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May 26, 2017, 1:36 p.m.
Audience & Social

Vox’s video about Chechen leader accused of torturing gay people is being spammed with dislikes

As of noon on Friday, the video had 8,453 likes and 4,703 dislikes. The typical ratio of likes to dislikes on a Vox video is 10:1.

In its first few hours online, Vox’s video on current leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov — under whose rule a vicious anti-gay pogrom has begun — performed like a usual Vox video on YouTube.

The typical likes-to-dislikes ratio for a Vox video is 10:1, but between 2 to 3 p.m. on Thursday, the producer of the video Mac Schneider noticed the likes to dislikes ratio on the Ramzan Kadyrov video had tipped to 1:1 (as of noon on Friday, the video had 8,453 likes and 4,703 dislikes), Vox’s executive producer Joe Posner told me in an email explaining the timeline. Around this time, there was a spike in traffic to the video from Russia.

Vox also received a privacy complaint via YouTube’s reporting mechanism — the first time it had ever received this type of complaint in its three years of publishing video, according to Posner. Between 2 to 6 p.m., Vox received 230 more similar complaints.

I reached out to YouTube with some questions — as did the Vox team — but haven’t yet heard back on what exactly is going on. The evidence points to a coordinated effort, whether a botnet or humans or a mix.

Exploiting social media’s reporting tools to get a post taken down is a familiar strategy. The Guardian reported in 2015 how paid trolls, for instance, have been deployed to flood social media or comments sections of Western media with pro-Putin and pro-Kremlin comments. Bloggers critical of the government have been targeted with reports of policy violations, and social networks like Facebook haven’t come up with a good way to distinguish between political attacks or real violation reports.

POSTED     May 26, 2017, 1:36 p.m.
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