15 votes

Twitter Platform Manipulation - (Part 2/3) | SmarterEveryDay

10 comments

  1. [8]
    davidb Link
    Something I didn't see discussed in the previous discussion that still bothers me is the fact that Destin is a US Department of Defense (US Army) employee. I think he can still be honest, but the...

    Something I didn't see discussed in the previous discussion that still bothers me is the fact that Destin is a US Department of Defense (US Army) employee. I think he can still be honest, but the video that kicked off this entire series was commissioned by a US Army Four Star General while Destin was employed under him. Destin even says in that video, "this video is a weapon." In the Twitter video we're discussing in this thread, he mentions being contacted by NATO's Strategic Communications Center of Excellence and interviews Sebastian Bay on the topic of the social media black market.

    The reason this bothers me - this whole series is disguised propaganda by a state actor calling out disguised propaganda by state actors. Even more ironic, Destin uses all the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that he stirs up to plug his VPN advertiser. Even funnier, as he determined in the previous video - most of these bot-based/fake accounts on YouTube and Twitter weren't actually state actors trying to manipulate platforms for political benefit and were instead clever folks trying to exploit the platforms for economic benefit (getting ad clicks). That's exactly what he's doing (manipulate you with fear-mongering video content so you want to secure yourself by signing up for this VPN service that paid for this series).

    I don't doubt that both economic and politically-motivated fraud are very real problems for these platforms, but I feel the impact is being overstated for political reasons, which is why I think it is important to discuss Destin's employment by DoD.

    All that said, I do agree with one of Destin's conclusions - that the way to combat this problem is by people developing better skepticism skills to assist their evaluation of accuracy, credibility, perspective, and relevance of potential propaganda.

    9 votes
    1. [3]
      vivaria (edited ) Link Parent
      I'm glad you've added additional context to the video. My initial reaction to your comment is: I'm not sure how appropriate it is to extrapolate (in some of the ways you have) from that context....

      I'm glad you've added additional context to the video. My initial reaction to your comment is: I'm not sure how appropriate it is to extrapolate (in some of the ways you have) from that context.

      e.g. I feel like it might be a little disingenuous to conflate [the topic of the video/Destin's motivations] and the [VPN market/the sponsor's motivations]. The tone of your response gives me this feeling like you're trying to insinuate that Destin's "in the pocket of big VPN" so to speak. But, AFAIK, there's a whole lotta nuance in the negotiations and agreements between YouTube creators and sponsors. (what's required of them to say, how it affects the script and structure of the video, etc.) I mean, it could be the case that Destin carefully constructed the entire video in such a way to manipulate viewers into signing up with the sponsor. Or, it could be that the sponsor happened to be a good fit for the video, but the [cooperation/shared motivations] themselves were limited. I think it's important to make a distinction between the two (or even acknowledging that the line between the two gets fuzzy), especially for establishing the credibility for the video.

      Here's a video I like that talks about the sponsorship process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOwtqud_Ld8 (Note, it too could be propaganda from austinmcconnell! I've got no way of verifying whether his description of sponsorships is an accurate representation. But, it at least nudges at... some of the potential nuance in the topic? At least in terms of showing that sponsors and creators aren't necessarily one and the same, and may even be adversarial/have opposed interests in some regards.)

      I mention this because your comment almost feels like... fearmongering about the fearmongering? The way you've framed it has whipped up FUD re:Destin more than the actual video did for me re:cybersecurity. But, maybe your past experiences have led you to be more skeptical about state-driven motivations and efforts than I would. I definitely get the sense that your guard is way more up than mine is, and that could be because I'm a naive 20-ish-year-old, and you've got experiences that I don't.

      Either way, I think your comment, too, ends up doing a good job at reinforcing this (in a roundabout way):

      that the way to combat this problem is by people developing better skepticism skills to assist their evaluation of accuracy, credibility, perspective, and relevance of potential propaganda.

      It's skepticism all the way down!

      7 votes
      1. [2]
        davidb Link Parent
        Absolutely! I will add that "fearmongering the fearmongering" wasn't my goal, but concede it's a fair critique. I didn't and don't really have a strong conclusion, which might be why it came off...

        It's skepticism all the way down!

        Absolutely!

        I will add that "fearmongering the fearmongering" wasn't my goal, but concede it's a fair critique. I didn't and don't really have a strong conclusion, which might be why it came off as fearmongering. My primary claim is simply that it feels icky to me that the DoD + this VPN advertiser paid him to make this series. That doesn't contradict that there could be (and I will say that there is) some good information discussed in the video. All my claim does is provide motive and perspective (the series is US-military sponsored propaganda - we know because Destin says so in the video I linked).

