Bookmarked All of YouTube, Not Just the Algorithm, is a Far-Right Propaganda Machine (Medium)

I have been researching far-right propaganda on YouTube since 2017, and I have consistently argued that we cannot understand radicalization on the platform by focusing solely on the algorithm. I have also come to find that we don’t actually need to understand the recommendation algorithm to still know that YouTube is an effective source of far-right propaganda. In fact, I will go even further: according to my research, YouTube could remove its recommendation algorithm entirely tomorrow and it would still be one of the largest sources of far-right propaganda and radicalization online.

Becca Lewis expands on her commentary on the recent research into YouTube and radicalisation. She argues that the platform itself is the source of far-right propaganda.

When we focus only on the algorithm, we miss two incredibly important aspects of YouTube that play a critical role in far-right propaganda: celebrity culture and community.

This is all fed by the incentives inherent within the platform.

Through parasocial relationships and platform-facilitated social networking, YouTube creators and audiences alike are incentivized to spread and reinforce far-right ideas.

Rather than a ‘propaganda machine’, Lewis argues that YouTube is best considered as a ‘pollutant’.

To invoke a metaphor from my colleague Whitney Phillips, far-right propaganda on the platform acts more like a pollutant than a rabbit hole: it contaminates those who consume it and simultaneously impacts the whole media environment.

Bookmarked What is Mastodon and why should I use it? (Laura Kalbag)

Now you know why I’m moving away from Twitter, you probably have a vague idea of what I’m looking for in a social network. Mastodon is unique for a few reasons: it is federated, ethical, and inclusive.

Laura Kalbag discusses Mastodon, what is a federated network and how to setup your own instance of one.

But posting status updates to a blog misses the social element of social networks. We don’t just use social networks to shout into the void, we use them to share experiences with each other …

I have my own Mastodon instance, where it’s just me (and Oskar). This is referred to as an “instance-of-one.” It’s hosted on my own domain, so I own and control everything I post on there, but because I have the Mastodon installed on there, I can see what other people post on their Mastodon instances, and reply to them with mentions, or favourite and boost (like retweet) their toots, even though they are on different instances. It’s like having my own Twitter which can talk to other Twitters, where I make the rules.

This touches on my discussion of a ‘social media of one‘.

via Kevin Hodgson

Replied to Hello, I’m Andy and I’m addicted to Twitter ( )

A big part of getting better and overcoming addiction is accepting that you are addicted, and with that in mind, I’m telling you here today that I’m addicted to Twitter. Enough is enough, though. I have to get better.

That is some effort. Personally, I found dragging in a select list into my feed reader using Granary worked best for me to stop spending too much time.
Replied to Digitally Literate #227 by wiobyrne ( )

Youth Never Forget
Digitally Lit #227 – 1/4/2020
Hi all, welcome to issue #227 of Digitally Literate. Welcome to 2020. I hope the new year…and the new decade treat you well. You’re more than welcome to review these materials on the website. Please subscribe if you would like this to sh…

Another great newsletter Ian. Just a few thoughts. Firstly, in regards to the flaw with the research associated with YouTube:

One of the key critiques of the study is that the researchers didn’t log in. That is to say that they could not experience the full impact of the algorithm as it impacts their findings.

As Becca Lewis suggests, is the problem with measuring radicalisation of YouTube associated with methodology? This reminds me of some of the discussions associated with social media and teens. The examples I have read ‘How YouTube Radicalized Brazil‘ and ‘The Making of a YouTube Radical‘ are anecdotal. I assume this is why Arvind Narayanan says that we do not have the vocabulary to make sense of complexities generated via algorithms.

Also, in regards to Kate Eichhorn’s post about the internet that never forgets (and the subsequent book):

Kate Eichhorn, an Associate Professor of Culture and Media at The New School suggests that people are now forming their identities online from an early age, and in the process are creating a permanent record that’s impossible to delete.

I am reminded of a post from Katia Hildebrandt and Alec Couros from a few years ago in which they suggest that in a world where there is digital record for everything somewhere then we need to learn to consider intent, context, and circumstance when considering different artefacts that may be dredged up.

Bookmarked Why an internet that never forgets is especially bad for young people (MIT Technology Review)

As past identities become stickier for those entering adulthood, it’s not just individuals who will suffer. Society will too.

