YouTube Flagged Notre Dame Fire Videos as a Conspiracy, Directed Users to Info About 9/11
The video platform apologized for the algorithm that automatically triggered the disclaimers and said they have disabled them
On Monday, YouTube incorrectly flagged videos about the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris as possible sources of misinformation, and began redirecting viewers to content about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Buzzfeed reported that when news outlets began streaming footage of the fire on the video platform, small gray boxes appeared on several of the videos titled “September 11 attacks” alongside a description of the terrorist attack from an Encyclopedia Brittanica article. If viewers clicked the box, they were redirected to the full article about 9/11.
According to Buzzfeed, they found at least three videos of the cathedral fire with the disclaimer before it was removed from all of the videos. Many viewers took to Twitter to document their experience with the disclaimer and provided screenshots of the gray warning box.
“On a few different livestreams of Notre Dame on YouTube, the site offers a totally unprompted, unrelated description of the September 11 attacks,” one user wrote alongside a series of screenshots showing a video posted by Fox News.
“YouTube is suggesting viewers read about 9/11 during Notre Dame-related streams, for some reason,” another wrote with a screenshot of a video uploaded by NBC News.
A spokesperson for YouTube told PEOPLE that they introduced the text box as a feature last year in order to help guide their viewers away from videos that spread conspiracy theories, including some surrounding the 9/11 attacks.
They claim that the algorithm mistook the Cathedral fire as a video from the terrorist attacks, which triggered the text box.
“We are deeply saddened by the ongoing fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral,” the spokesperson said. “These panels are triggered algorithmically and our systems sometimes make the wrong call. We are disabling these panels for live streams related to the fire.”
The blaze at Notre Dame erupted around 6:30 p.m. Monday local time and completely consumed the spire and the structure’s roof.
André Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, told the New York Times that the cause of the fire is not yet clear. Though local TV network BFM-TVreports that the fire was “possibly linked” to the current $6.8 million renovation the building is undergoing and may have began in the rafters, but there were no workers scheduled to be on the rooftop scaffolding at the hour the fire broke out.
Late Monday night local time, a fire official in Paris stated that the blaze had been contained and the main structure would be “saved and preserved,” according to a tweet form the AFP.
“The worst has been avoided, but the battle isn’t fully won yet,” French President Emmanuel Macron told crowds in a speech given outside of the church Monday night.
He promised also that the cathedral will be rebuilt. “It is with pride I tell you tonight we will rebuild this cathedral . . . we will rebuild Notre Dame because it is what the French expect of us, it is what our history deserves, it is, in the deepest sense, our destiny,” he said.