As thousands of people lined the Seine to mourn the seeming loss of an 856-year-old religious monument, lots of others around the world turned to YouTube for updates on the Notre Dame blaze.
In an unfortunate glitch, the video platform greeted users in both the United States and South Korea with “knowledge panels” under their Notre Dame live streams pushing Encyclopaedia Britannica articles about the September 11 attacks on New York in 2001. A knowledge panel is a relatively new feature on YouTube where a banner of information about related content is shown under the video you are watching. In this case, the tool faltered and created false associations between a fire caused by an accident and a fire caused by a terrorist.
It seems the recognition tool mistook the images of the burning fire in Paris for September 11 footage – it’s strange then, however, that we didn’t see other content with flames with say, the Grenfell tower inferno that happened in London in June of 2017.
YouTube were forced to remove the panels on the live streams of the Notre Dame fire – and explain themselves, noting the system had made “the wrong call”.
“We are deeply saddened by the ongoing fire at the Notre Dame cathedral,” a statement from YouTube read. “Last year, we launched information panels with links to third-party sources like Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia for subjects subject to misinformation. 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.”
Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, the gothic cathedral is known for its many life-like gargoyles, ornate stain glass windows and incredible medieval architecture. The building is considered a religious and cultural symbol of France (and one of great literature too), so much so, it attracts 13 million tourists every year. People were openly weeping in the streets as firefighters battled the flames. The cause of the fire is said to be sparked due to “involuntary circumstances” and while its iconic spire collapsed, the main structure has been preserved.
“This Notre-Dame cathedral, we will rebuild it. All together,” pledged French President, Emmanuel Macron via Twitter. “It is a part of our French destiny. I am committed to this: from tomorrow a national subscription will be launched and far beyond our borders.”