A few months ago I was egosurfing for a very specific term.
The term was “hmvhDOTnet”, and it should’ve taken me straight to what passes for a YouTube channel. This is where I most explicitly used the term, and this is exactly what I expected Google to present.
Realise that I’m an old dog when it comes to picking out relevant results from SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). These trained eyes have been around the block and pissed in many a neighbourhood. I had also expected a few incoming links from other, genuine sites but that wasn’t the case. In fact, the results were markedly different and “deeper” than those typically discovered when researching wanna-be music producers and up-and-coming artists who aggressively promote themselves.
Allow this old dog to scrape the bottom of the barrel — so you don’t have to. Onwards!
To ensure I got consistent and reproducible results I ran new searches on a virgin PC, and the results remained largely the same during the course of this exercise. Nothing except browser details and geographic location (based on the current IP address pool) should’ve been exposed through running off a Linux live-CD — I was effectively using a new machine each time (although different ISPs would have yielded marginally different results.)
The top Google results were my YouTube videos. So far, so good.
Curiously, the list included a result for an Estonian media store who used my digitised VHS trailer to advertise a version of the UK DVD, and elsewhere the same was used to link to a “Damien Omen Ii 1978 Bluray Download” [sic]. Urhm, OK?
Particularly funny was this page. Doesn’t that just look like a delightful travel destination?
In case you don’t know, Lake Placid is a comedy-horror movie about a giant crocodile. Come looking for a movie trailer, stay for the porn!
Up next was Russian video aggregator Ruclip, a service which pulls in content from YouTube and overlays their own adverts. Many are outright clones of YouTube — some more blatant than others and doing everything except their own video hosting and everything to monetise the trashiest and in-demand content provided by others.
Whatever bakes your noodle, there will be a video for it! In one case, the most recent clip was that of a young, overweight woman doing nothing but drinking cola and burping. Their search facility prompts you with “That video want to find?” [sic]
There are many like it, such as the related allthelist.info over and above sites like etvplayvideos.com, findclip.net, clip-share.net, 9videos.tv, by-clips.com, 9tube.tv, uaclips.com, faceclips.net, thvideos.net, clip.fail, ytube.tv, okclips.net, cn-vision.com, sabclip.com, clipzui.com, and v4k.life. Even the very domain names are knock-offs.
Worst is that many of the sites don’t feature (links to) (my) videos at all; instead, you’re redirected to industrially-produced sensationalist celebrity fodder lifted from innocent third parties. All are chock-full of adverts, with grammarly.com appearing to be a starting default (probably until there’s enough data to serve more targeted ads).
I’m sure my search query must’ve struck just the right balance between “nothing found” and “oh, we’re hosting this alright, so here are the legitimate results and a bunch of external parasites as an added bonus.” Visit at your own risk. It doesn’t seem to bother YouTube that outside parties blend in their own adverts (no doubt via Google’s own AdSense), effectively redirecting traffic and stealing potential advertising revenue from the original content creators. Nearest I can tell, even the view counts are overblown.
There clearly aren’t geniuses at work here. Or is the pithy unprofessionalism intended?
The observation that many of these sites are clones of one another leads me to suspect that there’s a low-cost network of sites out there, based on a similar template, and operating out of Russia, Ukraine, China, Vietnam and/or Thailand. Many include a page referring to the “DMCA”, a US-American law which has no jurisdiction in the aforementioned countries and as if mere mention of which magically absconds them of all legal responsibility in case of a copyright infringement notice — which one should file via a shitty Google Docs form. Seriously?
The forms themselves are questionable, threatening punishment for perjury in the event a claimant adds false information but, in turn, providing a wonderful means to harvest signatures and addresses of genuine legal staffers which might be used to stifle their competition or for other nefarious purposes. The possibilities for mischief are endless. Either that, or the sites’ visitors are unbelievably stupid. I’d bet on the latter.
Amazing, though, is the default assumption that I am a straight white male. Or a lesbian.
Demand fuels supply. If these items are in plentiful supply then it must be surmised that most internet users would be horny men interested in nothing but porn, downloading videos, gambling/betting/casinos, MMO games, dating (read: casual sex with bored neighbourhood wives), Asian or Russian ladies (read: looking for foreign suckers to pay for a plane ticket), Bitcoin schemes, and the usual forms of low-brow entertainment.