Kate Eichhorn discusses the way in which the young people today are tracked and transformed through the use of algorithms. This strips them of any possibility of psychosocial moratorium. Young people are subseqeuntly becoming risk-adverse wgere they are becoming prisoners to perfection at a younger age.

LinkedIn originally had an age minimum of 18. By 2013, the professional networking site had lowered its age floor to 13 in some regions and 14 in the United States, before standardizing it at 16 in 2018. The company wouldn’t say how many middle and high schoolers are on the platform. But they aren’t hard to find.

As one 15-year-old LinkedIn user (who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing her account) explained to me, “I got my first LinkedIn page at 13. It was easy—I just lied. I knew I needed LinkedIn because it ranks high on Google. This way, people see my professional side first.” When I asked why she needed to manage her “professional side” at 13, she explained that there’s competition to get into high schools in her region. Since starting her LinkedIn profile in eighth grade, she has added new positions and accomplishments—for example, chief of staff for her student union and chief operating officer for a nonprofit she founded with a 16-year-old peer (who, not surprisingly, is on LinkedIn too).

The fear is that:

In a world where the past haunts the present, young people may calcify their identities, perspectives, and political positions at an increasingly young age … The risk is that young people who hold extreme views as teenagers may feel there’s no use changing their minds if a negative perception of them sticks regardless. Simply put, in the future, geeky kids remain geeky, dumb jocks remain dumb, and bigots remain bigots. Identities and political perspectives will be hardened in place, not because people are resistant to change but because they won’t be allowed to shed their past. In a world where partisan politics and extremism continue to gain ground, this may be the most dangerous consequence of coming of age in an era when one has nothing left to hide.

Bookmarked The Old Internet Died And We Watched And Did Nothing (BuzzFeed News)

Quick: Can you think of a picture of yourself on the internet from before 2010, other than your old Facebook photos? How about something you’ve written? Maybe some old sent emails in Gmail or old Gchats?

But what about anything NOT on Facebook or Google?

Most likely, you have some photos that are lost somewhere, some old posts to a message board or something you wrote on a friend’s wall, some bits of yourself that you put out there on the internet during the previous decade that is simply gone forever.

The internet of the 2010s will be defined by social media’s role in the 2016 election, the rise of extremism, and the fallout from privacy scandals like Cambridge Analytica. But there’s another, more minor theme to the decade: the gradual dismantling and dissolution of an older internet culture.

This purge comes in two forms: sites or services shutting down or transforming their business models. Despite the constant flurries of social startups (Vine! Snapchat! TikTok! Ello! Meerkat! Peach! Path! Yo!), when the dust was blown off the chisel, the 2010s revealed that the content you made — your photos, your writing, your texts, emails, and DMs — is almost exclusively in the hands of the biggest tech companies: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or Apple.

The rest? Who knows? I hate to tell you, but there’s a good chance it’s gone forever.

Katie Notopoulos discusses the sites that came and went during 2010’s. The IndieWeb has a more extensive list of site deaths.
Replied to When A Stumble Goes Viral by an author ( )

My son was running an event he had not run before at his high school indoor track meet the other day. We were cheering him on — he’s fast — when he took a turn and began to stumble. He fell to the track but then muscled his way back to his feet and crossed the finish line, unhurt but very frustrated.

The next day, he told us that a friend on the track team had been shooting video of his race, caught the stumble, and had remixed the footage for Tik Tok. My son said he was fine with it. The video clip does not show my son’s face or any other identifying features. It’s shot from the back. Strangely, the friend edited the video to indicate to the audience in the opening frame it was him (the friend) in the video. Maybe this was to protect my son’s privacy.

Kevin, I was left wondering about the ethics of sharing. I imagine that ‘technically’ videoing the incident is ok, even if it does seem a bit weird. However, sharing is a different problem. It reminds me of danah boyd’s discussion of Star Wars kid in her book It’s Complicated.

The “Star Wars Kid” video is a classic example of a widely viewed video that was shared online to embarrass a teen. In 2002, a fourteen-year-old heavyset boy created a home video of himself swinging a golf ball retriever as though it was a light saber from Star Wars. A year later, a classmate of his found this home video, digitized it, and put it up online. Others edited the video, setting the action to music and dubbing in sound effects, graphics, and other special effects. The resultant “Star Wars Kid” video spread rapidly and received extensive media attention. It became the source of new memes and mocking video spin-offs. Even comedians like Weird Al Yankovic and Stephen Colbert produced their own renditions. Although people gained attention for spreading the video or creating their own versions, the cost of this mass attention was devastating to the teenager in the video. His family sued his classmates for emotional duress because of
the ongoing harassment he faced.

