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YouTube should give users a way of knowing if a video has been altered (spencerdailey.com)
148 points by spenvo 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

I tend to disagree because it can be used to remove information not to add it. As OP said, the info about the number of “folds” was inaccurate so the content was removed from the video. The tool is also used to remove person information accidentally included from a video and is also used to remove baked in ad segments after the ad has ran its course (useful for content that the info contained rarely changes. I know one electronics YouTuber who had been pushing for this feature for a while, though not actually seen them use it).

We know YouTube has the ability to edit video, heck they have done it to their own promotional videos. But here is the thing imo. When a video is edited “in bad faith” we hear about it pretty quickly, when a video is edited in good faith (removing inaccurate information, ads, personal information) do we really care?

Not everything said online needs to be set in stone. That’s just my own opinion on the matter.

Also the dot marker on reddit only shows if it’s been edited after 3 mins. In a heated debate that’s penlty of time to alter “what you have said”. And atleast one of the high ups have been found to edit people’s posts directly in the database avoiding the “edit marker” to change the tone of their posts. The edit marker did nothing to prevent this. People speaking up brought it to everyone’s attention https://www.reddit.com/r/announcements/comments/5frg1n/tifu_...

Videos until now were thought to be immutable. If someone removes a point of controversy from a video, a person linking to it as proof of that controversy suddenly looks like a liar.

You have a lot of people giving you technical responses as to why immutability was always an illusion on the internet. They make good arguments.

But that's just indicative of the HN bubble, being satisfied technically correct reasoning rather than examining the issue more holistically — that is, this question isn't about what is or was technically capable of being achieved but how regular people interpret these things.

It is generally assumed that if something was updated, people should be made aware. Updated comments, updated news articles, updated anything, there is always some indication of an edit or update.

Why should video be any different?

The immutability illusion was busted for me when SpaceX edited one of their video live-streams. Their intent was harmless in that they corrected a split-screen that was showing the same camera feed in both windows, IIRC.

However, when you visit that video's youtube page, the video date was listed as something like "Live-streamed on ...", with no note of it being edited. You are given the impression that what you are about to view is what was streamed, when it's not.

The edited version is a better video, but don't tell me I'm watching the same thing as those who saw it live during the stream.

I would argue that immutability is a separate service. You can change a web page all you want that someone has linked to. Immutability is provided by services like the Internet Archive. It should be decoupled. YouTube's immutability had been very troublesome to me. For example, we create video for a research paper demo. Then we want to enhance it, add some more content but now we have to create entirely new link. But the old link is popular in social media and therefore people keep watching old version. For each new revision, link is outdated. How many times you have to keep telling people to update their bookmarks?

Video has never been immutable. Video has been able to be edited long before YouTube. Same happened in traditional media where an inaccurate slide shown on lunchtime news would be corrected on the evening news.

You want a more immutable source, archive the video and link to that. Same reason people archive other websites when wanting to link to something as “proof”. Because we know that the web server is not write once.

> Video has never been immutable. Video has been able to be edited long before YouTube.

I think they're talking about the actual content hosted at a specific url, not just video editing in general.

Even that isn't immutable. e.g. the video of the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch was modified after the livestream while still claiming that it was a livestream from the original date

The /expectation/ of viewers and sharers of the content is that it is immutable. I think the argument is that the /expectation/ will need to shift unless proactive steps are taken to make certain guarantees about the nature of shared content. One compromise, for example, would be to force edited videos to be a new resource, instead of replacing the original.

> Because we know that the web server is not write once.

You know that. People don't.

I dont particularly care if YouTube allows people to edit videos, but on anything with comments, allowing someone to know it was edited seems like good information management, and in this case, helps inform people not in tech that it is editable.

The more obvious the indicator that it was edited, the more people will understand that it is an option.

Video on YouTube. Not video in general, of course.

Sure, YouTube can do what they want, but if they do, it destroys something that is valuable about YouTube, which is that you can trust that the ratings and comments are about the video you are watching.

It's not the same. If I watch a video I know it might been have edited or deep-faked before it was uploaded. However it's somewhat surprising for me that it still can be edited after the upload.

Good to know now.

which is why it is sensible practice to download the youtube video in question, the original author could simply delete it anyways and you'd have the same problem.

