YouTube claims it removed 5x more hateful content in Q2, including 100K+ videos, 17K+ channels – gpgmail


In an update today, YouTube is claiming to have made significant progress in removing harmful video on its platform following a June update to its content policy which prohibited supremacist and other hateful content. The company says it has this quarter removed over 100,000 videos and terminated over 17,000 channels for hate speech — a 5x increase over Q1. It also removed nearly double the number of comments to over 500 million, in part due to an increase in hate speech removals.

The company, however, is haphazardly attempting to draw a line between what’s considered hateful content and what’s considered free speech.

This has resulted in what the U.S. Anti-Defamation League, in a recent report, referred to as a “significant number” of channels that disseminate anti-Semitic and white supremacist content being left online, following the June 2019 changes to the content policy.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki soon thereafter took to the YouTube Creator blog to defend the company’s position on the matter, arguing for the value that comes from having an open platform.

“A commitment to openness is not easy. It sometimes means leaving up content that is outside the mainstream, controversial or even offensive,” she wrote. “But I believe that hearing a broad range of perspectives ultimately makes us a stronger and more informed society, even if we disagree with some of those views.”

Among the videos the ADL had listed were those that featured anti-Semitic content, anti-LGBTQ messages, those denied the Holocaust, featured white supremacist content, and more. Five of the channels it cited had, combined, over 81 million views.

YouTube still seems to be unsure of where it stands on this sort of content. While arguably these videos would be considered hate speech, much seems to be left online. YouTube also flip-flopped last week when it removed then quickly reinstated the channels of two Europe-based, far-right YouTube creators who espouse white nationalist views.

Beyond the hate speech removals, YouTube also spoke today of the methodology it uses to flag content for review.

It will often use hashes (digital fingerprints) to automatically catch copies of known prohibited content ahead of it being made public. This is a common way platforms remove child sexual abuse images and terrorist recruitment videos. However, this is not a new practice and its mention in today’s report could be to deflect attention from the hateful content and issues around that.

In 2017, YouTube said also increased its use of machine learning to help it find similar content to those that have already been removed, even before the videos are viewed. This is effective for fighting spam and adult content, YouTube says. In some cases, this can also help to flag hate speech, but machines don’t understand context so human review is still required to make the nuanced decisions.

Fighting spam is fairly routine these days, as it accounts for the majority of the removals — in Q2, nearly 67% of the videos removed were spam or scams.

Over 87% of the 9 million totals videos removed in Q2 were removed by automated systems, YouTube said. An upgrade to spam detection systems in the quarter led to a more than 50% increase in channels shut down for spam violations, it also noted.

The company said that more than 80% of the auto-flagged videos were removed without a single view in Q2. And it confirmed that across all of Google, there are over 10,000 people tasked with detecting, reviewing, and removing content that violates its guidelines.

Again, this over 80% figure largely speaks to YouTube’s success in using automated systems to remove spam and porn.

Going forward, the company says it will soon release a further update to its harassment policy, first announced in April, that will aims to prevent creator-on-creator harassment — as seen recently with the headline-grabbing YouTube creator feuds and the rise of “tea” channels.

YouTube additionally shared a timeline of its content policy milestones and related product launches.

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The update from YouTube comes at a critical time for the company, just ahead of a reported $200 million settlement with the FTC over alleged violations of child privacy laws. The fine serves as a stark reminder that, for years now, the viewers of these hate speech-filled videos haven’t only been adults interested in researching extremist content or engaging in debate, but also millions of children who today turn to YouTube for information about their world.


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Instagram may allow creators to syndicate IGTV videos to Facebook – gpgmail


Following the departure of Instagram’s founders, Facebook is working to more closely integrate the photo-sharing app with its flagship social network. It’s already added its brand name next to Instagram’s, and is working to make both platforms’ messaging products interoperable. Now, Facebook is prototyping a means of syndicating Instagram’s IGTV video to Facebook’s video site, Facebook Watch.