The “Star Wars Kid” video exemplifies how mass public shaming is a byproduct of widespread internet attention and networked distribution. Teenagers commonly face a lesser version of this when they receive unexpected and unwanted attention, when they become the target of a rumor, or when others share their content beyond its intended audience. Social media complicates the dynamics of social sharing and gossip because it provides a platform for information to spread far and wide, and people are often motivated to spread embarrassing content because others find it interesting. Spreadable media can be used to drum up productive attention, but it can also be used to shame.

Bookmarked We asked teenagers what adults are missing about technology. This was the best response. (MIT Technology Review)

But teens don’t use social media just for the social connections and networks. It goes deeper. Social-media platforms are among our only chances to create and shape our sense of self. Social media makes us feel seen. In our Instagram “biographies,” we curate a line of emojis that feature our passions: skiing, art, debate, racing. We post our greatest achievements and celebrations. We create fake “finsta” accounts to share our daily moments and vulnerabilities with close friends. We find our niche communities of YouTubers.

Taylor Fang provides a perspective of teen use of technology. As always, it’s complicated.
Bookmarked Are you an academic labouring for social media impact? Here’s a must-read

I am writing this essay to complicate the idea of academic use of social media by considering it in terms of digital labour. I do not wish to discourage academics from using social media. If academics stopped using it, I wouldn’t have anything to research. Please don’t! However, if use of social media is considered part of academic impact, then the labour involved must be given greater attention.

Naomi Barnes explores the labour associated with the use of social media by academics. A part of this is the work associated with translating academic research for different contexts, the cruel optimism of edu-influencer asspiration and the impact of the pressure to make an ‘impact’.
Bookmarked What Happened to Tagging?

Whether you used tags to categorize your own blog posts on the fly, pull relevant stories into your newsreader, or build self-populating websites, the combination of tags and RSS had the effect of decentralizing and democratizing the organization of information, as well as the development of community and relationships. In contrast with established, coordinated taxonomies for categorizing information (like the Dewey decimal system, in widespread use by libraries), tagging systems were “folksonomies:” chaotic, self-organizing categorization schemes that grew from the bottom up. Anyone could join in the conversation around nptech, fairuse, or webstandards by writing a blog post, bookmarking a web page on, or adding a photo to Flickr—all you had to do was apply the relevant tag.

Alexander Samuel reflects on tagging and its origins as a backbone to the social web. Along with RSS, tags allowed users to connect and collate content using such tools as feed readers. This all changed with the advent of social media and the algorithmically curated news feed. Samuel wonders if we have missed a trick in making everything so seamless.

Yes, it required a little more effort. But when I look around the web today, and at the many problems that have emerged from our submission to the almighty algorithm, I wonder if the effort was a feature, not a bug. By requiring us to invest ourselves in the job of finding content and building community, tag-driven conversations made us digital creators, not just digital consumers. It’s a social web we could have again—and one for which we could be truly thankful.

It is interesting to reflect upon this as I was not really active on the early social web. That always felt like someone else’s thing. Also, I wonder where the IndieWeb and interoperability sit within all of this discussion.

Also posted on IndieNews

Bookmarked A Teen’s Guide To Privacy (BuzzFeed News)

How to be a private public person as you’re figuring out how to be an adult.

Lam Thuy Vo and Caroline Haskins provide some ways to think about online habits. This includes knowing which context you are in, the various ground rules at play, knowing that words will always be taken out of context and that the internet is not the place for everything.
Replied to How will we try to fix Facebook? (Bryan Alexander)

A rising tide of criticism holds that the world’s largest and richest social media enterprise, Facebook, is a disaster for civilization.  From Zuboff’s critique to the techlash, people charge Facebook with subverting democracy, fomenting hatred and violence, boosting hideous political ideologies, selling user privacy, and warping our attention, among other things.

So what is to be done?