Maybe youtube could embed something like a signature in the video metadata so that a video file could be inspected for tampering?

I download pretty much anything I fear is controversial and at risk of being censored by the host, removed by the creator, or edited at a future date. I dedicate a few dozen terabytes of storage to store these things. I have several YT channels with >300 videos archived and routinely keep them up-to-date with new uploads. All because a funny video one time was deleted after the creator received a copyright strike for approx. 3 seconds of audio on the video.

The average person isn't going to know how to use a command line program to download a Youtube video. The average person also doesn't have enough space to maintain large and old archives. The average person wouldn't care to maintain and prune an archive for relevance every now and then. And even if you manage to get the average person to care about all of this - you still face the hurdle of there not being any "official" hash to compare to.

> which is why it is sensible practice to download the youtube video in question

this practice is quickly becoming a legal nightmare. Sites that let you download youtube videos are being taken down left and right these days with RIAA lawyers going after many of them for cash settlements. How soon before they go after projects like youtube-dl and other similar programs?

So in a very real sense, record-keeping is being made illegal. You could write your own transcript of a video, but that won't convince anyone if it comes to trying to spread any kind of message, as transcripts are trivial to forge.

how could they go after youtube-dl? It's like going after my browser for downloading the video!

I understand if it's a third-party site, because they'd have to make a copy of the video for you to have downloaded it (and only if it's one of those copying types - if all the site did was to compute the download-link, then it doesn't fall foul of any copyright at all).

The easiest way would be to shutdown youtube-dl.org and ytdl-org.github.io by abusing the DMCA or applying pressure on their webhosts and registrars and then pressure youtube to remove or restrict the APIs the tool depends on so that current versions stop working. Maybe follow up by spending a little time playing Whac-A-Mole to shut down new sites as they pop-up while you launch massive legal attacks against every one of the devs (who are nearly all listed on the site's homepage by first and last name).

Youtube is the weakest link here though. If the scumbags working for the media industry put enough pressure on youtube to get into an arms race against the program (and others like it) things could get ugly fast. Especially as DRM worms it's way deeper into the most fundamental parts of both the internet and our devices. In the end, we'll always have the analog hole but software like youtube-dl is still vulnerable.

(I really hope you're asking out of intellectual curiosity and not because you're affiliated with the RIAA/BVMI/IFPI/ETC)

i am asking out of curiosity!

but i think the attacks on the devs will be fruitless, unless they can somehow intimidate them without actually suing them (in which case, it's a baseless suit).

Youtube disallowing the app is a possibility - after all, the T&C of youtube may be changed to exclude anyone they want. But the youtube website will need to somehow allow the browser, but restrict non-browsers (or non-compliant browsers). DRM is the only thing i can think of which could achieve this goal - and that is one reason why i hate that google managed to put in DRM into the web standard.

Attacks on the devs would certainly be overkill and hard to pull off unless they are in a friendly jurisdiction. In the US at least, media companies wouldn't need a case they could win. They could bankrupt the devs in legal fees and billable hours before it ever reached a court room. Excessive way to make an example, but the RIAA has a history of being cool with using the court system to extort money from people and the justice department is stacked with ex-RIAA lawyers (thanks Obama).

identifying a website vs a command line tool can be difficult. youtube-dl already supports custom user agent strings and cookies. youtube might check for things like installed fonts, look for randomly named web bugs in cache, or even try checking page load/render times. Once folks figure out what youtube is looking for they can try to correct for it but youtube can counter with something else and certainly make things complicated.

No need for a signature, just compare the hash.

Firstly, YouTube don't tend to support downloading videos as raw video files. So it wouldn't really make sense for YouTube to provide a signature when you're not really supposed to be able to access a video file in the first place.

This also wouldn't really work because a YouTube video isn't a single file. Videos are available in different qualities and formats. The video component tends to be separated from the audio component. If you want to combine them into a single file, you have to mux them. However, this process is not deterministic, so the resulting hash would differ depending on a multitude of factors.

> No need for a signature, just compare the hash.

Then Youtube would have to publish the hashes for each and every file that they encode the source material to. Practically impossible and especially unverifiable if YouTube ever disappears (or the source gets deleted).

