How Biased Are Video Sharing Platforms? A Report by Safety Detectives


In this modern age, video sharing platforms like YouTube and TikTok wield immense influence, shaping our perceptions and understanding of the world. Safety Detectives, a leading cybersecurity and digital privacy research firm, recently published an extensive international study to uncover the biases inherent in these platforms and shed light on their implications for global audiences.

The research, spanning 24 countries across the globe, delved into the content trends of YouTube and TikTok, examining the recommendations presented to new users. By analyzing thousands of videos and assessing diversity, ideological leanings, and advertising practices, Safety Detectives sought to provide a comprehensive understanding of how these platforms curate content and influence user experiences.

An overview of the report:

  • The United States showed new viewers the most politically right-leaning content, while Canada and Germany had the most left-leaning content.
  • YouTube showed new viewers more politicized content in general than TikTok (73% to 27%).
  • Turkey and South Africa boasted the highest female representation in YouTube and TikTok videos (64% and 62% of videos respectively).
  • In terms of ethnicity, YouTube was substantially more white-dominated than TikTok, which had a more even spread of ethnicities.
  • The least ethnically diverse countries in terms of ethnic representation in videos were Italy and Egypt, while the UAE and Singapore boasted the most ethnic diversity.
  • German viewers are subjected to the highest percentage of sponsored content and unskippable ads on YouTube.
  • Mexico and Australia had the highest level of product placement and indirect promotion in TikTok videos of all countries studied.
  • Lip sync, dance, and fashion featured in the top TikTok themes, while news and sports made the top 10 for YouTube but not TikTok.
  • For YouTube, videos on Gaming featured heavily in Europe, and Anime and Comics were extra popular in Asia Pacific.
  • TikTok food videos featured heavily for North America and the Middle East and Africa.
  • Religion also made it into the top themes for the Middle East and Africa (but not for other regions).

Content Variation and Regional Preferences

One of the key findings of the study is the significant variation in content curation across different countries. YouTube and TikTok tailor their recommendations to cater to regional tastes and interests, reflecting a nuanced understanding of diverse cultural preferences. Whether it’s political discourse, societal issues, or entertainment, these platforms adapt their content strategies to engage audiences effectively.

Diversity Representation and Ideological Leanings

The new research revealed disparities in diversity representation and ideological leanings across countries. While some nations experience a diverse range of content, others demonstrate clear biases towards certain ethnicities or political ideologies. This underscores the platforms’ role in shaping political and societal discourse, highlighting the need for transparency and accountability in content curation.

Advertisement and Promotion Frequency

Advertising and promotional practices vary widely across countries, with some experiencing a higher frequency of sponsored content than others. Safety Detectives’ analysis uncovered instances of covert product placements and promotions, indicating a strategic approach to consumer engagement. Understanding the prevalence of advertising on these platforms is crucial for discerning the influence of commercial interests on user experiences.

Themes and Regional Preferences

Top Themes on YouTube 1
Top Themes on YouTube, Image: Safety Detectives

The study identified prevalent themes on YouTube and TikTok, offering insights into user preferences and engagement patterns. While YouTube caters to a diverse array of themes, TikTok prioritizes engaging and interactive content, reflecting distinct platform dynamics. Regional variations in theme prevalence highlight the platforms’ adaptive strategies to align with local interests and preferences.

Political Content Bias

The research explored the presence of political bias in content recommendations, revealing nuanced trends across different countries. While both platforms exhibit low levels of political bias overall, YouTube displays a mix of left and right-leaning content, reflecting regional political landscapes. TikTok, on the other hand, maintains a neutral stance on political discourse, with minimal political content for new users.

Diversity Representation and Sponsored Content

The study also examined the representation of diversity and the prevalence of sponsored content on YouTube and TikTok. While both platforms showcase varied ethnic representations, YouTube demonstrates a higher percentage of white individuals compared to TikTok. Additionally, advertising practices vary across countries, with certain markets experiencing higher instances of sponsored content and promotions.

Implications and Insights

The research underscores the significant influence of video-sharing platforms on global culture and politics. By uncovering biases in content curation and advertising practices, the study provides valuable insights into the mechanisms that shape user experiences. As these platforms continue to evolve, it is essential to foster transparency and accountability to ensure fair and equitable access to information.

In conclusion, the study sheds light on the intricate dynamics of video-sharing platforms, revealing their impact on societal perceptions and behaviors. By understanding the nuances of content curation and advertising practices, we can better navigate the digital landscape and advocate for a more transparent and inclusive online environment.