Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blackwater and JSOC in Pakistan going viral - then squashed


Mickey Mouse's brooms go viral in The Sorcerer's Apprentice

[Dear Redditors - see update at the bottom of the page.]

[On Thursday, my previous article "All the news..." - except Blackwater became the number one article on Reddit. The word was spreading like wildfire throughout the internet. The article got over 7,000 hits that day. It got picked up by aggregator sites and was being twittered and emailed around the web. Then the article was suddenly banned by Reddit. The next day the hits went down to a little over 1,000. And today, just two days later, the hits on the article were down around 100.]
Wehe! Wehe!
Beide Teile
steh'n in Eile
schon als Knechte

(Woe is me! Both pieces
come to life anew,
now, to do my bidding
I have servants two!)

[...]
Die ich rief, die Geister,
werd' ich nun nicht los.

(From the spirits that I called
Sir, deliver me!)


Excerpts from "Der Zauberlehrling"
written by Goethe in 1797 ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice")

Going viral

With the emergence of the internet came a new phenomenon - going viral. We all remember the video of the Star Wars Kid with the 'lightsaber'. Then there was the "Yes We Can" video of 'will i. am' that helped launch Obama's campaign into the stratosphere.

By this time, we all recognize the power of the internet to shape public opinion. There is even a nouveau name for this - an internet meme. Social media websites attempt to capitalize on this phenomenon by giving users a platform through which to popularize articles or videos which would otherwise go undiscovered. We're all familiar with some of the popular forms of social media.
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Blogs
  • Digg 
  • Reddit
  • and most recently - Twitter
Social media can be viewed as an alternative to mainstream media (MSM) that is inherently democratic and populist. In theory it is a bottom up movement - as opposed to the top down structure of the MSM. It is interactive and vibrant. And it is wildly popular.

So how does an article or video go viral? It has to start out somewhere. I've had articles go viral in the past, so I can speak from my own experience.

A drop in the internet ocean

There is an enormous amount of material being posted on the web on a daily basis these days. So how is it that some articles achieve viral status, while the vast majority sink into obscurity.

There is a certain randomness to this process for sure. If the initial response from a few viewers is negative, then the story will never even get started. But once that first bunch of viewers anoints a story as newsworthy, then the fun really begins. If timing and the synergies are just right, then the story can move into the top spot on a particular social media site.

There is a sort of snowballing/avalanche effect that helps this along. Once an article is popular, then more people will see it and the more likely it is to get more popular.

From there a new process kicks in. Having reached the pinnacle of a particular site, the story then begins to appear on aggregator sites. These are sites that post the top stories on social media websites, and there are lots of them. Many more than you are probably aware of. In addition, some MSM-lite sites like Huffington Post and Wired post links to the top stories as well.

Simultaneously, people that have read the story begin to re-post it on discussion forums (like Democratic Underground), and on their Facebook pages or on their blogs and on twitter.

All of this activity causes web search engines like Google to take notice. The article rises in priority on web searches which causes more traffic to the article and results in yet another positive feedback loop.

This exponentially expanding process is what we mean when we say a story has "gone viral".

Closing the floodgates

Now how would you stop this process. Simple. You just don't let it get started in the first place; you "nip it in the bud"; you squash it at an early stage. This way you cut off the feedback loop that sustains a story as it goes viral - much like a hurricane feeds off warm ocean waters. If you cool the water then you can stop the hurricane dead in its tracks.

Now, cooling off the ocean is a tall task. After all the ocean is vast and is not under the direct control of man. But in the case of the internet, the idea that no one is control is a bit of an illusion. There are centralized pockets of control. And those in control can decide the fate of a story, by shutting it off quickly before it can sprout offspring.

And even if the story isn't caught at its earliest stages of development, it can still be dampened by pulling the plug on it within the powerful social media sites that are the incubators of these viral media storms.

Case in point - my article on Blackwater and JSOC black ops in Pakistan titled "All the news... - except Blackwater". This particular article had attained the number one status on Reddit in the worldnews section which is one of the most popular 'subreddits' on the site. It was starting to show up on aggregators such as OurSignal, JimmyR and Trendalicious.

With a phenomenal Reddit score of 1200, it  was riding high and was at the number 1 spot on in Reddit worldnews (and I assume on Reddit overall). And then suddenly, the plug was pulled on this article. It was banned and totally disappeared from the site rankings - even though you can still find the article on the site if you know the direct link.

(The reason given for banning it from the worldnews subreddit was that it was more of a US story than a "world news" story despite the main issue being US involvement in Pakistan. By that criteria it would seem that any story about US involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan should not be considered a "world news" story either.)

Normally a highly popular article like this would remain on the front page for about a day or two before gradually slipping down the rankings and being replace by newer articles. But in this case it was made to disappear in an instance - as if it had been taken out in a strategic hit by a smart guidance missile. And once it disappeared from Reddit, it also disappeared from all the real-time aggregators - so with one surgical strike, the article was 'disappeared' from multiple internet outlets in a sort of virtual "extraordinary rendition".