A digital signature of the hash, embedded in the metadata and computed similarly to Reproducible Builds... doesn't take much space and especially only requires knowledge of the public key for verification.

"Hi there! Lately, I've been speaking to $deity, and he told me the temperatures in Lissabon for the month of March, 2025, and I figured it might be fun to record that now, and if youtube is still around then, to see if this is real prophecy. So, on March 1st, at noon, it will be [-10][-9][-8][..][35][36][37][38][39][40] degrees Celsius, on March 2nd it will be [-10][-9][-8]..."

Make it private to make sure the views stay below 100k, then edit as needed out anything but the correct temperatures, and spam it all over social media when the time comes. I couldn't think of good examples to do it with words, but there isn't much you couldn't do, given that videos can be 10 hours long. It's not like anyone would mind the jump cuts much, just put those everywhere else, too.

When you change a YouTube video from private / unlisted to public it changes the published date. That is how people who release their videos early on patreon handle it and keep their comment sections from splintering, though sometimes they will keep the original private and upload a new video if the early birds on patreon spot a blinding mistake or suggest a better intro for example. It’s also how people can upload a video, let YouTube render it in all resolutions, check the video in private mode for encoding errors and then push the video public at a set time / date to fit in with their schedule.

Jump cuts. Esp if you are filming yourself speaking into camera. If you are doing audio only it would work better. The reason it works with removing a segment is because you are removing content from an existing cut to another existing cut so it will feel much more seem less.

Now if it wasn’t for the date changing when the privacy state of the video changes, why not record 100 takes, upload each and release the correct one and discard the rest. It would give a much more convincing video with no way to detect splices in the audio (a common way fake speed runs are detected) and no need to deal with YouTube’s video editor.

What I mean is if you are going to have jump cuts right at the important part of the video people are going to call you out, if you have jump cuts throughout people are going to call you out. Something like this would just shine light on the video and people will start picking it apart like a badly knitted jumper.

Also one of the first comments would be something along the lines of “nifty trick, now do it again?”.

> why not record 100 takes, upload each and release the correct one and discard the rest

Isn't that a known scam, actually? IIRC it was something like emailing people with the prediction of the outcome of a sports match (let's say 3 options: team A wins, team B wins, or tie) -- one third gets prediction A, another third prediction B, the rest prediction C. Keep track of whom you sent what, then do it again for the people to whom you sent the correct prediction. I think the idea is to end up with a small but very convinced pool of people that might fall for the actual scam, e.g. the offer to predict something with a very valuable outcome, at a charge.

Then in this small window where people are unaware that it's possible to edit videos, they might have to take the time to explain that if they find themselves in such a situation. What's the big deal about that?

Same thing with websites in general.

Also the biggest pain point isn't even this -- rather it's that once a particular Youtube link has gone viral you can't even fix some stupid small embarrassing detail like a typo in a subtitle.

You can't re-share on Facebook with a new URL either; people generally won't "like" or "share" your video twice, which hurts distribution of your work, and doubly hurts it if you delete the old link that has been already shared a thousand times.

> We know YouTube has the ability to edit video, heck they have done it to their own promotional videos.

I think that unless they are making trivial edits to a video, not disclosing an edit to an official announcement or rule change can be pretty dishonest.

When YouTube announced their controversial YouTube Heroes program in a video, they quietly uploaded a completely new video with slightly different wording to the same video id, without any indication that it was a new video.

When a company is trying to communicate important information that affects customers livelyhood, this is not ok. Thankfully some people had archived older versions of the video and discovered it. And the wording that they changed had major implications for content creators.

[1]: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/youtube-heroes-controv...

> When a video is edited “in bad faith” we hear about it pretty quickly, when a video is edited in good faith (removing inaccurate information, ads, personal information) do we really care?

Why do we need to rely on "hearing about it pretty quickly" when Youtube can say up front that it's been modified. The cost to doing this is extremely low.

On one extreme you have total versioning of videos which strips the ability to make good faith edits. On the other hand you have the current state which enables deceit. I don't see how a history of timestamps has any impact on the good faith edits you mention.

Removing words or content changes the meaning of the video, and it does not take a great imagination to see how this would be abused by some.

