The New York Times and the criminalization of dissent

11 October 2017

The campaign within the American media and political establishment over allegations of Russian “hacking” and manipulation of the US elections is being transformed into an increasingly frenzied demand for the criminalization of dissent.

During the first months of the Trump administration, the charges of Russian interference in US politics were primarily used to prosecute a struggle within the American ruling class centered on issues of foreign policy. The anti-Russian campaign has now developed into an effort to associate all opposition within the United States to the actions of a “foreign enemy.”

A series of increasingly ludicrous articles have appeared in the US press, channeling information supposedly gathered by the Senate Intelligence Committee from social media companies. The latest appeared on Tuesday in the New York Times, which has played the central role in the media campaign. The front-page article (“Russians Spun American Rage Into a Weapon: Facebook Posts in US Fueled Propaganda”) is a piece of pure political propaganda, filled with unsubstantiated statements, wild speculation and unsupported conclusions.

Social media posts from Americans, the Times asserts, have become “grist for a network of Facebook pages linked to a shadowy Russian company that carried out propaganda campaigns for the Kremlin.” The newspaper claims to have reviewed hundreds of these posts, concluding, “One of the most powerful weapons that Russian agents used to reshape American politics was the anger, passion and misinformation that real Americans were broadcasting across social media platforms.”

The article names several Facebook pages that it baldly asserts, without proof, were owned and controlled by the unnamed Russian company, including United Muslims of America, Being Patriotic, Secured Borders, and Blacktivist.

The entire premise of the Times article is absurd. Pages associated with Russia, it is claimed, are reporting and sharing expressions of anger, sowing discontent and divisions. United Muslims of America, for example, “frequently posted content highlighting discrimination against Muslims.” This, somehow, is criminal activity. Those who originally produced the content or shared the posts are acting, at best, as Russian patsies, and, at worst, as co-conspirators. The Times cites one Trump supporter who shared a post from the Being Patriotic group, characterizing him as “not bothered…by becoming an unwitting cog in the Russian propaganda machine.”

The claims of Russian manipulation read like the ravings of individuals suffering from paranoid delusions. According to an earlier statement from Republican Senator James Lankford, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Russian “trolls” are responsible for pushing the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence. Russian “troll farms,” he claimed, were working to “raise the noise level in America.”

Clint Watts, a former top FBI agent who has testified at Senate Intelligence Committee hearings on Russian intervention in the elections and has been frequently quoted in the media, replied to Lankford’s comments by declaring, “The Russians can just sit back and say: ‘Amplify on both sides. Make people angry.’ And it works, man, God, it works.”

Such claims reproduce the worst tactics used during the period of McCarthyite redbaiting. What used to be called “Commie dupes” are now “Russian dupes.” (Unconcerned by the fact that the Soviet Union was dissolved over a quarter century ago, GQ magazine recently posted an article that featured a graphic replacing the “G” in “Google” with a hammer and sickle). Dissent and opposition, according to this line, are to be interpreted not as the product of internal divisions and social tensions, but the nefarious workings of a foreign power.

The Times article includes lines that read like they came straight from the proclamations of Senator Joe McCarthy or the files of J. Edgar Hoover. “The Russians,” it states, “appear to have insinuated themselves across American social media platforms and used the same promotional tools that people employ to share cat videos, airline complaints, and personal rants.” The article speaks of the need to “purge social media networks of foreign influence.”

And what was supposedly involved in this major “covert propaganda campaign?” According to US Senate investigators, Russian companies spent a total of $100,000 on Facebook advertisements to promote messages like those cited by the Times.

Another article appearing in the Times on Tuesday (“Google Inquiry Connects Election Ads to Russians”) asserts that “accounts believed to be connected to the Russian government” purchased a grand total of $4,700 worth of ads, while “a separate $53,000 worth of ads with political material…were purchased from Russian internet addresses, building addresses or with Russian currency…”

This is an infinitesimal fraction of what is spent by political campaigns awash in money from corporate executives and American plutocrats. Some $2.65 billion was spent by the Clinton and Trump campaigns and organizations supporting them during the presidential race. Nearly $7 billion was spent on all US federal elections last year. Yet the Russian government’s supposedly massive campaign of subversion and propaganda amounts to a few tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook, Twitter and Google!

The conclusions would be laughable if the consequence were not so serious.

The New York Times, in close coordination with the Democratic Party and the US intelligence agencies, is engaged in a campaign that is nothing less than criminal. It is engaged in a political conspiracy to outlaw dissent in the United States and justify state efforts to prohibit, blacklist and suppress speech, particularly on the Internet. If the Russian government is merely amplifying content produced by others—including videos depicting police violence and other crimes—then the logical conclusion is that this original content must be proscribed.

Any content or article, including from the Times itself, that examines social discontent in the United States is susceptible to being picked up by the Russians and promoted. Halting such “foreign intervention” requires a regime of censorship and self-censorship of and by all media outlets—precisely what exists in a dictatorship.

The basic target of the lying campaign over Russian manipulation of US public opinion is not Russia, but the American population. The state institutions and the two parties, Democratic and Republican, are deeply discredited and broadly hated. The working class does not need the Russian or Chinese governments to know that American society is massively unequal, that the political system is controlled by the rich, and that the police engage in brutal acts of violence on a daily basis.

