found.

Director of Photography Andreas Burgess
Video Editor Marlon Singleton
Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen and Liz Day
Associate Producers Lora Moftah and Valerie Schenkman
Additional Reporting Kate Steiker-Ginzberg and Mariana Simões


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