In any case, adding an asterisk next to the timestamp (as YouTube on its own comments, is a trivial task that shows Google cares one iota about authenticity on its platforms

Editing my personal website can also be used to the same means. But we are not asking for the whole of the net to be write once.

Just because something can be abused by a few doesn’t mean an action should be applied to the many. Just my opinion on the matter.

Why should authenticity matter?

There are at least four separate questions to address here.

One, if videos should be editable. Two, if edited videos should be allowed to re-use the old URL. Three, if users should be able to tell an edit has been made. Four, what level of granular detail YouTube should provide about the editing process, up to and including if the previous version(s) of the video should be made available by YouTube.

Many comments here arguing for point 1, when TFA is not objecting to point 1. Obviously YouTube should allow editing videos.

I think point 2 is also a crucial feature, because of the widespread sharing of video links, the penalty for editing would be too high if it was equivalent to posting anew. I would hesitate to call it “editing” even, if the URL changed.

I think that point 3–at the least indicating a last modified date—would be uncontroversial.

I think hosting the previous versions contravenes the intent of the publisher and is not the right choice, bad or wrong information need not be hosted by the platform indefinitely. That’s not to say someone somewhere might not archive it, but that doesn’t mean YouTube should.

What about comments? Say you comment on a video and now the edit changes a part you commented on. Should comments before an edit show something like these comments were made before the edit on X date?

As someone who records programming screencasts, this is a great feature.

So many high-traffic videos on YouTube are tutorials that no longer work due language and framework changes! At least in my corner of the web, a simple "last updated on <date>" would be sufficient for me as a viewer.

Right, or you do a live / unscripted video and you forget one important thing or say something but don't elaborate enough in the moment.

Happens pretty often in off the cuff programming screencasts.

A cheap answer would be for Youtube to present a last edited date for any video in an easy to check place.

Since current copyright makes it difficult to make a copy of the video and link to the copy, we've fallen into the bad habit of linking to things and hoping they don't change. Copyright interpretation isn't going to change anytime soon, and keeping immutable copies on Youtube might be too expensive. I say might, because, in the grand scheme of things, edited videos might be few.

A last changed date would be enough for most purposes.

Why is this so controversial? It's common among other technology to show when something was edited. It's very common for textual based social networks to do so.

It'd be a cool feature.

I think this breaks YouTube's timestamped ("share at") links. So, if a user shares a timestamp link (?t=55), and then the creator cuts X seconds from the beginning of the video, the timestamp link will start X seconds after the user intended it to.

A product change that's this ill-considered, half-baked, consequential, and poorly communicated makes me wonder what the UX design process looks like at YouTube.

As others already commented a lot of content creators are getting copyright claims for just 5 seconds humming of a song and this allows them to edit that part and change it. It’s funny how people want to edit their tweets when they misstype something but don’t want others to do so. In a video of 10min there are a lot of mistakes to be made and things that can be changed.

> people want to edit their tweets when they misstype something but don’t want others to do so

Those are actually two different (though somewhat overlapping) kinds of edits. People want "I wrote tyop instead of typo and that makes me sound like a idiot, so imma fix that". They don't want "@jswift1729 tweeted that we should kill children for food, but then edited it so everyone compaining about it sounds delusional".

This problem could be (mostly) solved easily by showing the most-revised version by default, but including a text to the effect of "edited 5 times ; last edited 1970-01-02 04:30:21" linking to a list of all revisions.

Basically implement wikipedia's history system.

Kudos for @jswift1729 reference!

I think most people are fine with allowing edits, provided it's transparent and people can see the video has been altered and when

spencerdailey.com lets authors alter posted articles; readers should have a way to tell.

The Internet is highly mutable. If you want a snapshot of something, take a snapshot.

I think there's a pretty big difference between a static page, which can be easily and cheaply cached, and a video streaming service, which very much cannot be.

I believe it violates journalistic standards / ethics to make anything other than superficial changes to an published article without notating the change.

That’s not to say that every site should be or is held to those standards, but reputable publishers should be called out and shamed for this practice.

Snapshots of video are extremely expensive compared to snapshots of plain text.

I think YouTube should also allow viewers to see what was removed unless there was a very good reason for it.

This should be true for video titles and descriptions too. YouTube is very opaque about this right now. Did you know a video can have a different title depending on your language setting? I'm not sure if that's optional automated Google Translate or written by the uploader.

