YouTube placed a banner showing information about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States on livestream videos showing the Notre Dame cathedral burning.
The 850-year-old structure in Paris burning drew thousands of people across the world to live streams from major networks, including CBS, NBC, and Fox News.
A number of the live streams included a banner titled “September 11 attacks” on YouTube, which included one-and-a-half sentences—three lines of text across the bottom of the screen—about the 9/11 terror attacks before guiding people to a link to the Encyclopedia Britannica website.
The banner was noted by a number of journalists, including independent journalist Nick Monroe, who specializes in threads on Twitter.
I can confirm YouTube’s algorithm is placing a September 11th 2001 banner on news livestreams covering the Notre Dame fire
— Nick Monroe (@nickmon1112) April 15, 2019
The boxes were announced last year, with Google CEO Susan Wojcicki saying videos that were about “conspiracies” would include clarifying information from Wikipedia.
About a month later, YouTube announced it was bringing Encyclopedia Britannica on board. “Visitors to YouTube will have a new and easier way to get more information about certain topics. Encyclopedia Britannica will provide custom, fact-checked information on certain historical and scientific topics that have been subject to misinformation, and YouTube will link to this information from Britannica in searches and below videos about these topics,” YouTube said in a statement.
A YouTube spokesperson admitted on Monday that the 9/11 banner was showing on various livestreams and said the algorithm problem was fixed.
“We are deeply saddened by the ongoing fire at the Notre Dame cathedral. Last year, we launched information panels with links to third party sources like Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia for subjects subject to misinformation. These panels are triggered algorithmically and our systems sometimes make the wrong call. We are disabling these panels for live streams related to the fire,” the spokesperson told Gizmodo.
Google fixed the issue in less than an hour.
Sounds like image recognition being confused by the twin bell towers being on fire.
— scar3crow (@scar3crowdotcom) April 15, 2019
When you get an algorithm to make decisions …..this is what you get.
— jeroen dekker (@jeroendekk) April 15, 2019
Heartless machines doing their part of the stabbing.
— Sugar Vladdy (@LookAtTheKitty) April 15, 2019
oof big fail there
— Dystroph (@Dystrophical) April 15, 2019
A number of people reacted to the issue on Twitter.
“Sounds like image recognition being confused by the twin bell towers being on fire,” said one user.
“It’s probably just because 9/11 has been on the news and those are two buildings on fire. Algorithms being stupid as always But holy [expletive] does it look bad,” added another.
“Why in the world is @YouTube putting information about 9/11 underneath the Notre Dame livestream from @FRANCE24?” added another.
“Clicks, baby, clicks. Nothing else matters,” said another.
“When you get an algorithm to make decisions …..this is what you get,” said another.