Control of the Internet and the suppression of free speech online is a basic strategic issue for the American ruling class. The emergence of online communication and Internet platforms broke the control of the major media conglomerates over the distribution of information. Under conditions of growing popular opposition to social inequality and war, and deepening political crisis, establishing state control over the Internet is seen as a matter of the greatest urgency.

This is what Google has already begun to do. As the World Socialist Web Site has documented, changes to Google’s search algorithm in April, introduced under the pretext of combating “fake news” and promoting “authoritative content,” have resulted in a fall in referrals from Google to the WSWS by nearly 70 percent, and to 13 other left-wing sites by between 19 and 63 percent.

The actions of Google are only the beginning. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms are preparing or have already begun to implement similar measures. The US Justice Department has demanded that staff at the American branch of Russian news agency RT register as foreign agents by October 17 or face possible arrest. This action will be used as a precedent for targeting left-wing and antiwar websites and organizations as agencies of a “foreign enemy” that must be shut down or censored.

It is necessary to organize the working class and youth against this neo-McCarthyite assault on free speech and the Internet, connecting the defense of democratic rights to opposition to social inequality, war, dictatorship and the capitalist system. Meetings must be organized throughout the country and internationally to expose what is taking place and mobilize opposition. The WSWS urges all its readers to sign the petition against Internet censorship and contact the Socialist Equality Party today.

Joseph Kishore

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/11/pers-o11.html

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Facebook and Twitter ‘harm young people’s mental health’

Poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety

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Young people scored Instagram the worst social medium for sleep, body image and fear of missing out. Photograph: Mark Mawson/Getty Images

Four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young people’s mental health, with Instagram the most damaging, according to research by two health organisations.

Instagram has the most negative impact on young people’s mental wellbeing, a survey of almost 1,500 14- to 24-year-olds found, and the health groups accused it of deepening young people’s feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

The survey, published on Friday, concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact.

The four platforms have a negative effect because they can exacerbate children’s and young people’s body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, the participants said.

The findings follow growing concern among politicians, health bodies, doctors, charities and parents about young people suffering harm as a result of sexting, cyberbullying and social media reinforcing feelings of self-loathing and even the risk of them committing suicide.

“It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,” said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, which undertook the survey with the Young Health Movement.

She demanded tough measures “to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young people’s mental health and wellbeing”. Social media firms should bring in a pop-up image to warn young people that they have been using it a lot, while Instagram and similar platforms should alert users when photographs of people have been digitally manipulated, Cramer said.

The 1,479 young people surveyed were asked to rate the impact of the five forms of social media on 14 different criteria of health and wellbeing, including their effect on sleep, anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-identity, bullying, body image and the fear of missing out.

Instagram emerged with the most negative score. It rated badly for seven of the 14 measures, particularly its impact on sleep, body image and fear of missing out – and also for bullying and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. However, young people cited its upsides too, including self-expression, self-identity and emotional support.

YouTube scored very badly for its impact on sleep but positively in nine of the 14 categories, notably awareness and understanding of other people’s health experience, self-expression, loneliness, depression and emotional support.

However, the leader of the UK’s psychiatrists said the findings were too simplistic and unfairly blamed social media for the complex reasons why the mental health of so many young people is suffering.

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives.. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media – good and bad – to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.”

Young Minds, the charity which Theresa May visited last week on a campaign stop, backed the call for Instagram and other platforms to take further steps to protect young users.

Tom Madders, its director of campaigns and communications, said: “Prompting young people about heavy usage and signposting to support they may need, on a platform that they identify with, could help many young people.”

However, he also urged caution in how content accessed by young people on social media is perceived. “It’s also important to recognise that simply ‘protecting’ young people from particular content types can never be the whole solution. We need to support young people so they understand the risks of how they behave online, and are empowered to make sense of and know how to respond to harmful content that slips through filters.”

Parents and mental health experts fear that platforms such as Instagram can make young users feel worried and inadequate by facilitating hostile comments about their appearance or reminding them that they have not been invited to, for example, a party many of their peers are attending.

May, who has made children’s mental health one of her priorities, highlighted social media’s damaging effects in her “shared society” speech in January, saying: “We know that the use of social media brings additional concerns and challenges. In 2014, just over one in 10 young people said that they had experienced cyberbullying by phone or over the internet.”

In February, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, warned social media and technology firms that they could face sanctions, including through legislation, unless they did more to tackle sexting, cyberbullying and the trolling of young users.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/19/popular-social-media-sites-harm-young-peoples-mental-health

WATCH: Teen Behind ‘Deez Nuts’ Gives First Interview

MEDIA

…Offers More Nuanced Views than GOP Field

This kid would definitely be a better choice than Donald Trump.
The 15-year-old behind the Internet sensation “Deez Nuts”, Brady Olson, has given his first sit-down interview with a local affiliate KTIV’s Sam Curtiss and has some rather refreshing views for a teenage troll.

“Hopefully, [my joke] paved the way for more than a two party system,” Olson said earnestly. “In Canada they had a debate for the Prime Minister election and they used a four-party debate.” He supports voting rights in overseas territories and his position on immigration, while quite reactionary, is light-years more nuanced than any of the GOP field, especially hothead and proto-fascist Donald Trump.

Though he supports a “wall to keep out” undocumented workers he also supports creating a pathway to citizenship for the ones who are already here.

