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Posts Tagged ‘Fake News’

Gotta Whole Lotta Likes: Social Media Oppo to Article 13 Continues

February 5, 2019 Comments off

Here’s a few examples of what the Twitter campaign against Article 13 looks like, draw your own conclusions:

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Thank You Senator @MarkWarner, but Senator @RonWyden is the Perfect Leader in the Fight Against Behavioral Addiction

August 13, 2018 Comments off

Senator Mark Warner has released (or leaked) a comprehensive plan to combat fake news and foreign manipulation of the American electorate through Silicon Valley.  Unfortunately, however appealing or appalling some of Senator Warner’s proposals are, it’s likely that he may just be expanding the game of whack-a-mole that Silicon Valley loves so much.  We’ve seen the whack-a-mole movie before and we know how it ends.  They won’t help, you spend money to fight them, and if you ever look like you might be winning, they outspend you on lobbying to create a new safe harbor.

Senator Wyden Can Help Solve the Fundamental Problem With Social Media

There is a more fundamental problem with Silicon Valley that the Congress is actually well-suited to address, probably needs no new laws, and if fixed would go a long way to addressing some of Senator Warner’s issues—the problem of addiction and how Silicon Valley profits from creating that behavioral addiction to smartphones, likes, views, retweets and other fakery that turns the science of addiction on its head.

And the really good news is that there is one currently serving U.S. Senator who is the perfect person to take on this issue, one Senator who has shown his chutzpah in the past, and one Senator who above all others is well suited to deal with the problem of behavior addiction for corporate profit—Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon.

It was Senator Wyden who created that classic exchange in 1994 between the heads of the Big Tobacco companies which you’ve probably seen where Senator Wyden got each of them to say that nicotine was not addictive, only to discover that these companies used biological and behavioral research to make their product as addictive as possible (see The Insider, a film about Big Tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand portrayed by Russell Crowe).  

The tobacco class actions resulted in a $3.4 billion payment over 25 years–in 1997 dollars.  We know how much Big Tech hates real class actions they don’t control, but face it–a comparable settlement today would be chump change for the most valuable companies in commercial history.

This is why Ron Wyden is the perfect Senator to reprise his role of champion of public health by holding Silicon Valley’s feet to the fire.  And let’s face it—there’s lots of material to work with in the business of social media that is founded on fakery, well beyond Senator Warner’s recommendations.

YouTube’s Fakery on Display Again

It’s not surprising that fake YouTube views are again in the news in what is becoming a series of exposes on the fakery in social media.  The latest deep dive into the skullduggery behind fake views is by Michael H. Keller in the New York Times and is recommended reading by Artist Rights Watch.

Everyone in the record business who has been paying attention has seen a version of this story play out many, many times for many, many years.  Remember the radio promotion exec who always seems to get the same adds at that same stations for a few weeks?  And when the plays stop, the exec says “the record is not reacting”?  Fake YouTube views are essentially the same scam—with two exceptions. The scale is vastly bigger at YouTube and no DJ has the motto “don’t be evil.”

Mr. Keller’s post ends with this provocative conclusion:

View-selling sites continue to advertise with apparent impunity. A post on the YouTube Creator Blog warning users against fake views has numerous comments linking to view-selling sites.

“The only way YouTube could eliminate this is if they removed the view counter altogether,” said Mr. Vassilev, the fake-view seller. “But that would defeat the purpose of YouTube.”

That’s an interesting proposition.  Why would removing the view counter defeat the purpose of YouTube?  Aren’t we told that artists can’t reach an audience without YouTube?  So isn’t the purpose of YouTube to reach an audience rather than produce public views information?  Granted, the person making that assertion is a fake view seller and not a YouTube representative, but a YouTube representative would likely never say such a thing even if they knew it to be true.  Why not?

Behavioral Addiction Additives 

One reason might be that the view counter, friend counters, the likes, the retweets, the various measurements that demonstrate the re-enforcement of acceptance by “friends”, are an important component of what makes YouTube addictive, just like tobacco companies added ammonia and other chemicals to tobacco to increase its addictive powers.  And the evidence is starting to come in suggesting that it is that addiction that is the real purpose of YouTube and other social media sites.