This is the stuff that clichés are made of. Clickbait ahoy!
Even Techmoan, one of the most benign of content creators, got caught in the mess.
At this point I need to remind you that I did not go seeking out this shit: I searched for a harmless, quasi-nonsensical term that should have pointed to a YouTube channel which features no pornography. Instead, I was redirected towards sites that are full of links to adult dating sites (which claim they aren’t), VPN providers (so you can mask your porn searches), casino games, and more video aggregators such as aotatv.com with tons of (fake) Peppa Pig videos as well as links to Justine Bieber [sic] material.
“Something is wrong on the internet,” James Bridle wrote in an excellent essay two years ago wherein he highlighted how keywords and descriptions are rigged to show “related” content that may be similar but entirely inappropriate for its target audience.
“YouTube’s algorithm is easy to game. It’s a system that rewards creators for figuring out what works, and then doing that same thing over and over again.”
What I’m adding is that they also get misappropriated for the sake of redirecting visitors and, ultimately, revenue. If people can make thousands of dollars via high-colour, low-quality content aimed at children, why shouldn’t others do the same by farming content and embedding it where they (not the original content creator) score ad revenue?
Many of the most popular videos have an amateur feel. Toy demonstrations like surprise-egg videos are huge. These videos are just what they sound like: Adults narrate as they play with various toys, often by pulling them out of plastic eggs or peeling away layers of slime or Play-Doh to reveal a hidden figurine. – Adrienne LaFrance
Kids are nuts about them! Things have truly gone all video.
And it gets worse. Jailbait ahoy!
[A] YouTube user named Matt Watson found that the site’s recommendation algorithm was making it easier for pedophiles to connect and share child porn in the comments sections of certain videos. Not only was YouTube monetizing these videos, its recommendation algorithm was actively pushing thousands of users toward suggestive videos of children. […] The platform has promoted terrorist content, foreign state-sponsored propaganda, extreme hatred, softcore zoophilia, inappropriate kids content, and innumerable conspiracy theories. – Guillaume Chaslot
The further I proceeded down the list of results, the more I was confronted by the same kind of video aggregators, YouTube knock-offs and unwelcome pop-unders. Some links lead straight to MP3 download sites with no relation to my videos. Most are plastered full of Russian girls or redirect to the typical poorly-written Indian technology spam blog (who certainly could’ve made use of Grammarly’s services — although I’m not too sure if they wish to be associated with sites forcibly displaying NSFW stuff like this). Their operators are like drug pushers promising quality weed but instead flash a huge placard aiming towards a bunch of street hookers playing card tricks in a dark alley.
Dating and gambling sites are one thing but what about the games you get coaxed into? Every one purports to be the #1 MMO, and according to the warnings you must be be older than 18 years to play. And should you admit to being younger, you’re still kidnapped to the game. This internet is not for children or those with a weak disposition.
Sure, the early internet may have appeared a world wild west to some but what’s happening lately is outright malice. I’m not at all surprised that many people have retreated to the comparative safety which they think the shielded environments of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and the like offer.
Strange as this statement may seem under the circumstances, I’m somewhat thankful that it is Alphabet/Google who owns YouTube: Their greed ranks their “own” services higher in SERPs and indirectly curates and filters content in the process. Few users venture beyond the first page.
Compare this with Bing and Yahoo who only produced seven results for the same query — although their SERPs claimed “27 results”. DuckDuckGo and Yandex revealed slightly higher numbers but not nearly as deep as Google. Chinese search engine Baidu came up almost entirely blank, proving that censorship can have a positive side, too.
When we used to say that there’s nothing but shit on the tube, I didn’t know we were pre-emptively referring to YouTube.
Oh, and I’ve just discovered there’s a thing called ASMR videos, according to this Google report the biggest YouTube trend you’ve never heard of. Humanity is truly weird.
As the web celebrates its 30th birthday this year, this old dog learnt quite a few new things recently after all. The amount of shit out there is astounding, and it’s dangerous.
All screen grabs by hmvhDOTnet