by crissly | Feb 11, 2022 | Uncategorized
Sports fans who tuned in to watch the Beijing Winter Olympics on YouTube are instead being served propaganda videos. An analysis of YouTube search results by WIRED found that people who typed “Beijing,” “Beijing 2022,” “Olympics,” or “Olympics 2022” were shown pro-China and anti-China propaganda videos in the top results. Five of the most prominent propaganda videos, which often appear above actual Olympics highlights, have amassed almost 900,000 views.
Two anti-China videos showing up in search results were published by a group called The BL (The Beauty of Life), which Facebook previously linked to the Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual movement that was banned by the Chinese Communist Party in 1999 and has protested against the regime ever since. They jostled for views with pro-China videos posted by Western YouTubers whose work has previously been promoted by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Similar search results were visible in the US, Canada, and the UK. WIRED also found signs that viewing numbers for pro-China videos are being artificially boosted through the use of fake news websites.
This flurry of propaganda videos was first spotted earlier this month by John Scott-Railton, a researcher at the University of Toronto’s research laboratory, Citizen Lab. On February 5, Scott-Railton found that after he’d watched skating and curling videos, YouTube automatically played a video by a pro-China YouTube account. “I found myself on a slippery slide from skating and curling into increasingly targeted propaganda,” he says. These videos no longer appeared in autoplay by February 11, when WIRED conducted its analysis. But the way similar videos still dominate YouTube search results suggests the platform is at risk of letting such campaigns hijack the Olympics.
YouTube did not respond to a request to comment on why content used as propaganda to promote or deride China was being pushed to the top of Olympics search results, nor did the company say if those behind the videos had violated its terms of service by using fake websites to inflate their views.
A common theme in the pro-Beijing propaganda videos is the 2019 decision by US-born skier Eileen Gu to compete for China at the Winter Olympics. A video titled “USA’s Boycott FAILURE … Eileen Gu Wins Gold” by YouTuber Jason Lightfoot is the top result for the search term “Beijing,” with 54,000 views.
The US and Canada were among the countries that took part in a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. In Canada, that same video by Jason Lightfoot also showed up for users searching for “Olympics 2022” and “Winter Olympics,” although much further down, in 26th and 33rd place. In the video, Lightfoot says Western media “can’t take what Eileen Gu represents … someone who has chosen China over the American dream.”
In another video, which has more than 400,000 views, American YouTuber Cyrus Janssen also discusses why Gu chose to represent China. The video, which is the fifth result for the search term “Beijing,” details Gu’s career before referencing the high rates of anti-Asian hate crime in the US, a subject that has also been covered by mainstream American media outlets.
by crissly | Feb 1, 2022 | Uncategorized
Tech conglomerate Tencent caused a stir last year with the announcement that it would comply with China’s directive to incorporate facial recognition technology into its games in the country. The move was in line with China’s strict gaming regulation policies, which impose limits on how much time minors can spend playing video games—an effort to curb addictive behavior, since gaming is labeled by the state as “spiritual opium.”
The state’s use of biometric data to police its population is, of course, invasive, and especially undermines the privacy of underage users—but Tencent is not the only video game company to track its players, nor is this recent case an altogether new phenomenon. All over the world, video games, one of the most widely adopted digital media forms, are installing networks of surveillance and control.
In basic terms, video games are systems that translate physical inputs—such as hand movement or gesture—into various electric or electronic machine-readable outputs. The user, by acting in ways that comply with the rules of the game and the specifications of the hardware, is parsed as data by the video game. Writing almost a decade ago, the sociologists Jennifer R. Whitson and Bart Simon argued that games are increasingly understood as systems that easily allow the reduction of human action into knowable and predictable formats.
Video games, then, are a natural medium for tracking, and researchers have long argued that large data sets about players’ in-game activities are a rich resource in understanding player psychology and cognition. In one study from 2012, Nick Yee, Nicolas Ducheneaut, and Les Nelson scraped player activity data logged on the World of Warcraft Armory website—essentially a database that records all the things a player’s character has done in the game (how many of a certain monster I’ve killed, how many times I’ve died, how many fish I’ve caught, and so on).
The researchers used this data to infer personality characteristics (in combination with data yielded through a survey). The paper suggests, for example, that there is a correlation between the survey respondents classified as more conscientious in their game-playing approach and the tendency to spend more time doing repetitive and dull in-game tasks, such as fishing. Conversely, those whose characters more often fell to death from high places were less conscientious, according to their survey responses.
Correlation between personality and quantitative gameplay data is certainly not unproblematic. The relationship between personality and identity and video game activity is complex and idiosyncratic; for instance, research suggests that gamer identity intersects with gender, racial, and sexual identity. Additionally, there has been general pushback against claims of Big Data’s production of new knowledge rooted in correlation. Despite this, games companies increasingly realize the value of big data sets to gain insight into what a player likes, how they play, what they play, what they’ll likely spend money on (in freemium games), how and when to offer the right content, and how to solicit the right kinds of player feelings.
While there are no numbers on how many video game companies are surveilling their players in-game (although, as a recent article suggests, large publishers and developers like Epic, EA, and Activision explicitly state they capture user data in their license agreements), a new industry of firms selling middleware “data analytics” tools, often used by game developers, has sprung up. These data analytics tools promise to make users more amenable to continued consumption through the use of data analysis at scale. Such analytics, once available only to the largest video game studios—which could hire data scientists to capture, clean, and analyze the data, and software engineers to develop in-house analytics tools—are now commonplace across the entire industry, pitched as “accessible” tools that provide a competitive edge in a crowded marketplace by companies like Unity, GameAnalytics, or Amazon Web Services. (Although, as a recent study shows, the extent to which these tools are truly “accessible” is questionable, requiring technical expertise and time to implement.) As demand for data-driven insight has grown, so have the range of different services—dozens of tools in the past several years alone, providing game developers with different forms of insight. One tool—essentially Uber for playtesting—allows companies to outsource quality assurance testing, and provides data-driven insight into the results. Another supposedly uses AI to understand player value and maximize retention (and spending, with a focus on high-spenders).