Pew Data about Social Media Use: Should I Be Fearful? Answer: Me, No. You? Probably

September 26, 2022

The Pew Research outfit published more data about social media. If you want to look at the factsheet, navigate to this Pew link. I want to focus on one small, probably meaningless item. What interested me was how those in the sample get their news. If I read the snazzy graphics correctly:

  1. 82 percent of those in the sample use YouTube. (Does that make YouTube a monopoly?) Of those YouTube users, 25 percent get their “news” from the Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind entity.
  2. 30 percent of those in the sample use TikTok, that friendly entity linked with the CCP. Of those TikTok adepts, 10 percent get their news from the Middle Kingdom’s information output and usage intake system.
  3. Other services deliver news, but it is not clear if video is the mechanism. Video interests me because of the Marshall McLuhan hot-cold notion. Video is the digital garden for couch potatoes. Reading is a bit more active, or so the fans of McLuhan would suggest.

Why am I fearful? How about these thoughts, conceived while consuming a cheese sandwich?

  1. Potent mechanisms for injecting shaped or weaponized information into consumers of video news are in the hands of two entities focused on achieving their goals. China is into having the US become subservient to the Middle Kingdom and redress the arrogance Americans have manifested over the years. The AGYD entity wants money and the ability to shape the direction in which it would prefer the users go. My view is their the approach of each entity is the same. The goals are somewhat different.
  2. Most consumers of video and news are unaware of the functionality of weaponized video information. My view is that it is pretty darned good at tearing down and cultivating certain interesting mental frameworks.
  3. Weaponization is trivial, particularly when each AGYD and TikTok can use money to incentivize the individuals and firms producing content for the respective services’ audience.

Net net: Once one pushes into double digit content dependence, a tipping point is something that can cause what appears to be a stable structure to collapse. Can digital information break the camel’s back? For sure. Am I fearful? Nah. Others? Probably not and that increases my concern.

Stephen E Arnold, September 26, 2022

TikTok: A Slick Engine to Output Blackmail Opportunities

September 22, 2022

Some topics are not ready for online experts who think they know how sophisticated data collection and analytics “work.” The article “TikTok’s Algorithms Knew I Was Bi before I Did. I’m Not the Only One” provides a spy-tingling glimpse into what the China-linked TikTok video addiction machine can do. In recent testimony, TikTok’s handwaver explained that the Middle Kingdom’s psychological profile Ming tea pot is just nothing more than kid vids.

The write up explains:

On TikTok, the relationship between user and algorithm is uniquely (even sometimes uncannily) intimate.

This sounds promising: Intimate as in pillow talk, secret thoughts, video moments forgotten but not lost to fancy math. The article continues:

There is something about TikTok that feels particularly suited to these journeys of sexual self-discovery and, in the case of women loving women, I don’t think it’s just the prescient algorithm. The short-form video format lends itself to lightning bolt-like jolts of soul-bearing nakedness…

Is it just me or is the article explaining exactly how TikTok can shape and then cause a particular behavior? I learned more:

I hadn’t knowingly been deceiving or hiding this part of me. I’d simply discovered a more appropriate label. But it was like we were speaking different languages.

Weaponizing TikTok probably does not remake an individual. The opportunity the system presents to an admin with information weaponization in mind is to nudge TikTok absorbers into a mind set and make it easier to shape a confused, impressionable, or clueless person to be like Ponce de Leon and explore something new.

None of this makes much sense to a seventh grader watching shuffle dance steps. But the weaponization of information angle is what make blackmail opportunities bloom. What if the author was not open about the TikTok nudged or induced shift? Could that information or some other unknown or hidden facet of the past be used to obtain access credentials, a USB stuffed with an organization’s secrets, or using a position of trust to advance a particular point of view?

The answer is, “Yep.” Once there is a tool that tool will be used. Then the tool will be applied to other use cases or opportunities to lure people to an idea like “Hey, that island is just part of China” or something similar.

In my opinion, that’s what the article is struggling to articulate: TikTok means trouble, and the author is “not the only one.”

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2022

TikTok: Hours per Day Reveal an Intellectual Commitment to Shortened Attention Spans

September 13, 2022

I am in an interesting location. Sorry. No details, no local color. I did spot a citation to the estimable Murdochian Wall Street Journal. The citation I saw was in this Slashdot post: “Instagram Stumbles in Push to Mimic TikTok Internal Documents Show.” I am not too keen on information once private finding its way into the wild, but there is one sentence which I found darned interesting; to wit:

Instagram users cumulatively are spending 17.6 million hours a day watching Reels, less than one-tenth of the 197.8 million hours TikTok users spend each day on that platform…

From my point of view these data reveal an intense, intellectual commitment to creating shortened attention spans. What about reading a — oh, what are those artifacts called? — books.