Why should we care about the political positions of a 15-year-old troll? We shouldn’t really, except that when a random practical joking kid from Iowa is making more sense than most of the GOP field, it should serve as a stark reminder of how far gone the party has become.

Watch the clip below:

Adam Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter at@adamjohnsonnyc.

Post Capitalism

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Jonathan Taplin on Jul 25

The British journalist Paul Mason published a provocative except from his new book Postcapitalism in the Guardian last week. His theory is that the sharing economy is ushering in a new age.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed — not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies — the giant tech companies — on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world — Wikipedia — is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Since the 1930’s when Lord Keynes worried about a future in which we would have so much leisure time that we might not be able to create enough poets to fill our evening hours. So of course I am skeptical as most of my friends are working longer hours than 10 years ago when their every waking hour wasn’t harried by smartphones chirping.

But I do believe that Mason’s point, about the potential of Open Source technology to break up the “fragile corporate edifice” constructed by the tech monopolies that I have written about, is real. Consider the edifice that was Microsoft’s Windows operating system in 1998 when the Justice Department brought its anti-trust action. Since that time two Open Source software systems, Linux and Apache have made huge inroads into the corporate and Web server business. Both systems were constructed by hundreds of thousands of man hours of free labor contributed by geeks interested in improving the software and sharing their improvements with a large community for free. So in that sense, Mason is right that this is a post capitalist construct.

But here is the current problem with the sharing economy. It tends towards a winner take all economy.

Whether Uber ends up buying Lyft is yet to be determined, but my guess is that market will look like markets dominated by AirBnb, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Google. As Susie Cagle recently pointed out:

While technology has provided underlying infrastructure to spark and support new peer-to-peer network behavior, it hasn’t really changed anything about how those networks are built and owned. For example, we now have the tools and ability to disrupt the taxi industry by allowing collectives of drivers to reach customers directly — but instead, we have Lyft and Uber, multibillion dollar companies that neither offer benefits to their drivers, nor truly give them the opportunity to run their own independent businesses.

Likewise, we have the tools and ability to build collectively owned messaging and social platforms — but instead, we have Twitter and Facebook, which mediate what users can see from other users and collect personal data to better tailor advertising sales.

My concerns relate to the media and entertainment industry that we study at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. And in that world the possibility of using the Open Source model to build a new kind of Digital Distribution Cooperative seems very possible.

Ask yourself this question: why should YouTube take 55% of the ad revenue from a Beyonce (or any other artist) video when all they provide is the platform?

They provide no production money, no marketing support and their ad engine runs lights out on algorithms.

Imagine in today’s music business a distribution cooperative that would run something like the coops that farmer’s use (think Sunkist for orange growers). Here is how they are described.

Many marketing cooperatives operate through “pooling.” The member delivers his product to the association, which pools it with products of like grade and quality delivered by other members. After doing whatever processing is necessary, the co-op sells the products at the best price it can get and returns to the members their share of total proceeds, less marketing expenses.

In our model (much like the early days of the United Artists film distribution company formed in the 1920’s by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W.Griffith) the producers of music would upload their new tunes to the coop servers, do their own social marketing and probably end up getting back 85–90% of the revenues rather the 45% they get from YouTube. The coop could rent cloud space from Amazon Web Services just like Netflix and Spotify do.

All of this is possible because in the world of entertainment the artist is the brand. No one ever suggested to you, “let’s go to a Paramount movie tonight.” It is possible that we are entering a post capitalist age, but it cannot exist as long as the sharing economy is dominated by a few monopolists. Perhaps some bold experiments on the part of music artists could point the way towards a truly innovative way of using technology for the good of the artist rather than for her exploitation.

View story at Medium.com

Big tech wants to mold this generation of youth into super-consumers

How YouTube, Big Data and Big Brands Mean Trouble For Kids and Parents

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The motivation for big tech is to mold this generation of youth into super-consumers.

There is a “digital gold rush” underway to cash in on young people’s passion for interactive media. Google and other media and ad companies are working to transform kids’ clicks and views into bundles of cash and burgeoning brand loyalty. While TV still dominates a great deal of kids’ media viewing, they are also consuming content (often simultaneously) on mobile devices, tablets, and through streaming or video-on-demand services. In February, Googlelaunched its YouTube Kids app for children five and under; Disney acquired leading youth-focused online video producer Maker Studios last year in a more than $500 million deal, giving it control of “the largest content network on YouTube”; Viacom’s Cartoon Network (CN) now offers CN’s “Anything,” providing mobile phone-friendly “micro” content and promising to serve a “network of devices giving a network of experiences to a network of fans”; and Amazon, Netflix, and others are sending more “kid targeted” streaming video-on-demand programming.

But unlike broadcast and cable TV, where there is at least a handful of FCC regulations that prevent some of the worst practices perfected by advertisers for targeting kids, the online world is mostly a regulatory-free zone when it comes to digital marketing. Advocates and child-health experts fought a long campaign, from the 1970’s to the 1990’s, to ensure that TV didn’t take unfair advantage of how kids relate to advertising—so that shows weren’t simply “program-length commercials” for toys, or that the “host” or star of a program—such as a cartoon character—didn’t also pitch products at the same time. There were also modest limits in how many ads could appear in so-called “kidvid” programming. These rules reflected research on children’s development and their inability to fully comprehend the nature of advertising. The FCC policies embraced an important principle: children were to be treated differently than adults when it came to TV advertising.