(Also keep in mind that Reddit is the property of Condé Nast[y] - a media empire that includes such well known brands as Vogue, Glamour, GQ, Vanity Fair, Wired and The New Yorker. Curiously enough, nowhere on the Condé Nast[y] website does it ever mention Reddit. The question in this case is: Was some high up muckity-muck in Condé Nast[y] involved in the decision to shut down this article? We'll probably never know.)

Score one for the CIA/JSOC/Blackwater bad guys. But before the bad guys had a chance to act, the story was prominently displayed on the internet for a few hours. And hundreds of links were established and twitter messages were sent and resent.

America, the beautiful?

And most importantly Jeremy Scahill's article, "Blackwater's Secret War in Pakistan", is still available online. And the resistance continues. Black ops are the most evil part of the American War Empire. It is the part of the American Empire that most Americans are least aware of, but that everywhere else across the globe is well recognized. Torture, kidnapping and assassinations are being routinely used to squash political dissent around the world in our name.

Why do they hate us? They hate us for our stupidity - our willing blindness to the facts. The Truth is out there, and it is the duty of every American citizen to uncover that Truth. We cannot endlessly blame the MSM for lying to us and deceiving us, when we are the ones who are unwilling to face the ugly facts head-on. It's time to look in the mirror America!

"Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who's the fairest of them all?" You have been told all your life that it is you, America. You have been painted a glorious self-portrait of beauty beyond compare. You have been told a lie. Look at yourself as much of the world sees you - a hideous ogre that feeds on the blood of innocent children.



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[UPDATE - NOV 29 11:20 AM]

This article has sparked a lively debate on Reddit. Go here to see the comments and participate in the discussion.

There is a Reddit administrator named jedberg that has joined in on the discussion. Here is a snapshot of all of his comments. (My apologies if I missed any.)
jedberg [A] -13 points(+15/-27) 6 hours ago[-]
Why is it funny? It was banned by a moderator of worldnews for being off-topic.

jedberg [A] (+39/-29)13 points 6 hours ago[-]
We did not remove the link. One of the moderators of the worldnews community removed it for being off-topic.

jedberg [A] -3 points(+22/-24) 6 hours ago[-]
We don't censor. It was removed by one of the worldnews moderators for being off-topic.

jedberg [A] -6 points(+25/-30) 6 hours ago[-]
If we were "censoring" as all of you seem to believe, wouldn't we remove this article?
The post was removed from worldnews for being off-topic.
And here are some of the many supportive comments from redditors.
anonymous-coward (+38/-10)31 points 9 hours ago[-]
Hmm.
Go here to the article: http://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/comments/a8ept/jeremy_scahill_says_pentagon_attempted_to/
It is in worldnews.
Now search for "Jeremy Scahill" - the article does not show up in /r/worldnews. Now search for "Jeremy Scahill Pentagon" and a repost shows up in /r/politics, with fewer points.
So it is apparently correct that it was wiped from worldnews. Seems a little funny.

Atman00 20 points(+26/-8) 6 hours ago[-]
Because it's clearly not off topic. This is about a war between two countries that are thousands of miles apart. Just because an article also deals with the US doesn't mean it's not considered world news.

ClittyClittyGangBang 6 points(+9/-3) 5 hours ago* [-]
One would think that after amassing 1000+ points in the subreddit the mod(s) would accept the article was on-topic and relevant for their readers.
Not to the worldnews mods - so much as use the letters "U" and "S" and it's deleted.
Worldnews seems to be a little dictatorship where the mods get to exercise their own anti-U.S. inferiority complex.

cheap_black_hat (+47/-27)24 points 12 hours ago[-]
Conde Nast is part of the dreaded mainstream media. redditors seem to forget that reddit is someone's property, not a bastion of free speech.

shopcat (+27/-3)24 points 5 hours ago[-]
It seems that decision by a single mod hasn't reflected favorably on the reddit community as a whole. We aren't able to edit headlines for fear that we will manipulate them once they get to the front page and yet a single mod can wipe out a story with a score of over a thousand and hundreds of comments.

ItsAConspiracy (+7/-1)7 points 1 hour ago[-]
Might be a good idea to remove that power from moderators, once the community in that section judges a story that favorably.

minor9sharp11 (+17/-5)14 points 6 hours ago[-]
Yeah I saw it in the worldnews feed and thought how that would be better placed in politics. I don't think it was not worldnews though since it deals with Pakistani and US relations.
Ohh well.

outhere (+6/-1)6 points 1 hour ago[-]
Hmmm... all this time I thought regular redditors were supposed to downvote off-topic posts. Didn't know mods were editors/censors. My whole opinion of reddit has changed.

