Saturday, October 16

The last frontier of disinformation: getting paid to tell conspiracies | Technology

A moment from the French documentary 'Hold-Up', financed by 370,000 euros obtained from two crowdfunding platforms and containing 30 disinformative elements according to France Presse.
A moment from the French documentary ‘Hold-Up’, financed by 370,000 euros obtained from two crowdfunding platforms and containing 30 disinformative elements according to France Presse.THE COUNTRY

The Youtube channel A lawyer against demagogy invited biologist Fernando López Mirones to speak about the Pfizer vaccine. “Here a different opinion about the official truth is disclosed,” says lawyer Aitor Guisasola at the beginning of the video. López Mirones explains that due to the beginning of the confinement he could not go to “a filming in the Indian Ocean of sharks” and instead did a “master’s degree in virology in 10 months”. That has allowed him to reach “tremendous conclusions” about the pandemic.

After two minutes of conversation, the biologist López Mirones warned that he had spent “eight hours” analyzing a document from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer about the vaccine in the US and his conclusion was that, “if they say this themselves, tie up the males” . Then Guisasola interrupts the recording: “From the rest of the video I have my doubts if it could be contrary to the community rules of YouTube,” he says. “Since I already have two strikes [avisos] and I don’t want to risk getting the channel thrown at me, I’m not going to upload the rest of the video here “, and he sends users to his website, outside of social networks:” I think this is true and that it’s fine but good, come over that you will be interested in ”, he adds.

The introductory video is still visible on the Instagram account, which used to be about physical and mental culture (Guisasola is very muscular). On YouTube the video is no longer there. There Guisasola has 208,000 subscribers and in November they already limited publications for a few days for publishing disinformation about the pandemic, according to YouTube. His videos have been viewed more than 32 million times. Most focus on their opinion on apparent political profligacy, but there is also a good deal on “how they control us” and the pandemic. Guisasola has not responded to EL PAÍS ‘attempt to contact him.

Guisasola also has accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Telegram, although YouTube is its central channel. His most recent account is on Patreon, a crowdfunding website. There users finance the activity of their favorite creators. These platforms are the last digital island that disinformation in Spanish aspires to conquer, according to a new report published this Friday by Eu Disinfo Lab, a non-governmental organization dedicated to combating disinformation.

“Conspirators and fringe movements try to be present on crowdfunding platforms,” ​​says the report. “They use this funding method as a way to fund their social media activities and often use Patreon as an alternative channel when they feel censored on other platforms.”

The study has found 17 accounts linked to misinformation or conspiracy in Spain. Most have only a handful of employers who give a few euros a month. Patreon allows you not to publish your total income, so it is not possible to give a specific figure. The biggest example, according to the report, is Estado de Alarma TV, a YouTube channel run by journalist Javier Negre and analyst Cristina Seguí. They have 623 patrons on Patreon. Eu Disinfo Lab estimates that their income can reach 60,000 euros per month.

The criteria of Eu Disinfo Lab to define the channels that misinform are summarized in two: to spread theories already dismantled by fact-checkers and use in their presentations concepts commonly related to conspiracies such as new world order, QAnon, 5G, covid or Bill Gates.

This jump from platform to platform serves these channels to expand their audience and now also directly monetize it, without the mediation of advertising. Both in Spain and in Latin America the irruption on Patreon or other platforms has occurred this year. Confinement has generated many free hours where the consumption of all kinds of information has multiplied. After the good result in the Latino vote for Donald Trump in the US elections, the New York Times inquired about disinformation in Spanish. In one of his pieces It mentioned the channels Informativo G24 and Mr Capacho. They both have their page on Patreon.

The lament for the supposed censorship of the networks, the media or the “progress” is a useful resource to try to earn money. “Disinformation actors who spread conspiracy theories will play with the idea that there are forces trying to censor them and that they need financial support to be able to work and find the truth,” says Raquel Miguel, external researcher at Eu Disinfo Lab. YouTube “ads” and the possible loss of the account is that the video platform is not only a great tool to reach new followers, but also allows you to monetize messages with ads. In Patreon, income is stable and is independent of the views that a video may have.

If at the moment its success is residual or of little impact, it is not reason enough to underestimate it: “In France it was the same two years ago”, says Miguel. But now there is a remarkable example. The documentary Hold Up achieved 370,000 euros in two French crowdfunding platforms [Ulule y Tipeee] and it reached a very wide audience. According to France Presse, the documentary contained at least 30 disinformative elements about the pandemic ”, he adds.

Patreon announced in October its policy of suspending accounts linked to QAnon, the group born in the US networks that maintains that there is a worldwide conspiracy linked to pedophile networks run by Democratic leaders and Hollywood stars. One of those found by Eu Disinfo Lab is, in fact, already suppressed for its mentions of this conspiracy theory closely linked to Trump supporters. To questions from EL PAÍS, Patreon has announced that it has more announcements planned in the near future about disinformation. Meanwhile, however, they act when someone warns them or proactively, which can take time, warn company sources, because it is done manually by real people.

Patreon allows you to close posts only for patrons. That feature may become a powerful tool for disinformation spreaders in the near future. Without users reporting content, it would be more difficult for their accounts to be censored. The problem is turning users into patrons. By the figures that are currently seen in Spain, you have to have many hundreds of thousands of followers to achieve a few hundred euros a month. Or, in the case of Estado de Alarma TV, be a large team with more access to professional profiles and resources.

The report also aims to put Spanish on the map of misinformation. Platforms first take care of what happens in English and then jump to other languages. Patreon is available in Spanish only from the month of October.

“There will never be a solution that completely prevents the monetization of disinformation, but it is important that action is taken to make it more complicated,” says Miguel. “Disinformation should not be a business to get money from easily,” he adds.

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