Such safeguards are even more important in the digital era, when sophisticated advertising techniques gather and analyze data on everything an individual does, and incorporate an array of powerful interactive features on mobile devices and PCs that have been designed to get results. Parents and others who care about children should be forewarned: For Google, Facebook, media companies like Nickelodeon, toy companies, and junk food marketers, the Internet is a medium whose primary focus is to help brand advertisers turn young people into fans, “influencers” (to spread the word via social media), and buyers of products. Although children benefit from using educational apps, and have greater access to more diverse entertainment and other content, the motivation really at work is to mold this generation of youth into super-consumers, encouraged to engage in a never-ending buying cycle of goods and services.

Children are now a key target for Google’s “monetization” strategies, helping the company cash in from the sales of toys, apps, junk food, and other products. (So-called “tweens” in the U.S. alone are said to influence some $200 billion a year in spending, including $43 billion of their own money.) With Google’s overall revenue growth slowing, with Facebook aggressively seeking to displace it as the global digital advertising leader, and with consumers flocking to mobile phones (instead of PCs) to view videos and use apps, kids—which were one of the only consumer groups not formally targeted by Google until now—are viewed as an essential new market to conquer. In February, Google unveiled a new advertiser-supported “YouTube Kids” app, its first “product built from the ground up with little ones in mind.” Google’s YouTube Kids “product manager” claimed that “the app makes it safer and easier for children to find videos on topics they want to explore.” Google also promised that ads “that aren’t kid-appropriate don’t surface.” But Google’s YouTube Kidsis filled with ads disguised as programming and product pitches that violate rules that broadcast and cable TV channels have to follow. A coalition of consumer, privacy, and children’s advocacy groups urged the FTC to investigate Google’s new YouTube Kids app, as well as how the company targets older children on YouTube itself. (Six of YouTube’s leading channels are “aimed at children.”)

Google wants to place even the youngest kids inside its powerful marketing apparatus, making sure they will help the company generate much-needed profits as they grew older. It is encouraging brands to take advantage of how young people are engaging in a “multi-screen experience,” including watching video on smart phones, and how YouTube combines the attributes of video service and social networking.

YouTube takes the most powerful medium for connecting with the heart and mind—video—and elevates it from a one-way communication to a two-way experience by inviting brands and consumers alike to connect, curate, create and form community … . On YouTube, brands have the unparalleled opportunity to connect with their most valuable audience and the creative freedom to do so in the most compelling way. The reward for the marketer is a fanbase moved not only emotionally, but also literally, to purchase, comment, share and advocate for that brand. In short, YouTube moves people to choose your brand.

As an article on the launch of YouTube Kids explained, “If YouTube can earn the trust of parents and hook a new group at an even earlier age, then that’s tapping a whole new market of users that will literally grow up with the service—and use it for a much longer portion of their lives.”

While appearing as a distribution service for many programmers, independent and professional, YouTube is a key part of an incredibly sophisticated, elaborate, and highly powerful global marketing apparatus. Google executives recently pledged that they are “listening to brands” and taking “action” to help make YouTube a more effective platform to help accomplish their goals.

YouTube: “one of the biggest Big Data projects in the world”

YouTube incorporates all of Google’s expertise in gathering and analyzing consumer information, so a user, even a young one, can be effectively targeted with marketing. YouTube, it explains, “is one of the biggest Big Data projects in the world.” “At YouTube, data drives the way we make decisions,” including to help its advertisers “get closer to the holy grail of precision targeting.” YouTube, explains the company, has “one of the world’s richest datasets,” which it combines with “Google’s cutting-edge technology” to “transform insights into real-world products.” YouTube continually researches and develops ways to measure and analyze how ads can work more effectively; it identifies “new algorithms and methods for optimizing ads,” “researches new ways for modeling end user behavior,” and more. Its data fuel YouTube’s “recommendation systems,” and the company is now “pushing the boundaries of science and engineering” to make its home page deliver more revenue. It offers its users, including children, “recommended videos” as well as other products that help its advertisers. Through machine learning about us, including analyzing our data, Google plans to further strengthen how it can “introduce users to areas of their interest that many did not realize YouTube had.”

YouTube is now working to “build the next generation game-console based TV experience with YouTube video content,” which will deliver “a compelling lean back experience with monetization and e-commerce offerings” (including “pay-per stream” and ad content), as well as through partnerships that “integrate” its content. Generating revenues by attracting and targeting gamers is a key part of YouTube’s marketing-to-youth strategy. It is also positioning YouTube to be a key part of digitally connected “Living Room” devices, including “game consoles, smart TV’s, set-top boxes” to “drive distribution and user engagement.”

We “put your brand in their hand”

Through its “brand channels”—“a 24/7 broadcast center where customers can watch, share and love your brand”—YouTube helps advertisers like Red Bull and Walmart “energize” its customers. These channels can be specially configured to work well with mobile devices, explains Google, so marketerscan “put your brand in their hand.” Google also offers a “Custom Brand Channel” on YouTube, “the highest level of brand channel customization,” which incorporates special “interactive applications” designed to promote the “branding” experience more effectively. Last year, as part of its ongoing effort to work more closely with leading advertisers, Google also unveiled its “Partner Select” program, which helps its clients take advantage of its advanced data-targeting platform to run ads on its top-ranked video programming.