I'm not sure introducing more points for Google & co to make decisions about what's a "good reason" is a good idea.

> I think YouTube should also allow viewers to see what was removed unless there was a very good reason for it.

If a user removes one of their videos, I think that YouTube is obligated to remove all the metadata as well as the actual video. I think that users would be confused if they tried to remove a video and found that the video title and metadata was still there.

If videos are removed for copyright or policy reasons, that's probably also enough reason to need to remove everything. This is especially true if the violations are in the metadata itself.

> Did you know a video can have a different title depending on your language setting? I'm not sure if that's optional automated Google Translate or written by the uploader.

It's a feature[0] that the uploader can choose to use. I don't think they're really being "opaque" about it; presumably this is what the uploader would prefer users see in those languages.

[0]: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6289575?hl=en

Who determines what constitutes a "very good reason"?

Possibly YouTube's report system would work actually. It's only in rare cases like personal information breach or something that it should be used.

> It's only in rare cases like personal information breach or something that it should be used.

In Germany we have something called "Recht am eigenen Bild" (right to your own picture). I film political demonstrations but until now I've been hesitating with uploading them as a successful "strike" with no editing option would endanger the video itself.

I don't think youtube should keep copies of the un-edited video for users to view. Quite obviously there was a reason for the uploader to remove that section of video.

The chaotic side of me says youtube should do this, as it's another reason for alternate platforms to crop up. youtube needs to lose it's market share.

Even if they don't keep the un-edited copy around, there should at least be some visible indication that the video was edited.

I feel like we're starting to see the limits of single platforms. Once upon a time, the technology YouTube built was sufficiently core to their business that no one else could compete without also building their own video pipeline for UGC. Today, that's commodity, and we're also learning there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to community. The problem described here is a benefit for someone in their situation. It isn't always helpful in every context.

It makes me wonder if the next evolution of products are around focused communities instead of monolithic platforms.

Very expensive but YouTube could have immutable revisions. So you can still watch old content even after the creator has modified it. Something like youtube.com/watch?id=123&revision=0

there are times youtube (or the uploader) wouldn't want old versions available. Copyright/privacy violations, ToS violations, or even just unintentional misinformation can be edited out, but leaving the old version accessible could be a liability issue for youtube

I wanted to make a site/personal list of “approved” videos (for kids for example) and the expectation would be a way to detect if the video has been altered since it was “approved” - like mark a dirty bit until it can be reviewed again.

I haven’t actually gone deep enough in metadata or API or anything to see if that data is available (last modified or a hash of some sort)

But the fact it doesn’t show this on the frontend makes me wonder if that’s even a detail I could get.

I wasn't aware they allowed this. It's a horrible idea, but it leads further towards Google's dream of an fully and instantly mutable, impossible to reference, fully personalised internet where no one and everyone could be accountable for the fact that you shared a video with your coworker and he saw a completely different version of it while neither of you is aware of it.

Also, news sites should let the readers know if an article has been altered since it's published. Time and time again, I've seen some news sites (some of them are even reputable ones) silently modified an article without changing the published date, or not showing the date because of this very reason. I don't know how we can stop the practice, but at least we should be aware of it.

Altering videos feels very much like a key component of a site like YouTube, but also one that could easily be used to manipulate viewership.

I feel like the only way to do it is to use a human moderated whitelist of top producers, and clearly mark them as edited.

i wonder, though, if our feedback matters for a service such as youtube. i don't know how many times i have sent a feedback on having the most basic sorting order for the watch later playlist, which is simply by length. sometimes we just have time to spare for short 5mins or less videos. and yet over the years i have seen layout change, not very useful drag sort, mini player, etc., being added.

but editing your watch later playlist takes you to a 2010 webpage with very limited functionality...

(my own personal hack is to go through the list and "move to top" short videos... it's worse on mobile because you have to drag and sometimes you lose the drag...)

Headline says "now" but this isn't a new feature. Article is just a huge rant in blog form.

Fair, my reasoning for saying "now": the ability to alter videos is a relatively new feature (last few months) that YouTube did not make a clear announcement about on launch day.

It is a major departure from immutable videos, and deserved more of a company PR effort to inform users of the change.

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