Kids love YouTube. In fact, videos aimed at kids, especially those that include kids, are three times more popular than any other content on the platform, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Centre. YouTube is really good at grabbing kids’ attention and encouraging them to keep watching.
How does YouTube do this? Like many other platforms, YouTube uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. These sets of computer commands quickly analyze clues that kids provide. When kids click the “like” button, how long they watch a video, how quickly they stop watching; all these behaviours become data that an AI algorithm collects. AI also tracks and predicts how often kids respond to familiar choices, compared to how often they need fresh choices. The way kids interact with these predictions is transformed into even more data which helps the algorithms get better at offering content that will be liked often and watched longer.
The more kids choose what the algorithm suggests, the more the pattern is reinforced, and the greater the chances we find our kids living in a “preference bubble,”a narrow and limited view of the world.
This isn’t necessarily all bad. A preference bubble can help keep kids from being led to inappropriate or disturbing material. But it can also lock kids into a very small ecosystem that discourages diversity. Think of this like any other ecosystem. We want to have a good balance of bacteria. Of course, we want to have routines that limit the spread of harmful viruses, but if our environment is too sterile we risk not developing the strong and healthy immune system that allows everyone to live safely and openly in the world.
We want our kids to remain curious. We also want them to build strong critical thinking skills and creative energy that will empower them as active and empathetic digital citizens. We want our kids to be the programmers of their environment, not the programmed.
Here are 5 habits that we can build into our routines to make our preference bubbles bigger and more resilient.
Understand and help your kids to see that AI is not making recommendations based on what is good for them, but on what it knows they will impulsively choose. Encourage kids to reflect regularly on the choices being provided. Are kids learning about something interesting, educational, or new? Or just unboxing one more toy?
Consider watching something that you might not agree with, but is expressed in a way that is candid and sincere. Think about what’s being represented in the content being offered. Is there enough content about people who are different from you?
Does the content you see represent the creativity and energy of people in your neighborhood, town or city, or is it usually international? It’s important to know what’s happening around the world, but are you able to find content that will connect you to and make you curious about local people you might one day see or even meet?
Are the things you view and read meaningful, or is it mostly just a diversion? Social media can be fun, and should remain light and playful. But if it’s all shallow escapism, the problems and anxieties we’re trying to avoid will continue to accumulate.
Taking frequent and regular reflection breaks is the preference bubble equivalent of regularly washing your hands. Check in regularly with how your online activity is making you feel. Go outside. Build routines around offline activities. Increase the probability of discovering something cool that may become part of your healthy bubble!
Ready to keep learning about the world of algorithms behind your screen? The Algorithm Literacy Project, an effort by KCJ and CCUNESCO, provides you and the young people in your life with the resources you need to understand how algorithms work and how to act as responsible digital citizens. Have questions or comments to share? Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #GetAlgoLit.
As of March 17th, over 850 million children and youth – roughly half of the world’s student population – had to stay away from schools and universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The adverse impacts of school closures are difficult to overstate and many of them extend beyond the education sector. UNESCO has compiled a short list of these impacts to help countries anticipate and mitigate problems. They include:
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