Google is working to have YouTube play a key role erasing what’s left of the boundaries that have separated advertising and content. Through what it calls “content marketing,” YouTube promises to help its advertisers take advantage of our “shortening attention spans” to positively respond to a brand’s message, explaining that “In a world of shortening attention spans and increasing options, advertising is undergoing a sea change. More and more, ads are becoming content that people choose to watch. … [W]e use the tools and know-how developed by a generation of YouTube content creators to help brands develop ads that will resonate with today’s consumers.” As a leader in using mobile phones to target individuals based on their actual location, Google is also in the forefront of delivering its content on smart phones and similar devices, boasting that “viewing video on smartphones is far less distracted than it is on TV.”

YouTube: “Precision Targeting at Scale”

To help its advertisers, YouTube provides “precision targeting at scale” that leverages “the sight, sound and motion of video, the most persuasive ad format every evented.” Google claims that its “targeting tools are so precise” marketers “can show your ad to folks around your corner or to anyone around the world.” One can target by age, gender, zip code, language, interest, and can “retarget” someone whose data have been (largely secretly) collected when they were on YouTube or other sites. Google offers advertisers a formidable arsenal of “3rd Party Audience Data” that can incorporate details on one’s finances, buying behavior, and many other personal details. Now reaching one billion people worldwide, YouTube identifies Hispanics, teens, those “hard to reach,” as well as adult men and women as key targets; it notes, for example, that “54% of all teens” and “59% of all Hispanics” use it. (Among the “facts” on Hispanics it lists for advertisers is that “76% currently own a pet” and “58% are grocery decision makers in their household.”)

YouTube also plays a direct role helping key advertisers achieve their goals, including through its “in-house creative team” (which it calls “The ZOO”) that “can unleash the true power of your message with a custom campaign.”

YouTube’s “Brand Nirvana” Promotes Junk Food to Kids

Google has been helping Mondelez, Pepsi, and other fast-food marketers push their products—despite concerns about the global obesity epidemic—especially on young people. Last year, Mondelez signed a deal with Google that featured the candy and snack company (Oreo, etc.) making a commitment to “accelerate” its investment in online video. The pact involved the use of Google’s advanced data-driven targeting system (known as “programmatic buying”) and the development of more “branded content.” Google and Mondelez are “partnering on content pilots through YouTube’s Brand Partner Program … [to produce] low-cost video content featuring influential digital stars with Sour Patch Kids in the U.S.” Mondelez’s YouTube channel for Oreos features an array of ads dressed up as games, in English and Spanish, which is typical of Google’s use of video to promote junk food products using the full power of its platform. Fast-food companies, including such brands as Coca-Cola, Mars, Mondelez, Wendy’s, and Post cereal, are also using advanced analytics on YouTube viewing to help refine their targeting strategies.

Frank Cooper, Pepsi’s chief marketing officer, was a keynote speaker at YouTube’s “Brandcast” 2014 event. In announcing that Pepsi has increased its spending for YouTube services by 50 percent over the last year, Cooper noted that “we live in a world where visual content in the digital space is the new center of gravity for pop culture,” and being on YouTube and related digital applications enables Pepsi to be part of a conversation that is “driving culture.” When people share “your content with their friends,” he noted, it is “brand nirvana.”

YouTube as Toy Promotion Central

Google is positioning YouTube to be a central place for children to learn about toys they want their parents or family to buy. As one toy business analyst explained, “It’s a totally new way of advertising. [The YouTube channels] are becoming more and more important.” Although Google’s terms of service (ToS) for YouTube requires users to be 13 and older, it’s clear that it is targeting kids—and violating its own policy—in order to profit from the children’s market. Its ToS states that “the Service is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service. There are lots of other great web sites for you. Talk to your parents about what sites are appropriate for you.”

Yet despite its own ToS banning children from signing up, YouTube is clearly targeting kids. For example, “FunToyzCollector,” which describes itself as “all about kid-friendly videos for toddlers, babies, infants and pre-school children,” recently placed first in views among all the YouTube channels (517.3 million). The channel engages in “unboxing” toys, an increasingly sought after YouTube genre that provides viewers with a “virtual tour” of kids products, such as “Sofia the First Balloon Tea Party 2-in-1 Playset with Disney Frozen Princess Anna Elsa of Arendelle.” Very popular with young kids in the U.S., the YouTube ad-supported channel made its owner an estimated $4.9 million last year. Kids either find or are shown these channels as they search for new toys to buy or to receive as presents.

DisneyCarToys,” “a fun kid friendly toy channel” produced by Disney subsidiary Maker Studios, is another example of how Google profits by permitting the targeting of children. The channel is one of five toy-related YouTube channels that Disney acquired in 2014, including “HobbyKidsTV, ToyReviewToys, AllToyCollector, and TheEngineeringFamily.” These popular “top 40 toy channels worldwide,” which integrate Disney’s characters and brands into the programming content, are now part of Disney’s “merchandising” strategy, which will include more brand tie-ins and advertising.

Maker Studios itself has a major kids marketing presence on YouTube. It describes its “Cartoontium” set of programs as “the place to find all the best kid’s entertainment on YouTube!” One of its channels is called “Messy Painting in the Dark-Neon Arcade,” where “Toys, games and financial support [is] provided by Hasbro.” Other Cartoonium programming features “classic episodes of Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake.” “Strawberry Shortcake” and other programming include ads for toys (and some of these shows are also on the YouTube Kids app). One reason Disney acquired Maker, explained CEO Bob Iger, was to reap its “great access to data and algorithms,” which are gathered from billions of views collected through its 55,000 YouTube channels.

