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There are limits to what algorithms can do, especially in times of tragedy.

As flames engulfed Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday evening, several news outlets began live streaming the fire on YouTube. Underneath several of these videos was a small gray panel titled “September 11 attacks,” which contained a blurb from the Encyclopedia Britannica’s article about the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Ironically, YouTube’s crackdown on fake news has lead to its own propagation of misinformation. The widget description popped up on at least three livestreams by major news outlets, erroneously conflating the Notre-Dame fire with the “deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in US history.” The captions have since been removed.

In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson said that these “information panels” are activated by an algorithm.

“These panels are triggered algorithmically and our systems sometimes make the wrong call,” the spokesperson added. “We are disabling these panels for livestreams related to the fire.”

YouTube has had trouble moderating its livestreams, as all social media platforms have. The information panels are only available in the United States and South Korea, according to a website disclaimer.

reports for Buzzfeed News that a congressional hearing last week on white nationalism had to have its livefeed of comments disabled because it became so racist. One stream of the hearing by a Swedish white nationalist was even able to set up a donation feature on his channel.

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Zachary Small

Zachary Small was the senior writer at Hyperallergic and has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, Artforum, and other publications. They have...

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