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YouTube’s Algorithm Promotes Ghost Gun Content Manhattan DA Alleges

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Confiscated ghost guns on display as Mayor Eric Adams makes public safety-related announcement at Police Headquarters on September 27, 2023 in New York City. Police arrested three suspects at a day care in East Harlem for illegal firearms possession, manufacturing of an assault weapon and reckless endangerment. AP Photo

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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has called on YouTube to address its algorithm, which he claims is steering vulnerable users, particularly young gamers, towards content on making untraceable ghost guns, ABC news affiliate WPVI reports. The investigation led by Bragg’s office suggests that YouTube’s current algorithm may inadvertently promote videos that instruct viewers on assembling these firearms, potentially increasing the risk of ghost gun creation among minors.

In a recent briefing, Bragg highlighted the ease with which individuals, including teenagers and young adults, can transition from gaming to gun manufacturing videos.

“All you need is a computer and a mouse and an interest in gaming, and you can go from games to guns in 15 minutes,” Bragg explained. This statement was supported by cases where youths admitted to learning how to build ghost guns on YouTube in under an hour.

The concern has escalated following incidents such as the arrest of a 17-year-old who operated a ghost gun assembly ring from a Harlem daycare.

“It was individuals of that group of youths who were constructing these 3D-printed firearms for sale on the street in a daycare center. So, you know, we get the gamut,” said NYPD Inspector of Major Case Field Intelligence Courtney Nilan.

Investigators, including Bonnie Seok from the Manhattan DA Ghost Gun Initiative, indicated to WPVI that a simple online search related to the video game “Call of Duty” could quickly lead users to firearm-related content. According to Seok, within minutes of such searches, YouTube suggests videos on the mechanics of various firearms, including 3D-printed models.

In response, Bragg, alongside other city leaders, has sent a formal letter to YouTube, urging the platform to revise its algorithms to avoid directing users, particularly youths, to ghost gun content. The letter also requests enhanced user options to disable suggested violent content and a strict ban on tutorials related to assembling ghost guns.

Seek noted told WPVI how after one search for a violent video game, “Then we see more videos being suggested: How a Glock works, how an AR-15 works, how a revolver works. So all these videos are now being suggested. Just four minutes after a search and ‘Call of Duty’ videos, we have a video then of a 3D-printed Glock.”

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