Wow. A formula for critical thinking and learning complex subjects for sure.

Oh, one detail about my location in the US. My colleague and I watched two young people struggle to read printed instructions for closing out a cash register. Words. Yeah. Words.

Stephen E Arnold, September 13, 2022

A Surprise: Newton Minnow Was Prescient

August 30, 2022

Social media is to blame for most misinformation spreading across the Internet faster than viral videos. Despite declining numbers, TV still plays a huge part in the polarization of the American populace. Ars Technica explains why: “It’s Just Not Social Media: Cable News Has Bigger Effect On Polarization.” While social media echo chambers exist, it is not at the huge scale we have been led to believe.

Researchers from Microsoft Researchers, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania tracked TV consumption from thousands of American adults between 2016 to 2019. They discovered that selective news exposure did increase polarization, but it mostly came from TV. They found that 17% of American TV news watchers are politically polarized with a near-split average between left and right politics. That is three to four times higher than online news watchers.

TV watchers also do not change their viewing habits:

“Besides being more politically siloed on average, our research found that TV news consumers are much more likely than web consumers to maintain the same partisan news diets over time: after six months, left-leaning TV audiences are 10 times more likely to remain segregated than left-leaning online audiences, and right-leaning audiences are 4.5 times more likely than their online counterparts. While these figures may seem intimidating, it is important to keep in mind that even among TV viewers, about 70 percent of right-leaning viewers and about 80 percent of left-leaning viewers do switch their news diets within six months. To the extent that long-lasting echo chambers do exist, then, they include only about 4 percent of the population.”

Also depending on the TV viewers’ political leanings, they never stray too far from preferred news networks. The political imbalance is increasing among how audiences get their news, because more are shifting from broadcast news to cable.

This is not good, because it increases divisions among people rather than showing the commonalities everyone shares. It also makes news more sensational than it needs to be.

Whitney Grace, August 30, 2022

A Triller Thriller: Excitement I Do Not Need

August 26, 2022

Short-form video app Triller is eager to topple TikTok. When its rival was lambasted last summer for allowing white influencers to take credit for trends generated by Black content creators, Triller saw an opportunity. It immediately positioned itself as the platform that respects and elevates Black creators. It reached out to many of them with promises of regular monthly payments and coveted shares of stock while dangling visions of a content house, collaborations, and brand deals. However, whether from disorganization or disregard, The Washington Post reports, Triller is not holding up to its end of the deal. In the article, “A TikTok Rival Promised Millions to Black Creators. Now Some Are Deep in Debt” (paywalled), reporter Taylor Lorenz writes:

“[Dancer David Warren] was part of a group of what Triller touted as 300 Black content creators offered contracts totaling $14 million — ‘the largest ever one-time commitment of capital to Black creators,’ the company bragged in a November news release. But nearly a year after Triller began recruiting Black talent, its payments to many creators have been erratic — and, in some cases, nonexistent, according to interviews with more than two dozen creators, talent managers and former company staff, many of whom spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation from the company. For influencers, it’s a disastrous turn from a platform with a reputation for paying big money, dubbed ‘Triller money,’ to get talent to post on the app. Far from ‘Triller money,’ the Black influencers were promised

$4,000 per month, with half paid in equity, according to documents reviewed by The Post. Warren, used to making content for platforms controlled by other people, found the chance to own a piece of something thrilling. But now, as they cope with uncertain payments, many creators allege they are compelled to keep up with a demanding posting schedule and vague requirements that make it easy for the company to eliminate people from the program.”

Company executives flat-out deny allegations against them, but Lorenz shares her evidence in the article. She describes a toxic climate where administrators callously hold creators to the letter of their grueling agreements while failing to make good on tens of thousands of dollars in payments. In a spectacular display of gall, Triller informed creators it would prioritize keeping a certain amount on the books over its obligations to them as it prepares for its IPO. And those promised shares of stock that had creators feeling empowered? Nowhere to be seen. Whether it is a matter of contemptuous tokenization or mere incompetence, it seems Triller delivers little but a trail of broken promises.