In another find from noted reverse engineer, Jane Manchun Wong, Instagram was found to have under development a feature that would allow Instagram users to post their IGTV content to both Instagram as a preview, as well as to Facebook and Watch — the latter by toggling an additional switch labeled “make visible on Facebook.”

Wong says the feature is still in the prototype stage, as the buttons themselves aren’t functional.

This move, should it come to pass, could prompt more video creators to use IGTV, given that it would boost their videos’ distribution by also including Facebook as a destination for their content. The videos could also be part of an ongoing, episodic series, Wong had found.

This, in turn, could help IGTV — an app which hasn’t quite taken off as a standalone video platform. Today, IGTV takes inspiration from TikTok and Snapchat’s vertical video. It’s meant to engage Instagram users with longer-form, portrait mode video content but within Instagram and in a separate IGTV app. But IGTV has often been filled with poorly cropped and imported web video, rather than content designed specifically for the platform.

Meanwhile, the IGTV app has struggled to rise to the top of the App Store’s charts the way its parent, Instagram has. Today, it’s ranked No. 159 in the Photo & Video category on the App Store, and unranked in the Overall top charts.

To address some of the issues that creators have complained about, Instagram this week rolled out a few changes to the upload experience. This included the new ability to select the 1:1 crop of an IGTV thumbnail for the creator’s Profile Cover as well as the ability to edit which 5:4 section of the IGTV video shows in the Feed.

IGTV will also now auto-populate Instagram handles and tags on IGTV titles and descriptions, and will now support the ability to longer video from mobile. With the latter change, IGTV has increased the minimum threshold to upload on mobile to one minute, and is allowing mobile uploads up to 15 minutes.

Instagram declined to comment on the possible syndication of IGTV content to Facebook and Facebook Watch.




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Plex is launching its own ad-supported video service, starting with content from Warner Bros. TV – gpgmail


Streaming media company Plex this morning announced it will begin to offer ad-supported video, including movies and TV, by way of a new content agreement with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. Though Plex has more recently expanded into new areas beyond organizing home media — including streaming TV and cloud DVRs, streaming music by way of a TIDAL partnership, podcasts, news and more — this new deal represents the first time that Plex has ever offered ad-supported content on its service that will benefit its bottom line.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, gpgmail broke the news that Plex was preparing to move into the ad-supported movies market.

The company at the time said it was in discussions with various rights holders and content providers, including premium networks, to bring more streaming video to its platform. Its model would be similar to Roku’s The Roku Channel, in that it would start with free, ad-supported movies and TV, then add more content, which may at some point include subscriptions.

Plex was unable to say how many movies and TV shows would be coming to Plex users by way of its licensing agreement, nor could it offer a sampling of titles due to the nature of its contract with Warner Bros. But it will have more to share on this front as the offering gets closer to launch, later this year.

The company also said it will use SpotX for programmatic ads, with more ad sales capabilities to roll out in the future. The revenue from the ad sales will be on top of what Plex already makes from its premium feature set, by way of its Plex Pass subscriptions.

Also still in the works is how, exactly, the free movies and TV will be surfaced in the Plex user interface.

Today, Plex has a left-hand side menu navigation where “online content” can be found, like TIDAL, news, podcasts, and web shows. This would be a likely destination to add the new AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) collection, but Plex may decide to redesign parts of its interface instead.

The movies and TV shows will be available to the millions of Plex users in the U.S., not just subscribers. But its larger AVOD service, which will eventually be expanded, will be global in nature.

Today, Plex has grown to around 20 million users, but it doesn’t say how many are paying customers. (As Plex told us earlier, its investors don’t want anyone to be able to “back into its revenue numbers,” but it is profitable.)

The company’s longer-term vision is to become even more of a one-stop shop for all your media – whether that’s content you own, buy or stream.

“Plex has always been about solving new media challenges, and our mission is to tame the growing chaos in the media landscape,” said Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, in a statement about the launch. “Licensing these movies from Warner Bros. enables us to offer more types of third-party content than any other platform and bring it all together in one beautiful solution. Premium ad-supported movies and shows deserve first-class treatment alongside other content that consumers enjoy daily, as opposed to being orphaned in yet another stand-alone app.”