Tangurena 15 points(+27/-11) 9 hours ago[-]
People keep asking why newspapers in this country are dying. This story is why they're dying - they keep covering up for the corruption in our government, the newspapers keep covering up for the evil done in our name. They kept news about the illegal wiretaps covered up for more than a year - if they had reported it when it was still news then there would have been no 2nd term for bush. When the last newspaper dies in the US, I will rejoice.

therabbit 5 points(+15/-11) 10 hours ago* [-]
Of course reddit will never admit it and fain disgust when asked if they censor, when we all know they can shadow ban and they do on a daily basis.

ClittyClittyGangBang 9 points(+12/-3) 5 hours ago[-]
And they're effectively different...how?
In particular, the article in question had received ~2000+ upvotes. So the opinion of relevance of thousands of redditors is less important than one moderator/censor?
The pernicious thing about censorship is that the censors themselves rarely see it as such. It's almost always seen as "moderation," or some similarly right-thinking synonym.
If it's effectively censorship - it's censorship.

sinn0304 (+9/-1)10 points 4 hours ago[-]
I'm not sure the "censorship" is whats making people upset. It's the fact that 1 mod just overruled thousands of upvotes. You just told us, no matter how much we like a story, and how many upvotes we throw at it, you still reserve the right to remove it and squash the discussion. Nice job telling your users they're no longer important in the decision making process for what's relevant, and what's not.

jules_siegel (+12/-2)11 points 4 hours ago[-]
Please. I'm a journalist. I've been accustomed to hearing the "we just" excuse year after year. You didn't censor it. Of course not. You just buried it through a technical maneuver. And it wasn't you. It was just some moderator. Well, maybe you should have a little talk with that moderator and find out why he/she/it essentially killed a very popular story that just happened to expose official censorship by the powers that be. These incidents are always explained away as honest mistakes or differences of opinion. In my experience (vast, believe me), they rarely are.

sinn0304 10 points(+12/-2) 4 hours ago[-]
This needs to be said over and over again. Thousands of people deem it on-topic enough to upvote it, yet because 1 mod says its not, we all lose. Nice modding policy, jedberg.
I love Reddit. I really do.

7 comments:

Virginia Hoge said...

these freaks are out to stop the truth from getting out by any means they can, great reporting, Frank

Dev said...

I am from India. Pakistan believes in and wages wars liberally. Overtly and covertly. We have decades of experience at the receiving end of Pakistan. If Pakistan targets you, the US, you have these options - 1) Stay put 2) Act against them.

So silly to even mention these options, isn't it? But if you stay put, wishing that Pakistan will stop its activities, like us Indians do, then you will only get hit more and more by rampaging terrorists. At home and abroad.

You don't want to act (or not act) like us Indians. But if that's what you want, you know what to expect.

A Pakistani said...

@Dev

What crap are you talking about? Do you really think Pakistan wages wars liberally.

Let me guess...Perhaps you want Blackwater to operate in Pakistan. And my dear friend Pakistan has no intentions on attacking US, this is pure bullshit.

And then you talk about Terrorism, first lets talk about who is providing them with weapons. Did you read the news about the discovery of huge quantity of Arms, Explosions, and Ammunition in South Waziristan. Wait a sec, isn't this called Covert operation? So isn't India helping terrorist blow everything up inside Pakistan? Perhaps you have an answer for it.

Get your facts straight buddy, we are a peaceful nation just like you. It is just a small part of the country that is ridden with terrorism(again, just like your country). The powerful explosions that are occurring in various cities, we all know where they come from.

And yes, for your info, I am from Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

@Pakistani...

Do like everybody does... listen to the media and the government because they speak the truth and nothing but the truth.

If you're Pakistani, sorry I cannot give you much credibility. You guys have failed miserably.

Facebook Geek said...

Very good article on a subject that has been receiving increasing coverage recently, but once not enough to bring it to the minds of the western world.

It's funny because I recently came across a book called 'is: The Phenomenon of the Facebook Status' that gives an insight into life in the 21st century via Facebook Statuses and has been receiving fantastic reviews.
It has a website with a Facebook Status Generator that has been getting a huge amount of hits.

http://www.theisbook.com/status-generator

Keep up the good work mate, looking forward to reading more of your stuff

Frank Hope said...

@Facebook - It's funny because your comment doesn't mention any specifics of my article and looks like a blatant attempt at self-promotion. Whatever.

Gaga 4 Dada said...

"......Social media can be viewed as an alternative to mainstream media (MSM) that is inherently democratic and populist. In theory it is a bottom up movement - as opposed to the top down structure of the MSM. It is interactive and vibrant. And it is wildly popular......."

I am a skeptic and counsel all to consider anything on social media with a grain of salt.
The MSM at times can get the story wrong, but we know where they are coming from, I believe the MSM to be shills for the establishment and read their stories through that prism.

On Social media you get crazies, folks with an ax to grind, provocateurs and echo chambers. AND SOMETIMES you get the truth months before the MSM will deign to report it.

Sift through the pixels carefully my friends.