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Fooling The Ephemeral Internet, One Trick At A Time

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By Prateek Waghre:

The fact that a number of black hat tricksters have been around trying to game the internet is a well known fact. People using ‘crooked’ practices to boost their search engine rankings is one of the reasons Google cites for keeping its search algorithm such a closely guarded secret.

But those are black hatters. What happens when average joe’s are able to outsmart the system without doing anything radically ‘Black Hat’. In fact, some of them don’t even qualify as White Hat. Over the last 7-10 days I’ve stumbled across 3 such instances, from tactics similar to flash mobs to good old fashioned repetition, people have been trying to find ways to increase their relevance period in the increasingly ephemeral internet.

Tweet More to Score More!

The first instance concerns the weapon of choice for many — Twitter. Adrian Pelzer set out to study whether merely tweeting a lot is a way to gain popularity on Twitter, and increase your Klout score. I realize Klout is by no means a standard for measuring influence on Twitter, still many people tend to regard Klout scores with some legitimacy. Twitter apps like HootSuite tie it into profile displays too. He set up 4 bots that sent out tweets at fixed intervals — once in a minute, once in 5 minutes, once in fifteen minutes and once in thirty minutes. They were anonymous, no bio, no avatars and did not follow anyone.

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He let them run for 80 days after which he compared the number of followers and their klout scores. The gist of it was — The more you tweet, the more followers you have and the higher your Klout score is. The quality of tweets din’t matter as much as the quantity. Of course a percentage of the followers were other bots. While PeerIndex, though it kept the rating of the bots low, gave these bots a 75% realness score, which meant that there was a 75% chance it was a human! It gave some known human users a significantly lower score.

Now you see how influential spam can be on twitter! And all those people who are constantly on the lookout for seemingly ‘intellectual’ tweets to increase their follower count — you might find this useful.

Open May not be so great after all

Another amazing revelation was made by Artem Russakovskii on AndroidPolice. While there is plenty of debate over which is better — iOS’ closed ecosystem vs Android’s open (not open source) ecosystem. Indeed, both of them have their pros and cons depending on how you look at it, or which way your bias lies. Apple has always maintained a tight leash over the app store and in most cases, very meticulously curated the apps it has listed on its app store. If you were to compare the the App Store v/s Android’s Market — whether in terms of user experience or who rakes in the moolah for developers — Apple is clearly many steps ahead. This post on Android police highlighted how some developers were exploiting the open app approval of the android market.

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After receiving plenty of bad reviews, these rogue developers would pull down their apps from the app store and re submit it to the app store with a new package name. And then give it a 5 star rating as soon as it went back on. This practice also ensured that the app stayed on the ‘Newest’ list and that it got picked up by sites like AppBrain. And when users voted it down again, they would repeat the whole process. The post cited that one of the apps had appeared 175 times. Somewhere I can hear Steve Jobs having a hearty laugh.

Most Read News?

Now, if like me, you are someone who does most of your reading, news consumption online. This next example is unlikely to make you happy. It isn’t possible for any human to pick out the most relevant and popular stories all the time. Which is why several sites have incorporated filters like Most Viewed/Shared/Trending etc. Daily Beast’s Thomas Weber set out to find out how many emails it takes to break into New York Times’ Most Emailed list. The NYTimes is one of the most visited news sites on the web with a US Alexa rank of 27 and receives about 50 million unique visitors each month. And unlike a lot of other websites, that display their most read stories, NYTimes showcases its most emailed stories far more prominently, because it believes that mailing a story is a greater sign of engagement. We’ll buy that for the time being.

What Thomas Weber did was simple. Similar to a real world flash mob, volunteers would descend onto the New York Times during a certain period of time and email a pre selected, obscure and uninteresting article — that someone else was unlikely to share — to other people.

(Image Credit)

First they determined that it was the number of users who emailed it that mattered, and not the number of people it was shared with. It took under 50 senders to break into the ‘Popular’ stories in the science section. But obviously needed a significantly higher number to reach the most emailed list on the front page of the website. It took all of 1270 mails to break into the top 5 Emailed stories — over a period of 24 hours. Which, if you look at it in terms of its actual traffic, really isn’t that high a number. And sure, some might argue that Most Emailed isn’t as indicative as Most Viewed. But at the time of writing this post — 8 of the Most Emailed stories appeared on the Most Viewed list as well. So there is definitely a strong correlation between the lists. Besides, an article in the most emailed list, is going to attract plenty of page views by virtue of being there.

On all accounts, it seems like this experiment was done outside of peak traffic hours on the website. But isn’t the number of emails that it took, for the story to break into to top 5. It was the relative ease with which the entire thing could be orchestrated that is cause for concern.

I’ve also previously written about the Resig brothers, who routinely make viral memes with the aim of seeing them rise in popularity. And while, two of these three examples were investigative in nature, the ease with which they were carried out shows us that some of the filters we use on the net are very susceptible to being ‘gamed’ and I can think of countless ways to use them unethically for profit. As I’m sure many already have. And some are probably doing too. There is serious cause for concern as more of our world moves online, where most tweets are lost within 30 minutes of being posted and we are constantly dealing with a barrage of information.

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz. He blogs at WatBlog.com and AllThingsSensical.co.cc. This post was originally published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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