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Ahead of FTC ruling, YouTube Kids is getting a website – gpgmail


Ahead of the official announcement of an FTC settlement which could force YouTube to direct under-13-year-old users to a separate experience for YouTube’s kid-friendly content, the company has quietly announced plans to launch its YouTube Kids service on the web. Previously, parents would have to download the YouTube Kids app to a mobile device in order to access the filtered version of YouTube.

By bringing YouTube Kids to the web, the company is prepared for the likely outcome of an FTC settlement which would require the company to implement an age-gate on its site, then redirect under-13-year-olds to a separate kid-friendly experience.

In addition, YouTube Kids is gaining a new filter which will allow parents to set the content to being preschooler-appropriate.

The announcement, published to the YouTube Help forums, was first spotted by Android Police.

It’s unclear if YouTube was intentionally trying to keep these changes from being picked up on by a larger audience (or the press) by publishing the news to a forum instead of its official YouTube blog. (The company tells us it publishes a lot of news the forum site. Sure, okay. But with an FTC settlement looming, it seems an odd destination for such an announcement.)

It’s also worth noting that, around the same time as the news was published, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki posted her quarterly update for YouTube creators. The update is intended to keep creators abreast of what’s in store for YouTube and its community. But this quarter, her missive spoke solely about the value in being an open platform, and didn’t touch on anything related to kids content or the U.S. regulator’s investigation.

However, it’s precisely YouTube’s position on “openness” that concerns parents when it comes to their kids watching YouTube videos. The platform’s (almost) “anything goes” nature means kids can easily stumble upon content that’s too adult, controversial, hateful, fringe, or offensive.

The YouTube Kids app is meant to offer a safer destination, but YouTube isn’t manually reviewing each video that finds its way there. That has led to inappropriate and disturbing content slipping through the cracks on numerous occasions, and eroding parents’ trust.

Because many parents don’t believe YouTube Kids’ algorithms can filter content appropriately, the company last fall introduced the ability for parents to whitelist specific videos or channels in the Kids app. It also rolled out a feature that customized the app’s content for YouTube’s older users, ages 8 through 12. This added gaming content and music videos.

Now, YouTube is further breaking up the “Younger” content level filter, which was previously 8 and under, into two parts. Starting now, “Younger” applies to ages 5 through 7, while the new “Preschool” filter is for the age 4 and under group. The latter will focus on videos that promote “creativity, playfulness, learning, and exploration,” says YouTube.

YouTube confirmed to gpgmail that its forum announcement is accurate, but the company would not say when the YouTube Kids web version would go live, beyond “this week.”

The YouTube Kids changes are notable because they signal that YouTube is getting things in place before an FTC settlement announcement that will impact how it handles kids content and the site’s continued use by young children.

It’s possible that YouTube will be fined by the FTC for its violations of COPPA, as Musical.ly (TikTok) was earlier this year. One report, citing unnamed sources, says the FTC’s YouTube settlement has been finalized and includes a multimillion-dollar fine.

YouTube will also likely be required to implement an age-gate on its site and in its apps that will direct under-13-year-olds to the YouTube Kids platform instead of YouTube proper. The settlement may additionally require YouTube to stop targeting ads on videos aimed at children, as has been reported by Bloomberg. 

We probably won’t see the FTC issuing a statement about its ruling ahead of this Labor Day weekend, but it may do so in advance of its October workshop focused on refining the COPPA regulation — an event that has the regulator looking for feedback on how to properly handle sites like YouTube. 

 

 


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The Void’s Curtis Hickman on scaling, creative IP and the future of VR experiences – gpgmail


What can you do with virtual reality when you have complete control of the physical space around the player? How “real” can virtual reality become?

That’s the core concept behind The Void. They take over retail spaces in places like Downtown Disney and shopping malls around the country and turn them into virtual reality playgrounds, They’ve got VR experiences based on properties like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and Wreck-It Ralph; while these big names tend to be the main attractions, they’re dabbling with creating their own original properties, too.

