On the Darkness of Randomness


So I’ve discovered something a bit unsettling, with the recent spike in traffic my Underviewed project has gotten lately. Some of the videos being discovered, and subsequently passed around, are graphic videos. Things that involve disturbing and oftentimes violent content.

I’ve seen such things before, on occasion. The nature of the Underviewed site is that it’s searching for videos with generic filenames in the title – videos that, because of these obscure titles, have received very few views.

In the YouTube Data API that I use, I make my searches using the safeSearch parameter in the hopes to block any offensive/graphic content. But YouTube can only block the content it’s aware of, and with these lesser-seen videos… people simply haven’t reported them yet.

I’ve seen a few things that, honestly, I’d love to un-see. And I can’t. Animal cruelty, through dog fights and cock fights. Videos of people dying, either by their own hand or by others. Other things that… I’ll just spare you the details.

I flag the problematic things I see, in the hopes that YouTube will review and remove them.

But lately – I’ve seen a few links being shared on Twitter that point to some really bad videos. Graphic stuff that really shouldn’t be online, let alone shared. And people found them through my site.

What this means for me is that, at a top level, I’m now having to click through and see if they are problematic videos. And if they are, I report them to YouTube. But this also means that I have to watch at least some small part of the terribleness, before I can report it.

More than that, the feeling I get when I see these links being shared just makes my stomach drop. Sure, I didn’t create these videos and I didn’t post them up… but people are finding and sharing them through my work. My code, in some way, is making this possible.

I began to worry that the bulk of the traffic coming to the site was from people either sharing or looking for violent/disturbing videos. For the most part, I haven’t seen any one video stand out – most are arriving at the home page, and spending time there. But the recent surge in traffic has gotten me concerned, and wondering about the site/project.

Underviewed is, ultimately, a random thing. It’s not searching for violent videos, in the same way that it’s not searching for clips of Little League practice. At its heart, it’s really a toss of the coin – each and every time.

Oftentimes the user will interact with your product in ways you didn’t intend. And perhaps this is one of those instances. But I found myself wondering: Do I want to be the guy who’s responsible for promoting violent/gory videos across the Internet?

There are terrible people, doing terrible things all the time. The world doesn’t need my help in spreading awful images. When I imagine my work, my code, helping to promote that sort of thing… I seriously considered shutting the whole site down.

But the randomness of the site (and the videos it finds) makes other moments of joy and discovery possible. Serendipitous moments that are truly life-affirming. To this day, one of my favorite videos I found through the site is the one with these two guys on a slingshot. The look on the older man’s face, and the laughter from his friend… it’s just so fantastic. It’s fear and joy and I love that I’m able to share in this moment. A moment I would have otherwise never have been able to see, were it not for this site.

I stopped updating the Facebook page and Twitter account a few months ago, mostly because it was becoming very time-consuming to maintain. But after this weekend, seeing so many negative videos emerge… I’ve decided to pick up the accounts and start sharing again.

I’m doing this because I don’t like the videos I’m seeing being passed around. And I don’t want this site to become some kind of dark and terrible place where people come to see dark and terrible things.

I’ve shared a long list of wonderful videos that I’ve found, and those videos embody what I want people to experience through the site: discovery and delight, serendipity and wonder.

I want people to be able to see this awesome rooftop karaoke session. I want them to be amazed when Batman defeats the Joker with silly string. I want them to admire this guy’s sweet driving skills, and to try to figure out just what in the hell these guys are doing staring at this fluffy-footed bird.

For now, I’m telling myself that the chances for discovering bad content is as low as it’s always been. And that there’s a sharp rise in those videos because of the uptick in traffic. And that it’ll die down.

For now, I’m going to pick up the Twitter and Facebook accounts, and try to show the world that I’d like to see through the videos that I select.

I desperately want my project, and my work, to serve as a way to bring more happiness and delight into the world. I want the discovery process on Underviewed to be a positive one, despite the fact that it’s all ultimately a little random.

I want people to choose the positive videos over the violent ones because I want a world where people opt for the positive videos over the violent ones. I know that through the code I wrote, it’s all random what you might get. And randomness doesn’t care about happiness or discovery or joy.

But I do. And I’m hoping you do too.

[CC photo via jacobfg]

Related:
Underviewed Getting Overviewed
Underviewed: Searching YouTube Using Default Video File Names

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