Cynthia Murrell, August 26, 2022

YouTube: Some Proof about Unfindable Content

August 17, 2022

I read “5 Sites to Discover the Best YouTube Channels and Creators Recommended for You.” The write up presents five services which make YouTube content “findable.” What I learned from the article is that YouTube videos are, for the most part, unfindable. A YouTuber can stumble upon a particular video and rely on Google’s unusual recommendation system. In my experience, that system is hobbled by its assorted filters and ad-magnetic methods. If I want to locate a video by eSysman (a fellow who reports about big money yachts loved by some money launderers and oligarchs), Google refers me to NautiStyles, YachtsForSale (quite a sales person is visible on that channel), or the flavor of the day like Bering Yachts. eSysman is the inspiration for one former CIA professional, and her edging into the value of open source intelligence. Does Google’s algorithm “sense” this? Nah, not a clue. What if I want some downhome cookin’ with Cowboy Kent, the chuck wagon totin’, trail hand feedin’ Oklahoma chef. Sorry, promoting Italian chefs are not what I was looking for. Cowboy cookin’ is not Italian restaurateurs showing that their skills are sharper than fry cooks in French restaurants. But what about YouTube search? Yes, isn’t it fantastic? Enough said.

What about the services identified in the article? Each offers different ways to find a video or channel on a specific or semi-specific topic. You can navigate to the source document and work your way through the list of curated “finder” sites.

The write up points out:

YouTube has over 50 million channels, but as you might have guessed, most of them aren’t worth subscribing to.

That’s the type of “oh, well, don’t worry statement” that drives me bonkers. Just let someone tell you what’s good. Go with it. Hey, no problemo. Who wants to consider the implications of hours of video uploaded every minute or the fact that there are 50 million channels from the Googlers’ service.

Several observations:

  1. No one knows what is on YouTube. I have some doubts that filters designed to eliminate certain types of content work particularly well. The idea that the Google screens each and every uploaded video with tools constantly updated to keep track of possibly improper videos is interesting to contemplate. Since no one knows what videos contain, how can one know what’s filtered, allowed in mistakenly, blocked inadvertently, or processed using methods not revealed to the public. (Lists of user “handles” can be quite useful for some purposes.)
  2. Are the channels no one can find actually worthless? I am not too sure. There are channels which present information about how to game the Google algorithm posted by alleged Google “partners.” I engaged in a dialogue with this “professional” and found the exchange quite disturbing. I located the huckster by accident, and I can guarantee that keeping track of this individual is not an easy task. Is that a task a Googler will undertake? Yeah, sure.
  3. YouTube search is one of the many “flavors” of information location the company offers. In my experience, none of the Google search services works very well or delivers on point information without frustration. Does this comment apply to Google Patent search? Yep. What about Google News search? Yep yep. What about regular Google search for company using a common word for its name? Yep yep yep. (Google doesn’t have a clue about a company field code, but it sure pushes ads unrelated to anything I search. I love mindless ads for the non-US content surveillance products that help me express myself clearly. Hey, no I won’t buy.)

Net net: YouTube’s utility is designed for Google ads. The murky methods used to filter content and the poor search and recommender systems illustrate why professional libraries and specific indexing guidelines were developed. Google, of course, thinks that type of dinobaby thinking is not hip.

Yes, it is. Unless Google tames the YouTube, the edifice could fall down. TikTok (which has zero effective search) may just knock a wall or trellis in the YouTube garden over. Google wants to be an avant guard non text giant. Even giants have vulnerable points. The article makes clear that third parties cannot do much to make information findable in YouTube. But in a TikTok world, who cares? Advertisers? Google stakeholders? Those who believe Google’s smart software is alive? I go for the software is alive crowd.

Stephen E Arnold, August 17, 2022

YouTube: Latent Power and a Potential Flash Point within Russia?

August 8, 2022

I read the estimable Murdoch write up called “How YouTube Keeps Broadcasting Inside Russia’s Digital Iron Curtain.” And how about this subtitle?

Access to the video site allows Russians access to one of the few sources of independent information about the Ukraine war

(Keep in mind that you will have to pay to view the article on the WSJ.com site.)

I have suggested that Russia’s regulators see the Google as a giant piggy bank with a ceramic head resembling Godzilla’s. How powerful is Google’s YouTube? The write up suggests that the Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind thing is pretty powerful. Well, actually what’s powerful is YouTube and its millions upon millions of videos.

