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By Ben Collins
Katie Bouman, a researcher who helped create the first image of a black hole, quickly gained Internet fame on Thursday for her role in the project after a photo shoot. she became viral.
But trolls on the Internet soon followed, questioning Bouman's work and hinting at false claims that she had not played a lot in the project. His colleagues rallied behind his defense, but the situation highlighted the vitriol that women continue to face on the Internet and the continuing vulnerability of large Internet platforms to trolling campaigns.
Bouman, a postdoctoral fellow soon to be an adjunct professor at the California Institute of Technology, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that "no algorithm or person created this image" and published a photo of the many people with whom she has work.
The photo of the black hole is the final result of the work of hundreds of researchers and eight telescopes.
The public recognition of Bouman – mostly applauding the example of a woman at the forefront of a major scientific effort – has drawn the attention of misogynist communities on the Internet. Some users came together on Reddit and created videos about Bouman's contribution, which were later uploaded to Instagram and YouTube.
On Friday, lies claiming that it was not Bouman, but a colleague who deserved a credit for the black hole's image exceeded legitimate coverage in search results on YouTube and Instagram.
On YouTube, the first video result for users looking for "Katie Bouman" returns a video titled "A woman does 6% of the work but gets 100% credit: Black Hole Photo." The video is full of inaccuracies and largely inspired by a lie created on Reddit and pushed heavily by a "human rights" community.
A few hours later, a similar search showed that the video was no longer at the top of YouTube's results.
The video claims that Andrew Chael, a "Caucasian and heterosexual man" did the bulk of the work, based on the number of lines of code available to the public for the project on the Github website.
Chael, an astrophysicist and postgraduate student at Harvard University who was working with Bouman, responded on Twitter claiming that the conspiracy theory is "horrible and sexist," and added that he was gay. The theory claims that Chael wrote 850,000 lines of code, which, he says, is also wrong, adding that there are 68,000 lines of code in total in the current software.
A YouTube spokesperson told NBC News that the company was working to modify its system to enhance authoritative content.
"We have taken a number of steps to address this issue, including providing more authoritative content on our site for people searching for news topics, starting to reduce the number of borderline content recommendations. by displaying information panels containing more sources on which to consult information. themselves, "said the spokesperson in an email." We have seen significant progress and we are committed to making further improvements in the future. "
Becca Lewis, a research affiliate of the nonprofit research institute Data & Society that studies extremism on YouTube, said that it was about another example of YouTube's algorithm "rewarding the commitment and time spent on the site to maximize advertising revenue" instead of facts.
"We often find that it leads YouTube to recommend sensationalist content that is often conspiratorial or sectarian," Lewis said. "In return, content creators are encouraged to create this type of content, and a deeply reactionary culture has emerged on the platform."
Instagram had also been co-opted by the anti-Bouman campaign. An account spoofing Bouman's identity, under the name of "katieboumanoffficial" user, was the first result obtained by users looking for "Katie Bouman" in the Instagram search box.
The account, which mimicked an Instagram model until November, began imitating Bouman late Thursday night, displaying several portraits and screenshots of YouTube videos featuring Bouman.
The account picture descriptions, however, spread false statements about Bouman. A description changes Chael's name to "Andrew Chad," a reference to "Chads," misogynistic Internet terminology for men attractive to women.
"That's Andrew Chad. He wrote 850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code written in the historical algorithm of black hole images! Reads the description.
Instagram has not responded to a request for comment.