From academia to social media, institutional social responsibility is trending

This year YouTube announced that it is changing its algorithm to stop recommending conspiracy videos. This is a big deal both socially and financially. YouTube has essentially acknowledged that its practices have created a social problem, which they are willing to fix at their own expense.

YouTube’s revenue model benefits from those most easily addicted or drawn in – every minute watched is another opportunity for an ad to be inserted. Developer Guillaume Chaslot shared that conspiracy theorists are particularly susceptible to addiction and, consequently, train the YouTube algorithm to promote their favorite content more broadly, as if the video is seeking out other addicts.

YouTube’s corrective actions are emblematic of a paradigm shift underway. Institutions are not simply trying to maximize their own revenue and societal dominance anymore. Increasingly business leadership sees themselves as accountable for their influence on the world. Most large American businesses have focused on not being complicit with negative social actions. For example, Visa and Discover stopped processing payments to hate groups in 2017. YouTube’s actions move from non-participation to active moves against pernicious societal influence.

Even academia has re-considered its responsibilities to society. Academics are incentivized to maximize the number of papers published; it is the currency of professional success. Yet over the last decade a crisis of confidence has unfolded, where fields from cancer science to psychology have failed to reproduce the majority of their findings from published studies. Consequently, some journals have decided to stand for quality over novelty. For example, the American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) requires submissions to integrate reproducibility into their submissions.

From academia to corporate America, leaders are beginning to lead towards a better society rather than follow raw fame and fortune. Let’s hope that the trend continues to catch on.

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