Here’s the key statement in the “real” news article:

“Some banks are too big to fail, and some apps are too big to be blocked,” stated Nu Wexler, a former coverage communications staffer at Google, Meta and Twitter. “The Russian government knows they would face a backlash if they were to block a popular app like YouTube in the country.”

Why not enjoy the videos on Rutube, Rumble, or the high quality streamgun.vod site? The reason, according to one attendee at a law enforcement, crime analyst, and intelligence professional centric conference boils down to YouTube being Number One with a bullet.

The idea is that in some of the cheerful outposts in Siberia as well as the toasty towns in Sochi, YouTube is the primary source of entertainment. Okay, but I suggested vodka was the big dog. Wrong, I learned. Despite the quality of Russian state television and the outstanding Russian motion pictures, YouTube kept the young folks busy.

I have yet to see credible data which suggests that YouTube, not Russia billboards, is the information gun in Russia. There is, of course, TikTok and some of the low cost pirate streaming services. YouTube has triumphed it is alleged.

Here’s a factoid from the write up I saw:

YouTube had greater than 85 million month-to-month distinctive viewers in Russia in June, in line with analytics firm.

And how about this allegedly accurate item?

The video website was utilized by 47% of a pattern of Russians surveyed in April by the unbiased Russian pollster Levada Center, making it the nation’s second-most common social community behind native service VKontakte.

Maybe Rutube can displace the GOOG’s YouTube? Maybe:

Russian officers have stated state cash could be invested into Rutube, a unit of the state-owned vitality big Gazprom PJSC that options pro-Moscow content material. It had 9.7 million month-to-month distinctive viewers in Russia in June, SimilarWeb stated.

Net net: No wonder the Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind operation finds pesky laws enacted by nation-states annoying. YouTube is able to do what Ukraine cannot: Displace that which it finds annoying and a threat to its data collection and advertising efforts. Google is in a position to trigger social unrest in Russia by pulling out of the country’s datasphere. That’s power. What if YouTube were used to incite citizen unrest in Russia and maybe a couple of other countries?

Interesting idea and worth consideration by some I suppose.

Stephen E Arnold, August 8, 2022

Will Vintage Gameshows Slow Down TikTok?

August 5, 2022

Somehow we are not surprised. Axios reports, “News Engagement Plummets as Americans Tune Out.” Reporters Neal Rothschild and Sara Fischer assembled data from several sources and share the results in a handy chart. From the first half of 2021 to the first half of this year, visits to the top 5 news sites and news apps were down by 18% and 16% respectively, primetime cable news viewership decreased by 19%, and interactions with news articles on social media was cut in half. The article observes:

“The big picture: The level of news consumption in 2021 took a nosedive following historic highs in 2020. Despite a slew of major stories, readers have retrenched further in 2022. The war in Ukraine, a series of deadly mass shootings, the Jan. 6 hearings and the Supreme Court’s revocation of abortion rights haven’t been able to capture the same level of attention spurred by the onset of the pandemic and the 2020 election.”

There is one important caveat to the 50% drop via social media: during this time Facebook de-emphasized news in user feeds as part of its News Tab push. Perhaps during a spate of bad news is not the best time to coax users onto the dedicated tab. See the write-up for more engagement statistics from a news-weary nation.

For anyone who would rather relive the past than watch current events, reruns may be the way to go. Polygon reveals “Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune Will Steam 24/7” on Pluto TV. We learn:

Vulture reported Monday that both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune — the game show classics — will stream ‘vintage’ episodes 24/7 on separate Pluto TV channels, thanks to a deal between the streaming service and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The broadcasts will begin on Aug. 1, according to Vulture. Pluto TV is a free streaming service purchased by Viacom (now Paramount Global) in 2019. Vulture said it’s the start of Pluto TV’s expansion into game show content; it’s moving the current game show offering, like old The Price Is Right episodes, to a new game show category. CBS’ Lets Make a Deal, hosted by Wayne Brady, was added to the service today.”

What Sony considers “vintage” is left undefined. Pluto does offer an on-demand section, but for a real shot of nostalgia one can stick with its Live TV page. Maybe a trip down memory lane can provide some respite from today’s concerns, at least temporarily? And TikTok? Imagine the Lone Ranger is 30 second clips. Winner!

