YouTube Stem Code Error The Geek

Q: I really appreciate your column and I read it every time it appears. I’m running Windows 10 on an HP laptop and Google Chrome is my web browser. When I try to play YouTube videos, all I get is what looks Greek to me. Maybe his lines of code, but I don’t know.

Here is a short example, but it goes on for several pages:


The same thing happens regardless of browser/search engine, including Bing or Edge. At one point I had figured out a way to copy the video to a Gmail and it would open as I wanted, but I’ve since forgotten what I did.

Bob L., Shalimar

A: You’re right in thinking it’s some kind of code, Bob. I’ll discuss what I think it is below, but first I’m a little confused on what you said in the last paragraph. You originally said you get such a code when trying to watch YouTube videos, but the last paragraph almost seems to imply that you get a similar code when using search engines.

I guess in the long run the answer is irrelevant. What’s more important is getting to the bottom of this very unusual code display.

Let me say at the outset that your problem rather baffled me. I’ve never heard of anything like this before, and couldn’t find any reference to it by searching the internet.

YouTube does a pretty good job of making it difficult to do anything with its content other than just watch it – that content being the video, not some underlying code. It’s possible to get behind the video and do things like review source links and embedded metadata or save a local copy of the video. But what is happening to you seems to go far beyond all that.

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I notice the embedded “html5” text multiple times in your sample. “HTML” is the universal acronym for Hypertext Markup Language – the basic language of web pages. It has a rich syntax that helps define the structure of a page, including frames, fonts, colors, and most importantly, the embedded links that tie everything together on the global web.

HTML5 is the fifth and supposedly last major version of HTML. Unlike previous versions, HTML5 supports media such as audio and video, obsoleting previously used add-ons such as Flash.

I can tell you that despite the string “html5” being present in your sample, the text you provided is not HTML, HTML5 or otherwise. If I had to guess, I’d say it was an answer from someone who didn’t know how to handle embedded commands in the HTML5 code it was interpreting.

My first thought is that you are using a very outdated version of Chrome. Versions of Chrome earlier than 60 do not fully support HTML5 and may produce unpredictable results. Now, since Chrome and YouTube are both children of the same parent company, I would rather expect you to get an error saying the browser is not supported or outdated instead of page after page of text obscure that only a small percentage of computer geeks could ever hope to understand.

You hinted that you tried this on other browsers besides Chrome with similar results. So unless those other browsers are also incredibly outdated, chances are something else is going on. I’m talking about the possibility of some sort of malware infestation. I can’t, in all honesty, say that I’ve ever heard of malware that does this particular action, and as I said, nothing substantial came of my research.

However, until a particular malware is identified and analyzed, you can expect no results. So, in addition to updating your browsers to the latest version, I also recommend a thorough malware scan. In fact, multiple scans with multiple scanners may be required.

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