Another kids’ toy–focused YouTube service is also partnering with the Disney/Maker empire. “EvanTubeHD,” involving two young children (eight and five years old) and their father, “boasts more than a billion views across” three channels. The two children “review and play with the most popular kids toys currently on shelves.” As an analyst explained why toy companies are enthusiastically seeking out relationships with kid reviewers online, “Kids trust other kids more so than they would an adult.”

Maker has a broad range of marketing services it offers brands and advertisers, including “custom pre-roll” ads (the short spots that run before a YouTube or other video content starts); channel targeting (“integrate your brand message natively into our top performing channels”); and sponsorships (“More than just a logo, our unique custom sponsorships allow you to connect with our forward leaning and deeply engaged audiences”). Maker touts its strong alliance of partners, including its “custom solutions to the world’s best brands” and “effective and hyper-targeted media solutions.” Partners include Mattel, Pepsi, Warner Bros, and parent Disney. It also works with the leading ad agencies that represent major global brands “to create unique programs across our programming and talent.”

In another example of how Google fails to protect children, it allows Disney to encourage its young viewers to connect to them using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—despite these sites requiring users to be 13 years or older. So eager is Google to reap profits, it appears purposely to ignore how toy companies are establishing nothing more than 24/7 virtual ad channels on YouTube. For example, Spin Master, a “top-five” toy company, has created a “kid centric YouTube channel dubbed SpindoTV, aimed at children 6-11. Its shows are based on its toy line-up, including “Sick Bricks” and “Beat the Parents” board game. Many of its shows are a part of Google’s new YouTube Kids app. According to a Spin Master executive, “We know from our research that these kids are already on YouTube in massive numbers.” YouTube, of course, is just one method Google uses to help it reach and monetize young people. It is also “building successful apps and games” for its “Google Play for Education and Kids vertical,” helping developers create “commercially viable offerings to educators and students, parents and kids.”

The popularity of YouTube among children has triggered a “must-have-the-video-network” buying strategy from companies targeting the youth market worldwide. Marketers researching youth know that kids are using YouTube as a search engine because it includes pictures, videos, and other audio-visual material. It’s also “easy to navigate” for children, with reports that “kids who are into watching TV episodes on YouTube” like to see other episodes and “recommended videos” on the sidebar. More critically, digital market researchers studying children have identified YouTube as providing an important social and creative outlet for tweens, and finding cool YouTube videos to share with others is a form of social capital. … [T]weens most frequently share cool videos when hanging out (in person) with their friends and family. … [W]e call this phenomenon clustersharing. … [I]t speaks more to their desire to physically experience videos with others—to see, to feel and to share that experience, including their thoughts and emotions.

The same researchers advise marketers to take advantage of the “clustersharing” concept, and encourage ways to “enhance that in-person, social experience. Using ad content (like a group game) or finding a way to alleviate the agonizing “live” wait of a 15-second pre-roll between each video presents “an opportunity to enrich your brand experience with this very engaged audience.”

Tracking our “Consumer Journey”

Google is in the forefront of digital marketing companies promising to help its clients influence and “measure” what it calls the “customer journey.” It views itself as helping them analyze and place each consumer on a continuous “path-to-purchase” cycle, tracking us wherever we go, and using its resources to have us shop “until we drop”—online and off. Among the benefits Google promises its advertisers, for example, is that they will be able to identify and “value” their “best customers,” and “distinguish the whales from the wasted energy.” (“Whales” is a marketing industry term describing a big spender; “waste” is an ad term for a consumer deemed not valuable.)

YouTube conducts research to document how its advertisers positively impact our “recall” of various brand commercial messages. Google’s DoubleClick division, which uses data to determine the impact of video ads, offers advertisers the latest ways they can “verify” whether a person actually views a video ad on YouTube. To help its largest advertising clients measure how we respond to Google’s interactive marketing services, the company is now working with Nielsen and comScore, two of the leading global companies that assess consumer interaction with ads, including on YouTube.

There are other companies also helping marketers analyze YouTube data. For example, Outrigger’s “OpenSlate” platform “ingests, analyses and scores more than 220,000 YouTube channels on measures of engagement, consistency, influence, momentum and ad effectiveness.” (It now is up to 250,000 channels.) It “supplements YouTube data on more than 70 million videos with data from social media and proprietary demographic data. Our platform consistently incorporates brand advertising performance data to further develop video and channel level profiles.” Through its information, brand advertisers can identify “the highest-quality inventory on YouTube,” and then target them using a variety of Big Data tactics. (“Inventory,” as used by the online marketing industry, can either refer to individual users or programming content. Kids and teens are seen as highly valuable “inventory.”)

Time for Regulatory Action Against Google to Protect Kids

Google, as the dominant digital marketing company, has raised numerous concerns about its corporate practices, including from privacy regulators, civil liberties advocates, and competition regulators from around the world. (The company has led an anti-privacy-regulation agenda in both the U.S. and EU, to ensure that the flow of personal data that makes its interactive marketing system run will never end.) Its latest move to better monetize children through YouTube Kids is the first of what will be a succession of profit-generating ventures that help transform kids’ lives into a never-ending commercial. Even Facebook, which expressed interest in targeting children 13 and younger, has not yet directly entered the kids market. Google’s brazen move to cash in on our kids will likely spur Facebook to jettison any reticence to include them on its social network. After all, why should Google gain all the profits from this new, lucrative, and influential audience?