Bryan, I find the ‘return to vintage Facebook’ narrative interesting. It paints the picture that the time when news feeds were full of ‘Which … are you?’ quizzes was somehow more ideal? I think what was ideal about that time was the mass naivety behind much of this in regards to users?
Replied to Abstaining From Social Media Doesn’t Improve Well-Being, Experimental Study Finds (Research Digest)

The research does suggest that panics linking social media use to poor mental health are overblown. Of course, there may be plenty of other reasons to go cold turkey on social media — but for now, it’s not clear that our psychological well-being is one of them.

For me, this is no surprise. Expecting a digital detox to solve any issues associated with social media is like pulling out the willows that line many of the irrigation canals in country Victoria while expecting that the walls will not be compromised. Technology is a system, simply deactivating an account does not answer what it may have been satisfying. For example, over the last year or so I have moved away from spaces like Twitter and Voxer to focusing on RSS and blogs. This ‘detox’ had the consequence of loosing contact with some bloggers who had moved to spaces like Twitter and Instagram using mediums like threads. What I learnt is that such platforms are ingrained to the connections made. Although I have managed to use things like Granary to follow on my own terms, I am still not completely sold on a pure break.
Bookmarked Sacha Baron Cohen’s Keynote Address at ADL’s 2019 Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate (Anti-Defamation League)

It’s time to finally call these companies what they really are—the largest publishers in history. And here’s an idea for them: abide by basic standards and practices just like newspapers, magazines and TV news do every day. We have standards and practices in television and the movies; there are certain things we cannot say or do. In England, I was told that Ali G could not curse when he appeared before 9pm. Here in the U.S., the Motion Picture Association of America regulates and rates what we see. I’ve had scenes in my movies cut or reduced to abide by those standards. If there are standards and practices for what cinemas and television channels can show, then surely companies that publish material to billions of people should have to abide by basic standards and practices too.

Sacha Baron Cohen provided the keynote address for the Anti-Defamation League’s 2019 Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate. Stepping away from his many guises, Baron Cohen discusses the current threat to democracy being served by the ‘Silicon Six’. He argues although they often reference ‘freedom of speech’ as an excuse, this often leads to a freedom of reach for those wishing to manipulate the structure of society.

This reminds me of danah boyd’s discussion of cognitive strengthening, filling the gaps and the challenges of the fourth estate. Also, Ben Thompson provides a useful discussion of the challenges associated with moderation, one being the human side of the process, while Tarleton Gillespie suggests that moderation is not the panacea.

Doug Belshaw provides his own response to Baron Cohen’s speech, suggesting that the issues are associated with the financial roots of platform capitalism, the need for more local moderation and the problem of vendor lock-in.

Mike Masnick pushes back on Baron Cohen’s argument that social media is to blame for fake news and instead argues that things did not take off until Fox News validated things. In addition to this, Masnick questions whether there really is a solution to the problem of moderation and communication.


Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.

Voltaire was right, “those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” And social media lets authoritarians push absurdities to billions of people.

Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach.

Zuckerberg at Facebook, Sundar Pichai at Google, at its parent company Alphabet, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Brin’s ex-sister-in-law, Susan Wojcicki at YouTube and Jack Dorsey at Twitter. The Silicon Six

Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one.

Bookmarked Fraidycat

Fraidycat is a browser extension for Firefox or Chrome. (Just those right now – it’s brand-new, quite experimental.) I use it to follow people (hundreds) on whatever platform they choose – Twitter, a blog, YouTube, even on a public TiddlyWiki.

Along with other applications like Granary, Aperture and Indigenous, Fraidycat offers a different way of consuming the web. I just wonder about the possibility of adding OPML files, rather than links one at a time.

David Yates sums it up as follows:

Fraidycat produces no notifications, applies no machine learning to your subscriptions to recommend content you might like, and doesn’t gamify your actions or track you. You choose who to follow and how to follow, and the app does nothing outside of that. Fraidycat is the best RSS reader I’ve ever used because of what it leaves out.

