YouTube

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YouTube is yet another Google cash-cow the Internet's foremost repository of videos that end up as TV news filler items. Credited as one of the driving forces of Web 2.0, it makes readily available many copyright-infringing music videos, annoying would-be music or comedy acts, and stupid home videos — which for some reason received more than ten million downloads.

YouTube allows for free expression in discussion of these videos, where people can either post their own video in reply or leave a comment under it. But if you are looking for meaningful exchange of ideas, there are a feeew problems:

  1. Video uploaders may remove certain comments, or disable comments altogether, if they don't like the ones they are getting. (Is this really a problem, though? See #2 below.)
  2. Most of the comments are by total fuckwads and credulous morons.
  3. Popular videos attract high numbers of comments, leading to very low signal-to-noise ratios.
  4. Up until late 2013, serious discussion of videos was also hampered by the technical characteristics of the system itself: a 500 character limit and a clumsy reading interface, lacking crucial 1980s innovations such as proper threads. It's too soon to say whether the established commenting culture will be changed by the merger with Google+, but since YouTube also has next to no moderation, it's unlikely.
  5. Sturgeon's Law

As well as posting LOL comments, registered users can rate videos (assuming the author has not disabled ratings). These ratings can serve as an indication of the quality or popularity of any given video - comparable to movie ratings. Who but the most die-hard zombie fan will stay up until 4am in order to watch a highly down-voted movie? The ratings system is somewhat subjective, since viewers can rate based purely on personal tastes or support of claims/beliefs made in a video. It's mobocracy which obviously breaks down when users aren't as clever and attractive as you!

Contents

[edit] Censorship of videos through false flagging and vote bots

YouTube provides two methods by which users can reduce the visibility (and presumably the popularity) of videos. The first is to flag it as being unsuitable for minors, since a sufficient number of "votes" will hide the video from everyone except registered users of an appropriate age. The second approach is to vote-down a video (using the ratings system mentioned earlier in this article), either manually through a conspiracy of users or by using a vote bot. A vote bot is typically a script that allows a single person to register a large number of votes over multiple videos. It's kind of like being able to stuff the ballot box.

Vote botting has a more pronounced effect on smaller videos, since there are likely to be fewer genuine votes to counteract the effects of the vote botting. Thunderf00t, among other users, has claimed that religious fundamentalists are using vote bots in an attempt to censor videos that conflict with their beliefs.[1] Atheists could be doing the same to religiously themed videos, although they are far too lazy and disorganised for this to be possible, probably.

Some authors respond to the problem of vote bots by asking their viewers to register votes to counteract the effects of vote botting. This approach could arguably result in mundane videos being voted-up simply because people agree with the views of the author.

[edit] Spotting "vote-botting"

A vote-bot is a script which runs by a computer (or several, or possibly even ones that have been hijacked) and thus has very predictable behavior. In March 2008, YouTube released Insight, an analytical tool for YouTube accounts to track the views of their videos. This has been used with quite high success in spotting the predictable activity of a bot. Specifically, when a vote-bot script executes, it tends to operate only for a short period of time - perhaps a few hours to a day at most - registering dozens, if not hundreds of accounts. All these accounts will then "watch" a selected video and give it an up vote or possibly a down vote, although it's not sure how common this kind of "up-voting" is. Insight then allows a user to view if this has happened as the graphical data produced will show a large, clear spike in the number of votes, well above the normal base line of voting activity, for the duration of the script's execution. A corresponding spike, equally above the base line, in the record of down votes will also appear. These spikes are usually many, many times above the baseline activity and are usually much higher than any "natural" spikes. Natural spikes in activity are, of course, expected to happen with YouTube videos (say, if the video was posted to a popular blog and its views were boosted for a day or two) but these aren't usually accompanied with a corresponding spike in the actual rating.

The "hotspots" option, which tracks how much of the video, and what parts of the video, has been watched may also show a notable dip at the beginning due the bot being there only to register the vote and not actually watching the video. However, this would only be expected on videos with viewing figures that are small relative to the vote-bot.

[edit] YouTube as a debate forum

A typical YouTube discussion
(CC-BY-NC Randall Munroe)

Many youtubers create videos expressing a particular political or religious viewpoint. These are then answered by others expressing contrary viewpoints — each gathering their own band of vociferous followers. Notwithstanding the intensity of debates within the YouTube medium, it is unlikely that these debates have much (or indeed any) influence on the outside world, unless they happen to go viral. Sadly, YouTube is becoming free marketing for corporations. You can not express your opinion without commerce trying to sell you their products or service.

It also appears Youtube has recently changed its policy to no longer permit "intolerance" of religion. The result is many videos from Thunderf00t were banned.[2]

[edit] A haven for bigots

YouTube also has an unchecked wave of white nationalists and MRAs who, when they're called out on their bigotry, play the "persecution" card in the comments section without much blowback.[3] One can post videos bashing feminism or moaning about "black on white crime" and get a huge percentage of "like" votes. Videos advocating a liberal viewpoint (unless part of an organized channel) will be voted down en masse.

[edit] Copycats

Numerous other websites now host free video content, often specified around themes. There's Tangle (aka GodTube), a Christian-themed video site[4] and PopModal, the conservative (or "pro-American") answer to YouTube[5][6], a whole slew of pornographic YouTube clones (RedTube, YouPorn, Pornotube, etc.)[7], and dozens more that should really be mentioned but would take a while to track down. It's interesting to note how many of these sites actually just stream YouTube's content; clearly bandwidth and server space are totally non-partisan.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Caught in the act - Vote bots in action
  2. See his video for a discussion.
  3. One example in response to this article
  4. Tangle and GodTube. They both redirect to the same page.
  5. PopModal — a "Pro-American Video Community"
  6. An article mocking PopModal — and from the Torygraph, no less!
  7. No links. We want to keep this site work-safe.
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