By building both the game environment and the real-world rooms in which players wander, The Void can make the physical and virtual align. If you see a bench in your VR headset, there’s a bench there in the real world for you to sit on; if you see a lever on the wall in front of you, you can reach out and physically pull it. Land on a lava planet and heat lamps warm your skin; screw up a puzzle, and you’ll feel a puff of mist letting you know to try something else.

At $30-$35 per person for what works out to be a roughly thirty-minute experience (about ten of which is watching a scene-setting video and getting your group into VR suits), it’s pretty pricey. But it’s also some of the most mind-bending VR I’ve ever seen.

The Void reportedly raised about $20 million earlier this year and is in the middle of a massive expansion. It’s more than doubling its number of locations, opening 25 new spots in a partnership with the Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield chain of malls.

I sat down to chat with The Void’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Curtis Hickman, to hear how they got started, how his background (in stage magic!) comes into play here, how they came to work with massive properties like Ghostbusters and Star Wars, and where he thinks VR is going from here.

Greg Kumparak: Tell me a bit about yourself. How’d you get your start? How’d you get into making VR experiences?


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TikTok’s new ‘Hashtag Challenge Plus’ lets video viewers shop for products in the app – gpgmail


TikTok, the short-form video platform favored by young adults and teens, has launched a new feature that allows users to shop for products associated with a sponsored Hashtag Challenge, without leaving its app. These sponsored challenges are Gen Z-friendly marketing campaigns where users are prompted to post videos of them using a product — like showing off favorite outfits from Uniqlo or Guess, for example. Or they might participate in some sort of manufactured viral trend, like singing favorite Disney songs ahead of a Disney-themed episode of American Idol.

The new e-commerce feature, called Hashtag Challenge Plus, adds a shoppable component to the hashtag.

In addition to creating and viewing videos featuring the brand’s sponsored hashtag, a separate tab features an in-app experience where products from the campaign can be purchased within TikTok itself.

Last week, Kroger was the first brand to try out the new feature, according to a report from AdWeek.

While not exactly a company that exudes youth appeal, Kroger found a way to reach TikTok’s young adult audience through their hashtag campaign.

In partnership with four TikTok influencers — Joey Klaasen, Cosette Rinab, Mia Finney and Victoria Bachlet — Kroger prompted TikTok viewers to post videos of their dorm makeovers using the hashtag #TransformUrDorm. Digital agency i360 was involved in the videos’ creation.

What made Kroger’s challenge unique was that it also introduced a dedicated brand page where viewers could actually shop for products, too.

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Kroger paid for its sponsored hashtag to be given placement on TikTok’s Discover page for a week’s time. The tag can still be found via search, even though the campaign has wrapped.

Of course, many of its intended viewers found it by way of their favorite TikTok influencer’s profile, much like how Instagram ad campaigns work.

Since launch, the hashtag has since grown to around 477 million views across hundreds of videos — some labeled “Official,” if from the influencers. The rest is user-generated content from other TikTok users hoping to capitalize on the trend to gain a little TikTok fame for themselves.

On the hashtag’s landing page, there’s a separate tab also labeled “Discover,” but not to be confused with TikTok’s main Discover section. This directs viewers to the new shopping experience.

Here, Kroger shows off a scrollable row of featured products including things like a popcorn maker, a box of snack bars, a toaster, and other items.

Tapping the “Shop Now” link then opens up Kroger’s website where users can add items to their cart and check out online.

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This shoppable experience is really just a mobile-optimized Kroger website pointing to a special search term (btscollege19). It isn’t a TikTok creation, nor built with TikTok’s help. On the mobile site, you can scroll down through a random list of items — from shampoos to coffee filters to toothpaste to hangers and more — or you can filter by category or enter a search term.

It’s unclear if such an offering will actually significantly impact e-commerce sales.

If anything, a hashtag campaign like this is better utilized to remind viewers that Kroger’s grocery store is also a place to shop for back-to-school needs, as an alternative to big-box stores like Target or Walmart or online retailers like Amazon.