Bookmarked Social Media Has Not Destroyed a Generation   (Scientific American)
  • Anxiety about the effects of social media on young people has risen to such an extreme that giving children smartphones is sometimes equated to handing them a gram of cocaine. The reality is much less alarming.
  • A close look at social media use shows that most young texters and Instagrammers are fine. Heavy use can lead to problems, but many early studies and news headlines have overstated dangers and omitted context.
  • Researchers are now examining these diverging viewpoints, looking for nuance and developing better methods for measuring whether social media and related technologies have any meaningful impact on mental health.
Lydia Denworth discusses the anxiety around the use of social media by children. Exploring the past, this is a trend that stems from Socrates. One of the aspects feeding this is that the science and research is still in its infancy and therefore lacks context and nuance:

Nearly all assess only frequency and duration of use rather than content or context. “We’re asking the wrong questions,” Hancock says. And results are regularly overstated—sometimes by the scientists, often by the media. “Social media research is the perfect storm showing us where all the problems are with our scientific methodology,” Orben says. “This challenges us as scientists to think about how we measure things and what sort of effect size we think is important.”

Although people like Jean Twenge might be right about the impact of social media on health, correlation does not always equal conclusion:

No one disagrees about the importance of young people’s health, but they do think that Twenge has gotten ahead of the science. “Why wait for causal evidence?” says Dennis-Tiwary. Because the story might not be so straightforward.

For example, in an analysis of 24 longitudinal studies, it was found that framing the discussion around addiction often makes negative findings more likely.

“It’s ironic that in the end the real danger is not smartphones—it’s the level of misinformation that’s being directed at the public and at parents,” Odgers says. “It’s consuming so much of the airtime that it’s causing us to miss potentially some of the real threats and problems around digital spaces.” For her part, Odgers is far more worried about privacy and unequal access to technology for kids from families with lower socioeconomic status. She also suspects that some adolescents find much needed social support online and that adults should pay closer attention to what works in that regard.

Responding to this situation, two researchers, Amy Orben and Andrew K. Przybylski, produced a series of papers designed to ‘tackle some of the pitfalls’:

Denworth explains that although some of these reports provide more nuance through their methodology, there is still more needed in understanding social media and screentime. This all captures danah boyd’s message that the relationship between technology and teens is complicated and that the negatives and benefits can depend. Also, for more research and advice on screentime, Ian O’Byrne and Kristen Turner have created the site The Screentime Age.

Replied to People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think by an authoran author (Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel)

I’ve got no issue with having an ‘outboard brain’ where I store things that I want to look up instead of remember. It’s also insanely useful to have a method by which the world can join together in a form of ‘hive mind’.

What is problematic is when this ‘hive mind’ (in the form of social media) is controlled by people and organisations whose interests are orthogonal to our own.

Great post Doug. I like your three things:

  • Hive-mind not linked to shareholder value
  • Find voices in other places
  • Curate not just consume

Personally speaking, I have not found a home on Mastodon, but spend less time on Twitter. Instead, I scroll through my feed within Inoreader, while follow up links captured through Nuzzel.

In regards to voices in other places, I subscribe to a number of blogs, podcasts and newsletters.

I also try and curate what I read. However, I feel that I could probably do more to join the dots.

Replied to All is petty, inconstant, and perishable (Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel)

Zooming out a bit, and thinking about this from my own perspective, it’s a good idea to insist on good security practices for your nearest and dearest. Ensure they know how to use password managers and use two-factor authentication on their accounts. If they do this for themselves, they’ll understand how to do it with your accounts when you’re gone.

Thank you for the reflection Doug. I must admit that it is not something that I had necessarily thought about. I think in regards to social media, it makes me glad that I have scripts setup to constantly delete my content.
Bookmarked Kate O’Halloran made a mistake on Twitter. But admitting it wasn’t enough for trolls – ABC Life (

Freelance journalist and sportswriter Kate O’Halloran knows the risks of being a woman online and daring to comment on areas traditionally dominated by men. Kate was abused, harassed and left fearing for her safety after making an error in a tweet she posted while watching a game of AFL.

Kate O’Halloran reflections on her mistake on Twitter. She discusses how she was trolled, firstly on Twitter and then on Facebook. Associated with all this, O’Halloran discusses the toll that it took on her and her family.

I still haven’t read the comments on the post I made before I logged off. In fact, when I re-read over the abuse I received for the sake of this article, my smartwatch warned me that an “abnormal heart rate” had been detected.

She closes the piece encouraging people if they care for the welfare of those being targeted to contact them to provide support.

Patrick Wright discusses O’Halloran’s example to unpack the statistics associated with online abuse and bullying. He also provides a number of suggestions of what to do when placed in such a situation, including reporting, deflecting comments, using humour and blocking.

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