        As for why the US DoD would pay for this series? I really don't know. My top guess would be to lobby public opinion and government for more funding for military multi-domain operations (particularly cyber and "human"). I would also think it is a useful recruiting tool - I'm sure plenty of tech-minded folks that watch Destin's channel have more of an interest in US national security jobs as a result of seeing that video. But, I can't make very strong claims for either, which is why I ended up more or less rambling around such claims in my first comment.

        We can debate whether or not the VPN advertiser influenced Destin (and can't really know for sure whether it did or not unless Destin says that it did), but I still think my claim of irony (which is the point I was trying to make by calling out the VPN ad) is valid.

        8 votes
        1. vivaria (edited ) Link Parent
          I might have just been reading too much into your comment, too, which would be totally on me. "It's ironic that ..."-style observations on internet forums can be read as the dictionary definition...

          I might have just been reading too much into your comment, too, which would be totally on me.

          "It's ironic that ..."-style observations on internet forums can be read as the dictionary definition ("a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result") full-stop. Or, the irony might be pointed out specifically to sow seeds of doubt re: the source's credibility. (i.e. "this is contrary to what you might expect, ergo this person has ulterior motives and you should feel suspicious.") It's easy to make that jump without thinking about it (both as a commenter and as a reader), so I think that's why I wanted to clarify that bit.

          3 votes
    2. tindall Link Parent
      Absolutely this. One of the deepest lessons that people on the internet need to internalize is that nobody is immune to propaganda. This is propaganda.

      Absolutely this.

      One of the deepest lessons that people on the internet need to internalize is that nobody is immune to propaganda. This is propaganda.

      2 votes
    3. [3]
      yellow Link Parent
      Is it really disguised if the video that was almost a "part 0" in the series featured a general saying it was a weapon? That video was outright naked propaganda and this is closely tied to it.

      disguised propaganda

      Is it really disguised if the video that was almost a "part 0" in the series featured a general saying it was a weapon? That video was outright naked propaganda and this is closely tied to it.

      2 votes
      1. [2]
        davidb Link Parent
        Ya, I debated whether or not to call it "disguised" because I agree - he calls it out pretty clearly, but calling it "disguised" went along too well with the flow to not use it. Poetic license?

        Ya, I debated whether or not to call it "disguised" because I agree - he calls it out pretty clearly, but calling it "disguised" went along too well with the flow to not use it. Poetic license?

        1 vote
        1. yellow Link Parent
          Well sure, the video I mentioned also gives a good example of undisguised propaganda and this series is more disguised. So I guess it isn't entirely unfair.

          Well sure, the video I mentioned also gives a good example of undisguised propaganda and this series is more disguised. So I guess it isn't entirely unfair.

          2 votes
  2. vivaria Link
    This is part 2/3 in a series by Destin Sandlin (SmarterEveryDay) on social media platform manipulation, with each part dedicated to a specific platform. Previous discussion on Part 1/3 (YouTube as...

    This is part 2/3 in a series by Destin Sandlin (SmarterEveryDay) on social media platform manipulation, with each part dedicated to a specific platform. Previous discussion on Part 1/3 (YouTube as the platform) here.

    The first video spoke more to malicious video content detection at scale. Which, while super neat from a technical perspective, didn't have as much relevance to Tildes? This video, though, seems to be more focused on community building at scale. Some of the discussion topics I found really neat, especially relating to the sheer diversity of behavior sets that a platform can attract when it grows as large as Twitter has. (As my Data Analysis and Pattern Rec prof has been saying all term: if you've got billions or even trillions of data points, then the 1-in-a-million and 1-in-a-billion events start happening in considerable amounts that can't as easily be hand-waved away.) It's really tempting to oversimplify issues in a way that makes them seem easy to address, which is why I like these behind-the-curtain glimpses at the complexity that comes with platform and community building.

    What did you think?

    4 votes
  3. yellow Link
    At almost the very end of the video Destin mentions possibly doing a fourth episode on Reddit. Now THAT could be interesting. This series has been pretty fluffy so far, because it is an...

    At almost the very end of the video Destin mentions possibly doing a fourth episode on Reddit. Now THAT could be interesting. This series has been pretty fluffy so far, because it is an engineering channel and the interesting solutions are secret (and the known ones are fairly well known, like the video affects used to dodge detection). If he does do one Reddit, it would at least be interesting to see someone cover it even if it doesn't have much content.

    3 votes