Beyond federal and state investigations into Google’s brazen targeting of children on YouTube, what’s needed now are new policies that ensure young people aren’t unfairly treated by digital marketers. This includes rules that don’t leave children and teens vulnerable to digital marketing practices and also better protect their privacy. For example, Google is at the forefront of companies using what is called “immersive” media, to make sure brands—including on YouTube—can “grab” our attention. All of the data gathered from our use of mobile phones, social media, and online video feed so-called “profiles” that are used to target us for advertising—increasingly regardless of location (think of a mobile discount coupon from a nearby fast food outlet appearing on children’s phones as they come out of school) and in real-time (right as you are in the store cereal or toy aisle). These practices are highly questionable when targeting adults, let alone young people.

Companies like Google should develop their own policies that actually protect and empower young people—not just turn them into the latest profit center. A global leader like Google, with immense profits, should only be offering kids commercial- (and data targeting-) free content. It shouldn’t be helping junk food and toy companies take advantage of kids to sell them products that don’t promote their development and health. It is doubtful, however, that Google will change course. It is, after all, primarily an advertising company whose allegiance is to the biggest brands and the marketing industry. It’s time for activist shareholders of Google and other companies to press for the adoption of new corporate policies that protect young people in the digital age.

Parents will have to decide whether Google’s corporate culture, focused as it is on promoting marketing to young kids, is incompatible with their values and goals. But it will also take a movement of parents, educators, public interest groups, and policymakers to force Google and other kids marketers to act responsibly. If we want to see the next generation grow up without being greatly influenced by the most powerful advertising apparatus yet developed, this is a fight we must join.

http://www.alternet.org/media/how-youtube-big-data-and-big-brands-mean-trouble-kids-and-parents?akid=12982.265072.Mk71Wq&rd=1&src=newsletter1034434&t=3

David Graeber: resistance in a time of total bureaucratization

By ROAR Collective On March 11, 2015

Post image for David Graeber: resistance in a time of total bureaucratizationThe LSE anthropologist, Occupy organizer and author of The Utopia of Rules (2015) addresses the student occupation at the University of Amsterdam.

Last Saturday, David Graeber visited the occupied Maagdenhuis — the beating heart of a budding revolt of students and staff at the University of Amsterdam. In his energetic and uplifting talk, Graeber touched upon the topic of his latest book (the total bureaucratization of all aspects of everyday life under neoliberalism) and the possibilities for resistance and revolt in the university and beyond.

And for those who are interested, here’s another excellent talk by the Dutch financial geographer Ewald Engelen — a renowned critic of the political elite and the banking sector in the Netherlands — on the financialization of higher education, the transformation of the University of Amsterdam into a full-fledged real estate speculator, and the total erosion of democracy both within the academy and at the level of the political system more generally:

(N.B. For those reading this post in their inbox, make sure to visit our website to see the embedded videos.)

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/03/graeber-bureaucracy-occupation-amsterdam/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Freeplay Sues Four YouTube Multichannel

Networks For Copyright Infringement

 

Lawsuit      Freeplay, an independent music-licensing company, this week filed lawsuits against four YouTube multichannel networks – Disney’s Maker Studios; AwesomenessTV and its Big Frame division; and BroadbandTV – claiming those platforms infringed hundreds of its copyrighted songs. In the lawsuits, Freeplay claims it previously contacted the four MCNs about licensing the music in question, but the companies were unwilling to negotiate. The suits seek unspecified monetary damages and demand that the infringement cease.

“The systemic misappropriation of its copyrights without authorization has harmed our client,” said Oren Warshavsky, partner with law firm BakerHostetler, which is representing Freeplay. “We seek to right that wrong through this action.”

Interestingly, two other YouTube MCNs – Machinima and Collective Digital Studio – earlier this month filed their own lawsuits against Freeplay, claiming the company is a “copyright troll” that initially offered music it said was free to use, then threatened to sue unless the MCNs entered into licensing deals. Freeplay said those allegations are baseless and without merit.

As reported by Variety, Freeplay Music was founded in 2001 and manages administrative rights to a catalog of “tens of thousands” of songs. The company claims it has issued more than 1.8 million licenses to date.

The lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

 

Pandora’s Earnings (Again) Point To

Increasing Costs As The Root Of Its Red Ink

 

Pandora Mobile      Shares of Pandora last week were slammed after the company reported its Q4 2014 earnings fell short of revenue estimates, and also revealed its revenue picture for Q1:15 would be weaker-than-expected. Motley Fool this week observed that, while Pandora has made some progress in increasing the amount of advertising revenue taken in per hour of music, its net costs continue to rise, as well. The result has led to “continued and growing losses, indicating a severe spending problem that may not have a clear solution.”

As the Fool’s Timothy Green wrote, “Pandora makes a royalty payment for each song it plays, and it attempts to bring in enough advertising dollars per song to pay for both these royalties and its operating expenses.” During the fourth quarter of 2014, the company brought in $48.19 in advertising revenue for every thousand hours of music streamed, an increase from $40.95 in the fourth quarter of 2013, and $32.33 in the fourth quarter of 2013. Meanwhile, mobile-driven dollars made up 78% of Pandora’s revenue during the fourth quarter, and over two years, Pandora has increased the advertising dollars per thousand hours on mobile by nearly 75%, compared to a 16% increase on computers.

