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On Dark DIY Videos

Have you seen this video? Or, perhaps something, like this before?

Yeah, same. Feel kinda weird, huh? Does it feel familiar? That’s Dark DIY for ya. It’s exploiting a familiar and common video format. Max Read for New York Magazine explains:

How does that video make you feel? It makes me feel … baffled? Unsettled? Unsure? Why cut your hair like that? Who needs a homemade makeup brush? What am I watching?

What you are watching is YouTube. The video platform is an enormous, and enormously strange place, but we are familiar in the broad sense with how it works. The audience uses it as a portal for entertainment and information; and YouTube uses its ad partnerships program to incentivize the production of videos to satisfy its understanding of audience needs. Producers thus line up to meet the audience’s desires — as indicated, of course, by search-engine inputs and related-video click-throughs.

DIY is a lucrative category of video; “lifehack” a popular search keyword; and so people around the world hustle to create videos that satisfy the needs expressed by viewers, as interpreted by YouTube’s system of recommendation and sorting. Of course, you can’t explain “desire” to a sorting system — you can only click things until it makes guesses reasonably close to what you want. You want DIY? Here are 60,000 videos that may or may not be what you’re looking for. The video creators compete with one another: This thumbnail is brighter and shows more skin, so more people click. Is that what they want? That headline is more urgent and aggressive, so more people click. Is that what they want?

Are you surprised? YouTube’s algorithmic feed is a catalyst for the strange, the outlier, the bizarre and worst of all, it surfaces the worst. Dark DIY shares a common thread with YouTube Kids — they’re chasing after the same thing: a video that is bizarre enough, a thumbnail bright enough, a title just mouthwateringly interesting. It’s all a rouse to intrigue you just enough to let it autoplay after your last video. YouTube’s biggest invention, biggest growth machine: the autoplay, breeds the worst content ever produced. All in pursuit of that sweet sweet play count.