One source of that evidence is from Professor Adam Alter of the NYU Stern School of Business whose book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked describes in shocking detail just how devious sites like YouTube and Facebook are in delivering the dopamine fix to our brains, and worse yet to our children’s brains.  As Professor Alter told the New York Times:

Today, we’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many “likes” our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to….

We are engineered in such a way that as long as an experience hits the right buttons, our brains will release the neurotransmitter dopamine. We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more.

And of course those buttons include YouTube subscriber and view counts, Facebook friends and likes and the various other feedback mechanisms that enforce a measurement of popularity.  So far, social media is good business as Spotify billionaire Sean Parker tells us:

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” 

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker said.

Of course, as one Silicon Valley entrepreneur who also survived the Dot Bomb Implosion once told me, there’s something really wrong about a world in which Sean Parker is a billionaire.

Do Fake Views Produce Fake News?

Here’s a couple thoughts about the fake view issue.  First, why doesn’t Google refund the sums spent on fake views?  Maybe not to the repeat user PR firms but at least to the individuals who were lured in by the promise of fake views who didn’t know any better?  Or would they prefer to put together one of their pre-packaged fake class actions that funnels money to their favorite shills in cy pres awards?

But going forward, what is so unusual about getting rid of view counters, friend counters, like counters, follower counters, and so on?  Twitter did something similar when they stopped the counter on Twitter linking buttons.  If YouTube is really such a great tool for consumer engagement, do we think fans are going to stop watching videos of the artists they love just because they don’t have a counter telling them what’s popular when there’s a better than 50/50 chance the counter is a fraud to begin with?

Let’s face it—one reason YouTube music videos are popular is because artists and labels drive traffic to YouTube.  That helps the view count as much as anything else.

Also, it’s not like there’s no ranking going on.  Google can rank YouTube videos in search with no problem.  Of course, they’re so good at ranking in the background that they are being fined for it by the European Commission. 

Senator Wyden, Where Art Thou?

While I appreciate Senator Warner’s effort, the real rock star in taking on Silicon Valley could be Senator Ron Wyden.  The addiction issue would be a perfect opportunity for his consumer protection legacy with tobacco addiction to enter the digital age.

Spotify’s “Fake Artist” Issue and Other Problems at Scale — Music Tech Solutions

July 11, 2017 Comments off

Spotify just can’t seem to catch a break in the artist community.  A story broke on Vulture evidently based on a Music Business Worldwide post alleging (and I’m paraphrasing) that (1) Spotify commissions artists to cover hits of the day and (2) there’s a lot of sketchy material on Spotify that trades on confusing misspellings, “tributes” and other ways of tricking users into listening to at least 30 seconds of a recording.  Which means that Spotify isn’t that different than the rest of the Internet.  (Thank you DARPA, the people who gave you the Internet.  And Agent Orange.  The real one.)

Spotify of course has issued a denial that I find to be Nixonian in its parsing.  Let’s not go crazy on this, but here’s the first part, according to Billboard:

“We do not and have never created ‘fake’ artists and put them on Spotify playlists. Categorically untrue, full stop,” a Spotify spokesperson wrote in an email.

Nobody said Spotify “creates” “‘fake artists,’” and the accusation was that the fake artists were on the service AND on some playlists, not just playlists.  The allegation is that Spotify commissions recordings.

“We pay royalties — sound and publishing — for all tracks on Spotify, and for everything we playlist. [If Spotify commissioned the fake tracks, they would also “pay royalties”.]  We do not own rights, we’re not a label, all our music is licensed from rightsholders and we pay them — we don’t pay ourselves.”

Notice the switch to “rights holders” which would include either publishing or sound recordings.  If Spotify commissioned fake artists they would not need to “own rights” and they could easily have “licensed” the fake artists recordings.  Cover songs would require an…ahem…NOI for the compulsory license.  And the commission payment could go to the artist as a buyout so Spotify would “pay them”.  If the object was to increase traffic for their ad supported service, commissioning recordings would both increase traffic AND reduce the prorata share of advertising revenue by making the denominator larger for everyone with a  revenue share during that accounting period.  I don’t want to go too far down that rabbit hole, but there are some odd loose ends.