Cynthia Murrell, August 5, 2022

Surprise! Undisclosed Sponsorships Abound on TikTok

August 4, 2022

Would you consider this weaponized information or just Madison Avenue in the digital era? Vox reveals, “TikTok Is Full of Shady Secret Advertisements.” Regulations specify social media influencers must disclose if they are being paid to endorse or display a product, but many fail to do so. And with issues like privacy protection taking top priority, the FTC is hard pressed to stop them. Though the problem has existed across social media platforms for years, TikTok has taken it to a new level. Reporter Sara Morrison writes:

“It’s pervasive because it’s easy: With the internet and social media, there is a seemingly infinite supply of content to regulate and almost no transparency, which makes it exceedingly difficult for the agencies charged with enforcing the rules to know when they’re being broken. … But TikTok’s undisclosed ad problem seems to be particularly bad. The app is believed to be especially addictive, with users spending far more time on TikTok than on competitors’ apps. And everything is younger: the users, the creators, and the platform itself. TikTok is only now encountering some of the regulatory and legal growing pains its social media platform peers faced years ago. TikTok is also very popular with a desirable and elusive demographic: Gen Z. And brands know that influencers can be a great way to reach them.”

See the article for several examples and some of the factors making it difficult for regulators to curb such “sponcon.” Sponsors and influencers might be underestimating Gen Z, however, and this tactic may eventually backfire. Most of those born after 1997 have enough digital savvy to know when they are being sold to and resent attempts at trickery. Though it sounds like an oxymoron to older folks, members of this generation value authenticity in their virtual interactions. If TikTok continues to let sponsorship violations slide, it might just see its treasured target audience slip away.

Cynthia Murrell, August 4, 2022

TikTok: Is Joe Rogan the Person to Blow the Whistle on Chinese Surveillance?

August 3, 2022

TikTok has been around since 2015 as A.me and Douyin. If you want to scrape below the shiny surface of the TikTok rags-to-riches story, there something called Musical.ly which surfaced in 2014. In 2018, the Musical.ly management team decided that selling to ByteDance was a super great idea. Then TikTok was created to entertain and log data. Few talk about the link to certain entities in the Chinese political structure. Even fewer think that short videos were bad. Sure, there were allegations of self harm, addiction, erosion of self worth, and students who preferred watching vids pumped at them by a magical algorithm. Nobody, including some Silicon Valley real news people with an inflated view of their intellectual capabilities said, “Yo, TikTok is a weaponized content delivery and surveillance system.” Nope. Just cute videos. What’s the problemo?

Who is now concerned about TikTok? The NSA? The CIA? The badge-and-gun entities in the US Federal government? Well, maybe. But the big voice is now a semi-real sports event announcer. “Joe Rogan Warns Americans about TikTok: China Knows Every … Thing You type.” Hey, Joe, don’t forget psychographic profiling to identify future insider operators, please.

The article reports:

Rogan listed the other data being collected by the popular platform. “‘User agent, mobile carrier, time zone settings, identifiers for advertising purpose, model of your device, the device system, network type, device IDs, your screen resolution and operating system, app and file names and types,’” he said. “So all your apps and all your file names, all the things you have filed away on your phone, they have access to that.” He continued: “‘File names and types, keystroke patterns or rhythms.’”

Hot intel, Mr. Rogan.

Where did this major news originate? From Mr. Rogan’s wellness infused research?

Nope. He read the terms of service.

The estimable newspaper pointed out:

… the tech news site Gizmodo reported that leaked internal documents from TikTok showed the extent to which the app sought to “downplay the China association.” The documents, labeled “TikTok Master Messaging” and “TikTok Key Messages,” detail the social media giant’s public relations strategy during a period of mounting scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers over its parent company ByteDance and its ties to the Chinese Community Party.

Gizmodo? Is this Silicon Valley type “real news” outlet emulating Cryptome.org?

According to the cited New York Post story:

TikTok has pledged to “publish insights about the covert influence operations we identify and remove from our platform globally to show how seriously we take attempts to mislead our community.”

That sounds good just like a cyber security firm’s PowerPoint deck. Talk, however, is not action.

Maybe Mr. Rogan can use his ring announcer voice to catch people’s attention? I am not sure some of the TikTok lovers will listen or believe what Mr. Rogan discovered in the super stealthy terms of service for TikTok.

That’s real open source intel. Put Mr. Rogan on a panel at the next OSINT conference, please. I mean TikTok has a 10 year history and it seems to be quite new to some folks.

Stephen E Arnold, August 3, 2022

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