YouTube’s algorithmic fact-check feature meant to tackle misinformation tagged live broadcasts of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris with the September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda assault on the United States.

Notre Dame burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019.
Notre Dame burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP)

A YouTube fact-check feature which is meant to tackle misinformation accidentally tagged live broadcasts of a fire engulfing Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris with details about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The blaze erupted in the UNESCO world heritage landmark in the French capital Monday, sending its spire and roof crashing to the ground as flames and clouds of smoke billowed into the sky.

The fire, which at one point threatened the entire edifice, was fully brought under control on Tuesday.

News outlets began live-streaming broadcasts of the fire on YouTube, but below some of the clips an unusual text box popped up – an entry from the Encyclopedia Britannica about the 9/11 attacks in the US.

In those attacks, Al Qaeda terrorist hijacked two passenger planes and flew them into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, causing them to collapse. A third hijacked jet smashed into the Pentagon. And a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers tackled the hijackers.

Some 3,000 people were killed in the assault.

A spokesman for YouTube, which is owned by Google, said the text box feature had been disabled for live streams related to the fire.

"These panels are triggered algorithmically and our systems sometimes make the wrong call," the spokesman told AFP. "We are deeply saddened by the ongoing fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral."

The feature, which also links to other outside sources such as Wikipedia, was introduced last year after YouTube faced intense criticism over videos containing misleading and extreme content. 

The panels are supposed to combat misleading videos about well-known events – such as the first humans to walk on the moon – by presenting the facts, in a bid to stop the spread of fake news, lies and conspiracy theories.

YouTube, Facebook and Twitter were criticised in March after video of a terrorist assault on worshippers at two New Zealand mosques circulated on the sites.

Fifty people died in the Christchurch massacre. It was live-streamed on Facebook, which moved to block the footage. But it was then shared repeatedly on the other two sites.

Source: AFP