* This article was featured in our 2022 April Fools’ Day issue. This story is not real and was created solely to entertain.
The ‘researchers’ mentioned in this story are not real people, and any similarity to an actual person’s name is coincidental.
A recent study about YouTube released last Monday said that 84% of the popular video platform’s views are the result of substitute teachers overlooking the website’s autoplay feature.
The study’s initial analysis of over 100,000 of YouTube’s most viewed videos found that the majority of the views lasted no longer than ten to fifteen seconds, puzzling researchers.
“It was strange to find such short view durations on these half-hour long videos,” said Dr. Wallace Greggs, head researcher of the study. “We looked into it and found that most of these views were redirects from the URLs of educational videos. Then our intern Jesse goes, ‘It must be autoplay’ and says he once had a substitute teacher in high school that never knew about it.”
Jesse Alpensburg, the intern with the study, recollects his own experience with the findings.
“It was always Crash Course,” Alpensburg said. “I remember being in ninth grade history with a sub that couldn’t teach and had a sticky note from the regular teacher that said ‘play Crash Course’ on the projector. But when the video ends it’s like watching a time bomb go off.
“There’s this countdown on the screen for a Dude Perfect video up next, and you kind of want to say something, but everyone’s on their phones anyway. So you just let it happen, and eventually the sub panics and closes the window.”
Alpensburg said that Crash Course, a popular YouTube channel that posts educational videos about U.S. history, geography, and natural science, is often what absent teachers will use to provide course-relevant content to students during class time.
“It turns out the videos we initially analyzed have been viewed so many times that they wind up at the top of the site’s recommended videos list no matter what kind of video you’re currently watching,” Dr. Greggs said. “So, what you get is this autoplay feature loading up that next video right under a clueless substitute teacher’s nose, and the minute it starts playing, that counts as a view.”
The researchers said they were surprised by how often this happens.
“It blows my mind,” Alpensburg said.
On YouTube’s website, autoplay works by automatically playing the next video in the list of recommendations that appear next to the current video. It first appeared on YouTube in 2015, where it could be toggled on or off at the top of the page sidebar. In 2020, Google, YouTube’s parent company, relocated the autoplay toggle to the media player.
Dr. Kayleigh French, an educational psychologist and associate researcher with the study, said that the relocation of the autoplay toggle feature had unexpected results.
“When Google moved the autoplay switch to the bottom bar of the current video, we speculated that would help substitute teachers realize the feature existed,” French said. “But it turned out that most subs thought it was an ad or a second play/pause button. If anything, the change increased extra views because the subs that knew about autoplay beforehand were suddenly lost again.”
Once a substitute teacher herself, French said she doesn’t want YouTube viewership to be the result of substitute teachers’ “legendary ignorance.”