Algorithms Elevate Violence-Inspiring Conspiracies

Amazon’s Record Financial Year Marked by Propensity to Suggest Conspiracy Content

Previously, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) outlined Silicon Valley's record 2018 revenues and profits. Among those companies was Amazon, which posted another record-breaking year with $230 billion in sales and $3 billion in fourth quarter profit. Its fast-developing advertising algorithms played no small part in accelerating its astronomic sales. However, last week, it was reported that those algorithms are elevating anti-Semitic conspiracy films as “documentaries” across its proprietary platform, Amazon Prime Video. Experts warn that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have spurred violence in the past and they will spur violence again in the future.  Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

“Amazon is only one of many technology stalwarts whose algorithms appear harmless but are quick to evolve to promote increasingly extreme material,” said CEP Executive Director David Ibsen. “Algorithms are designed to promote content that is shocking and sensational to get users to click, making them dangerous when left to adapt on their own without adequate review. Once extremists discover the algorithms’ capabilities, they waste no time in gaming the system to their benefit and to society’s detriment. It is incumbent upon the technology industry to hold itself to the highest standard of transparency and corporate responsibility at a time when stakeholders across society are growing alarmed about technology’s harmful consequences.”

CEP has profiled the efficiency with which Big Tech’s algorithms can open up a world of extremism to a user with just the click of a button. Facebook’s “Recommended Friends” feature facilitates connections between members of the Islamic State wherever they might be in the world. Google’s “Redirect Method Pilot Program” was intended to direct individuals searching for IS videos away to counter-narrative videos, but had little to no success in reducing redirects to IS content. In both cases, the algorithms used by the tech companies actively accelerate extremism by enabling connections that can only be made vis-à-vis the algorithm.