TikTok confirmed to gpgmail that Kroger was the first to put it into action last week. A spokesperson declined to say if other campaigns using the new product were in the works, adding that the company couldn’t talk about any plans ahead of their launch.

Sponsored Hashtag Challenges are only one way TikTok is experimenting with generating revenue from its some 500 million monthly users, the majority who are under 30. The company has also tried out full-screen ads at launch, in-feed ads, 3D/AR lenses, stickers and more.

 

 


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Ring Is Helping Police Convince People to Hand Over Video Footage Without a Warrant


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Ring’s close alliance with police departments continues to be a headache for the company with each new revelation. Amazon-owned Ring expends great effort to get its customers to use its Neighbors video sharing app, to which it gives police access. Thanks to newly leaked emails, we know Ring is actually coaching officers in ways to convince users to provide video footage without a warrant. 

Installing a Ring camera doesn’t automatically make your videos available to police, but Ring works hard to get people to download and use the Neighbors app. That connects to an online community portal where you can share video with other users. In cities where police have partnered with Ring (and push Ring products), officers can also send out requests for video. Ring even gives police free cameras to distribute to the community based on how many Neighbors downloads they can deliver. 

When police ask for video footage in Neighbors, they don’t have to go through the hassle of getting a warrant. That makes it an appealing prospect for police, but users are often hesitant to share their camera footage. In several email exchanges obtained by Motherboard, Ring “Partner Success Associates” explain how police can obtain higher compliance. Unsurprisingly, many of the techniques involve getting more people to download Ring’s app. 

Ring told police that departments with higher levels of Neighbors opt-ins have better results. That fits nicely with Ring’s mission to get as many people as possible using Neighbors. The company has been criticized for stoking fear with the Neighbors app. Ring even has news editors who post unverified details of 911 calls in Neighbors. 

Ring coaching New Jersey police on how to obtain more video footage.

Ring has also provided police with templates for footage requests, hoping to get more users to respond favorably. It also suggests departments remain active on social media, which is not altogether bad advice. However, Ring, of course, frames this as a way to drive downloads of the Neighbors app. Ring also instructs police to post public messages in Neighbors to encourage the community to provide video when asked. 

Activists have called on police departments to stop partnering with Ring, citing the unregulated public-private partnership to create a video surveillance dragnet. Ring is far from the only consumer security camera provider, but it’s the only one with an aggressive campaign to get people using a scaremongering “community” app that helps police circumvent normal evidence gathering.

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Wall St analyst Laura Martin on the fate of Netflix, breaking up Google, EU regulation, and a decade of more money for Hollywood – gpgmail


The rise of streaming video platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime has upended traditional power balances in Hollywood and is reorganizing the way we consume films and TV series as consumers.

Following her talk at the recent Banff World Media Festival in Canada, I interviewed Laura Martin, the senior analyst covering entertainment and internet stocks at leading investment bank Needham & Company, to sort out how the pieces are moving in this chess game between content creators, streaming services, consumers, and government regulators.

We discuss why Netflix is still at risk of a downfall, the effect of EU content quotas, why Martin thinks regulators should break up Google, and why video streaming and game streaming are likely to merge into the same subscription products.

Here is the transcript of our discussion, edited for length and clarity:


Eric Peckham: There’s an optimistic case that the rise of online video streaming is a win for both consumers and content creators because it creates a vast landscape of content platforms. Onstage in Banff, you argued that the number of content platforms (and thus the number of content buyers) will in fact shrink. Why do you see it going that direction?

Laura Martin: There are 4,000 video apps on the Roku platform today (and similarly on Samsung and on Amazon Fire). What you’ll see is a consolidation in the industry as we get big players like the Walt Disney Company, AT&T, and Apple coming into the DTC business with big, deep pockets. Although we have more buyers of content today, it’s driving prices up.

It is likely that the big players are just battling out between themselves, putting smaller players out of business. Over a 10-year time frame, I expect just three or four winners, and that will bring more discipline back into the financial aspects of the business.

Peckham: What will separate the winners from the losers here?


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