These increases, combined with 15% growth in listener hours during the fourth quarter, led to a 33% year-over-year jump in revenue during the fourth quarter. “But all this improved monetization came with a cost,” Green says. “During 2014, Pandora increased its sales and marketing spending by 52.2%, faster than the 44% increase in revenue in 2014. Total operating expenses also rose faster than revenue, jumping nearly 53%.” Add to that the royalty fees, which are likely to increase this year, and Pandora remains mired in a business model from which there is no easy escape. 

With Upcoming Beats Reboot, Apple

Aims To Be The Music Industry

 

     While analysts continue to speculate on Apple’s reboot of iTunes Radio (with a $3 billion infusion from Beats), company insiders reportedly are eschewing comparisons to Spotify or Pandora. Apple’s goal apparently is to be the music business, not to compete with other services, as it leverages the existing 800 million iTunes and App Store customers from which it already has active credit card numbers.

Apple Insider reports the company is debating pricing for its upcoming subscription music service, looking to reduce the $9.99-per-month rate of the existing Beats Music product. While a price point of $7.99 has been floated for several weeks, major labels are said to be skeptical of reducing the value of music to that level.

Apple is said to be looking to evolve its entire iTunes focus as consumers move away from purchasing music to listening to it via online streaming services. Digital music sales have plummeted since 2013, while music streaming listenership has grown 54% over the same period. With about 1/10 of the world’s population in its iTunes database, Apple clearly believes there’s a way to own the music customer for years to come. 

MySpace Still Gets 300 Million

Video Views A Month…Really!

 

MySpace      Believe it or not, MySpace – the former king of all social media – still gets 300 million video views a month. That’s good enough to place it at #16 on comScore’s Video Metrix (at least in November)…so what’s up with that?

What’s up is the fact that the digital platform that put social networking on the map is alive and well almost a decade after Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. dropped $580 million on it. In an expensive lesson of corporate “bigness,” Murdoch and company failed to grasp the enormity of social media and caused the site to languish through a combination of executive oversight and rigidity that turned off most of its once-loyal users. Taking a $545 million loss, News Corp. sold the emaciated MySpace to internet ad company Specific Media in 2011 for $35 million.

The purchase was a costly bet that ultimately turned into a “series of expensive lost opportunities,” Murdoch told CNN last month. “This was just ahead of Facebook, and [MySpace was] just about to start a video service, which would have been three months ahead of YouTube. [But] we took bad advice. We put in a layer of bureaucracy.”

While MySpace has faded from the online ad world’s general consciousness, the site actually is doing fairly well, especially among young users. Tim Vanderhook, chief executive of parent company Viant Inc., told the Wall Street Journal that the music-oriented platform reaches 50 million unique users every month – more than five times its reach in late 2013. Most of those users are 17 to 25-year-old music and entertainment fans, but the site also sees a lot of return visitors from its mid-2000s heyday, particularly on Thursdays. As the WSJ notes, these folks have old digital photos stored on their old MySpace pages, and they occasionally retrieve those pics for Facebook’s weekly “Throwback Thursday” posting ritual.

“MySpace was an early photo-sharing platform, so we still see a lot of people coming back to access old photos,” Vanderhook told the Journal. “They may not visit every day but they come back once a week or once a month.” 

Digital Music Streaming Keeps Losing $$$

…So Why Do Labels Think It’s The Future?

 

Music Business      While music sales continue to slide,  music consumers increasingly are listening to Pandora and Spotify – even as those companies (and others) seem to hemorrhage money on a daily basis. While it may appear short-sighted for record label execs to place their industry’s fate in the hands of companies that could drag them down under the weight of performance fees, the lucrative nature of music licensing presents a profitable business model in a post-album world.

As Paul Resnikoff, editor of Digital Music News (no relation to this publication) recently pointed out, “nobody’s making any money in digital music” – from songwriters and performers, to music services that had hoped to ease the transition from physical to digital with a thriving music economy.

As summarized by USA Today:

* Pandora continues to lose money each quarter amid sky-high royalty payment charges. (See separate story, above.) In its fourth fiscal quarter, Pandora reported a net loss of $30.4 million despite a 44% jump in revenue of $920.8 million. Pandora now claims a record 81.5 million monthly listeners.

* Music download sales, once considered the savior to declining CD sales, have seen their sales peak. Unit sales fell 12.5% in 2014, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and look to fall even further this year as more consumers look to cloud-based subscription services.

* Spotify, the world’s most popular paid music service, with 15 million subscribers, sits atop a heap of similar services struggling to find audiences, including Rdio and Rhapsody. Still, Spotify lost $80 million on revenues of about $1 billion in its most recent earnings filing.

While Apple could bring innovation and direction to its much-anticipated new streaming service, company executives have to weigh the risk of diving completely into the streaming pool at the risk of damaging download sales altogether. Insiders report the music service – minus the Beats name – will be built into the iOS8 operating system so the service will show up in iTunes and on the iPhone and iPad Music app – one of four key icons on the home screen.

iTunes “needs to be in streams,” DMN‘s Resnikoff says. “The conversation is moving forward without them.” 

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2015