Leave the holes in Spotify’s denial to the side.  The core problem identified by the Vulture post is the same for Spotify as it is for Google, YouTube, Facebook, all the other Internet companies that require “scale” to succeed, and which are, one way or another, hell bent on being monopolists.  The second part of Spotify’s denial in Billboard could apply to this lack of monitoring:

“As we grow there will always be people who try to game the system. We have a team in place to constantly monitor the service to flag any activity that could be seen as fraudulent or misleading to our users.”

Maybe that “team” could have a role in “monitoring the service” for tracks beforethe recordings get on the service rather than after.  Noah built the Ark before the rain.

It must be said that it sounds a bit implausible that Spotify would commission this type of recording to avoid paying artist royalties on the fake tracks.  Such an affirmative act would require a commercially tortured logic because the royalty offset on those specific tracks would be so tiny that the cost of the commissioned recordings would have to be very, very low.  One guy with Garageband in Mom’s basement kind of low.  How much the prorata revenue share would be reduced is hard to know from the outside.

But even if Spotify doesn’t hire studio musicians to perform “fake hits”, it appears that they are allowing a lot of sketchy recordings onto the service.  One might ask how those recordings get there in the first place.  I would bet that the explanation is pretty much that nobody bothers to check before the recordings are posted (or “ingested” in the vernacular, if you can stand that word).

So while there is a major difference in degree of harm, there isn’t a great deal of difference between what seems to be happening on Spotify with sketchy recordings and the links to illegal materials that the Canadian Supreme Court just blocked on Google Search, promoting the sale of illegal drugs for which Google paid a $500,000,000 fine and narrowly avoided prison, ISIS recruiting for which Google lost a chunk of market cap (at least for a while), human trafficking on Craig’s List and fake news on Facebook.  Each of these services operate at scale and they seem to have the same problem:  No one is minding the store and there are no or poorly enforced standards and practices that are only enforced after the harm has occurred.

The other trait that all these companies have in common to one degree or another is that they are all at least dominant if not monopolies in their markets.

Remember–on May 12, 2014, Spotify’s director of economics Will Page gave a presentation at the Music Biz Conference in Nashville.  As reported by Billboard, Will Page gave the audience a good deal of evidence of Spotify’s domination of the online music market:

Spotify claims to have represented one out of every ten dollars record labels earned in the first quarter….Page’s claim shows the speed at which subscription services are gaining share of the U.S. market. According to IFPI data, all subscription services accounted for 10.2 percent of U.S. recorded music revenue in 2014. If Spotify had a 10-percent share in the first quarter, it’s safe to say the overall subscription share is well above the 10.2 percent registered last year.

These numbers suggest that while Spotify may have a significant share of overall U.S. recorded music revenue, Spotify is clearly dominant if not a monopoly in the global subscription market with its now 100 million plus users and probably is at least dominant if not a monopoly in the U.S. music subscription market.

So how does Apple address these problems?  If you consult the iTunes Style Guide, you’ll see that iTunes expressly prohibits the use of search terms or keywords in track title metadata (like “Rock Pop Indie Rock”) or an artist name (like “Aerosmith Draw the Line).  Audio files have to match track titles on each album delivered.  “All track titles performed by the same artist on an album must be unique, except for different versions of the same track that are differentiated by Parental Advisory tags.“  And most importantly, perhaps, “the name of the original artist must not be displayed in any artist field on the track level or the album level.”  Why these rules?  One reason might be that Tunecore has encouraged their users for years to use covers as a way of getting noticed in searches on music services (with suitable admonishments to not “trick” fans).

Let’s face it–there’s only one way to keep your service clean.  Don’t let the bad stuff on in the first place.  You may think that it should be self evident that allowing sketchy recordings, ISIS videos or human trafficking on your service is a bad thing.  You may think that it should be self evident that allowing someone to change a letter in an artist’s name to trade on their reputation is a bad thing–not that different from typo squatting.  You may think that it is self evident that promoting the sale of illegal drugs is a bad thing.  And you may think that anyone who wants to engage in commerce with the legitimate commercial community, much less the artist community, wouldn’t allow these travesties into their business.

But you would be wrong.  Probably because you don’t worship at the alter of the great god Scale.

via Spotify’s “Fake Artist” Issue and Other Problems at Scale — Music Tech Solutions

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