Activists fighting fake ransoms on YouTube that cover up animal abuse | Technology


Image of the alleged rescue of a cat attacked by a snake in an image provided by the NGO World Animal Protection.
Image of the alleged rescue of a cat attacked by a snake in an image provided by the NGO World Animal Protection.

It is easy to find the video on Youtube. The difficult thing is to see it. A kitten struggles, trying to untangle the deadly embrace of a python, which grips him with increasing force. Then the savior intervenes. With the help of a stick, a man separates the two animals. Then massage the cat until it regains consciousness. The animal, cowering, looks at the camera in terror and flees from its savior. The man begins to violently manipulate the snake while laughing. He is proud, he has saved a kitten from a horrible situation. There are reasons to think that he also put it in her. “The chances of running into a snake strangling a dog or cat in the wild are incredibly small,” confirms by email Nina Jackel, journalist and creator of the NGO Lady Freethinker. “However, the makers of these types of videos come across this scenario over and over again.” And they record it. And they upload it to Youtube. They are false rescues, choreographies that involve mistreatment of animals and huge benefits to their supposed rescuers.

The first video is the gateway to an infinite loop. YouTube’s algorithm finds more animal rescues in its huge library. Some seem real. Others do not. The videos are happening without more interruption than the mandatory announcements. Cats trapped in pipes, dogs in gates, in quicksand. Snakes and raptors attacking monkeys and pets. The recordings have some characteristics in common: they are usually shot in Southeast Asian countries and have a precarious but cinematic montage. There’s some post-production, thunderous epic music, and eye-catching headlines. “Sometimes the camera follows a snake slithering in the grass, cutting a litter of cubs in a dirt cave clearly made by one person. Then it shows the supposed rescuer walking through the forest, about to stumble upon the attack. ” It’s like a B-movie. Only here the animals have suffered during filming.

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Not everyone is able to notice the montage. Many of the comments on these videos cheer the authors as if they were heroes. But to anyone who looks closely, the deception is obvious, Jackel notes. “We see the same animals in several videos,” he denounces. “Predators show signs of being captive pets. Birds of prey tend to have severed wings ”. It should also be obvious to YouTube, the activist considers. That is why he has sued the video platform, owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company. He did it last October before the Superior Court of California. The lawsuit claims that the platform failed to honor its agreement with users by allowing animal abuse videos to be uploaded and taking no action when alerted to it.

YouTube regulations prohibit “all violent or graphic content intended to cause an impact or displeasure on users.” The company claims it has hired 10,000 people and uses machine learning to moderate the 500 hours of video uploaded every minute. Between January and March 2021, YouTube claimed to have removed more than nine million videos for breaking its rules.

“The review process on YouTube is extensive and complicated,” acknowledges Lucía Andaluz, professor of Communication at the European University. “The content is not removed automatically, but goes through a review procedure, where it is checked if it violates the community rules. If so, it is removed ”. There is no prior censorship on the platform, which usually launches its censorship process upon request from viewers. This makes it easier to post an animal abuse video on YouTube than a female nipple on Instagram.

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Andaluz believes that this form of a posteriori censorship may not be entirely effective, and relates it to the proliferation of misinformation on the platform. “The question we should ask ourselves is whether we are reaching this manipulated content, when what we want is to inform ourselves. Because then, the problem is not in the user or in the algorithm that follows the same pattern, but in the platform that is not capable of eliminating content quickly and efficiently ”.

YouTube is aware of the slowness of its censorship process. To try to speed it up, it has created tools such as its trusted reporter program, a way for public bodies and NGOs to help with content moderation. “YouTube ignored, and then rejected, Lady Freethinker’s April 2021 request to join this program,” Jackel complains. “They told us they were not accepting entities with ‘expertise in the policy areas most relevant to their organization at this time.’

Nick Stewart does subscribe to YouTube’s trusted reporter program, but he doesn’t have much faith in it. The Global Head of Campaigns for World Animal Protection believes the platform should prevent content from being uploaded in the first place. With a vast repository of videos, it is difficult to locate and point out those that violate the regulations, and many times, when they do, they have already reached a massive audience. “Some of the videos that we found, for example, had been published for years, with views that have given a lot of money, both to those who uploaded them and to YouTube,” he explains.

Stewart learned of the existence of these types of videos last April. “I was frozen,” he confesses. His surprise was even more when he saw that the trend, although upward, was not new. He then decided to coordinate a report to probe the depth of the problem. “Between September 2018 and July 2021, we identified more than 240 videos, published on 160 YouTube channels, with more than 5.8 million subscribers, in 26 countries.” These videos had collectively amassed around 180 million views. And despite YouTube’s censorship, things are getting worse. “The trend shows that the number of posts and channels that upload them have increased during this time.”

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The size of the accounts varies from the smallest, with less than five subscribers and a few hundred views on your videos, to the huge ones, with millions of views and subscribers. “One video in particular accumulated more than one hundred million visits,” the activist denounces. As was recently pointed out in this article, the monetization of a video on YouTube can vary depending on the type of video, channel, time, country and other variables. But in 2020 it would be around 500 dollars (433 euros) for every million visits.

Many of these videos have already been removed from YouTube by the company itself, but others quickly take their place. Some stay for months, years, accumulating views and generating money until someone reports them. Others last for days, but shortly after being banned they reappear in the constant audiovisual stream that rises daily. And start over. Stewart believes that nothing will change until the rules of the game are changed. “This is like collecting water in a bucket when you have a leaky roof,” he explains. “If you don’t repair the roof, you are not tackling the root problem.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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