2018/09/18: “Alternative Influence Network (AIN)”; an alternative media system that adopts the techniques of brand influencers to build audiences and “sell” them political ideology.
Alternative Influence offers insights into the connection between influence, amplification, monetization, and radicalization at a time when platform companies struggle to handle policies and standards for extremist influencers. The network of scholars, media pundits, and internet celebrities that Lewis identifies leverages YouTube to promote a range of political positions, from mainstream versions of libertarianism and conservatism, all the way to overt white nationalism.
Notably, YouTube is a principal online news source for young people.1 Which is why it is concerning that YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, has become the single most important hub by which an extensive network of far-right influencers profit from broadcasting propaganda to young viewers.
“Social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions,” writes Lewis, who outlines how YouTube incentivizes their behavior. Lewis illustrates common techniques that these far-right influencers use to make money as they cultivate alternative social identities and use production value to increase their appeal as countercultural social underdogs. The report offers a data visualization of this network to show how connected influencers act as a conduit for viewership.
Increasingly, understanding the circulation of extremist political content does not just involve fringe communities and anonymous actors. Instead, it requires us to scrutinize polished, well-lit microcelebrities and the captivating videos that are easily available on the pages of the internet’s most popular video platform.
The very design of these laws is to limit competition. What is often ignored in these discussions is that the record labels, movie studios and publishers pushing for these laws have always viewed the world in a particular way: where they "negotiate" against other big companies for how to best split up the pie. They don't want to negotiate with smaller companies. They want just a few companies they can negotiate with -- but hopefully they want the law in their favor so they can pressure that small list of companies to do their bidding. They certainly don't care what's in the best interests for actual creators, because their entire reason for being has been to take as much money out of actual creators' pockets and keep it for themselves.
The idea that Article 11 and Article 13 will, in any way, help creators, rather than legacy gatekeepers is laughable. The idea that it will somehow harm the internet giants is equally laughable. They can deal with it. What it will do is take upstart competitors out of the equation entirely and will significantly remove negotiating leverage for creators.
In India, American companies dominate the internet. Facebook's WhatsApp is the most popular app on phones. Virtually every smartphone runs on Google's Android system. YouTube is the favorite video platform and Amazon is the No. 2 online retailer. For some Indian political leaders, it is as being conquered by colonial powers all over again.
"As a country, we have to all grow up and say that, you know, enough of this,"
India is currently the most important country in term of defining the future of Internet policy. It sits at the fulcrum between the United States and China. As it goes, so goes the world."
Trump-like so many other politicians and pundits-has found search and social media companies to be convenient targets in the debate over free speech and censorship online. "This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!"rnrnBut in this moment, the conversation we should be having-how can we fix the algorithms?-is instead being co-opted and twisted by politicians and pundits howling about censorship and miscasting content moderation as the demise of free speech online. It would be good to remind them that free speech does not mean free reach. There is no right to algorithmic amplification. In fact, that's the very problem that needs fixing.rnrnThe algorithms don't understand what is propaganda and what isn't, or what is "fake news" and what is fact-checked. Their job is to surface relevant content (relevant to the user, of course), and they do it exceedingly well. So well, in fact, that the engineers who built these algorithms are sometimes baffled: "Even the creators don't always understand why it recommends one video instead of another," says Guillaume Chaslot, an ex-YouTube engineer who worked on the site's algorithm.rnrn YouTube's algorithms can also radicalize by suggesting "white supremacist rants, Holocaust denials, and other disturbing content," Zeynep Tufekci recently wrote in the Times. "YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the rnrnThe problem extends beyond YouTube, though. On Google search, dangerous anti-vaccine misinformation can commandeer the top results. And on Facebook, hate speech can thrive and fuel genocidernrnSo what can we do about it? The solution isn't to outlaw algorithmic ranking or make noise about legislating what results Google can return. Algorithms are an invaluable tool for making sense of the immense universe of information online. There's an overwhelming amount of content available to fill any given person's feed or search query; sorting and ranking is a necessity, and there has never been evidence indicating that the results display systemic partisan bias. rnIt's imperative that we focus on solutions, not politics.
Photo by Kain Kalju, CC BY 2.0.
We have just released the Santa Clara principles (PDF), calling on platforms to provide better information about how they moderate content online. The principles articulate a minimum set of standards
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