Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 03, 2021
The fragility of the influencer business

On YouTube I have a long list of channels I am subscribed to. That serves a dual purpose: I get updates when these channels post something new, and the content providers get increased ad revenues, so it is kind of my way of at least minimally "paying" them for the content they create. One of the channels I am subscribed to is The Spiffing Brit, who makes amusing posts about how he is breaking various games with in-game exploits. The Spiffing Brit recently fell for a scam that got his YouTube channel deleted (but he recovered it since). So did Jim Browning, who has a channel exposing scammers. And apparently there are a number of other YouTubers who fell for the same scam. Now the scammer apparently wasn't all that much interested in monetizing his exploit, to me it appeared that he was deliberately targeting people who have channels about scams and exploits in order to measure himself against the most informed possible targets. But for me that action was somewhat revealing about the fragility of the influencer "industry".

You probably heard how earlier this year a ransomware attack shut down a major pipeline in the USA, resulting in gasoline shortages and price increases. It is one of a handful of examples of hackers causing real industrial damages, as opposed to causing damage to reputation. A lot of companies simply have their industrial process control systems deliberately *not* connected to the internet, so a hacker would need to first gain physical access to the location before being able to do any harm. But even more importantly, these process control systems tend to have failsafe mechanisms hardwired, so a hacker can shut a pipeline down, but he can't make that pipeline explode. While hackers are able to damage companies, ultimately a brick & mortar company always retains controls over their physical assets, and recovers from the attack.

In the case of influencers on YouTube, their YouTube channel basically *is* the company. If that channel gets deleted, and the YouTuber can't manage to persuade YouTube to reverse that deletion, the business is gone. I have some small scale personal insight into the influencer business from the time my blog was actually popular and I had my 15 minutes of Warholian fame on the internet. At the time some people recommended that I should move away from Blogger and onto Wordpress for this or that reason. And the reality of things is that you can't: Whatever subscriber base you have as an influencer, your Google page rank that leads searches to you, and all other similar systems are linked to your one output channel, whether that is a blog or a YouTube channel. Even if you have all the content saved on a hard drive, and you make a new channel with the same name and the same content, your history is attached to your original channel, and is gone if you switch. My blog was never a commercial enterprise, so a destruction of my blog wouldn't have hurt anything but my pride. But these days, some YouTubers make significant amounts of money, and actually employ other people, for example video editors. Some channels effectively are small companies in the content creation business.

The way the scammer got YouTubers to delete their channel was by pretending to be from YouTube and threatening their channel with deletion if they didn't follow certain steps in the account settings. That, and the fact that these YouTubers managed to get that deletion reversed by contacting the real YouTube, reveals that hackers aren't the greatest worry: The company controlling the platform is. YouTube channels get deleted all the time by YouTube, because the channel owner did something that is against a very complicated and imprecise set of rules and regulations. This is what made the scam believable. But it also means that the company YouTube is basically holding all those small content creation companies hostage.

It is hard to really understand the amount of power that platform provider company has over those other companies. One is tempted to see them as a sort of landlord. And yes, any small company renting an office somewhere could be evicted by their landlord; the difference is that such a company could probably easily find another office in another building to rent from somebody else. If your "landlord" YouTube is evicting you, not only will it be nearly impossible to find an equivalent alternative for your content; but your "landlord" basically controls all of your customers, and you can't take them with you to the new location.

While influencers and streamers obviously rely on their platform, the platform does rely on them as well, because those are the ones that ultimately drive the eyeballs that bring in the ad money.
It's enough for Twitch to pay seven figures to Ninja, YouTube to sign an exclusive deal with PewDiePie and Facebook to buy Instagram.
Who really needs to fear the platform are those that don't have a real audience and instead rely on sensation to provide drive-by clicks.
A lot of companies simply have their industrial process control systems deliberately *not* connected to the internet, so a hacker would need to first gain physical access to the location before being able to do any harm. But even more importantly, these process control systems tend to have failsafe mechanisms hardwired, so a hacker can shut a pipeline down, but he can't make that pipeline explode.

I wish that were generally the case, but in the US that is not so. Too many infrastructure systems in the US actually are hooked up to the internet and are prone to hacking. Back in 2015, the PBS show Nova demonstrated how hackers could infiltrate a power generating company's online presence --including one executive's boast that he could shut down his power generators from his phone-- and those hacker testers were able to destroy a power generator by manipulating the settings.

In my experience, companies don't give a rat's behind about security until they get hacked. Even then, they frequently make the decision that a certain amount of money lost to hackers is completely acceptable rather than take steps to prevent the hacks in the first place.
Not only are you correct but many people would be shocked to find out how many of these systems are also running old versions of Windows with known vulnerabilities months or years after they've been patched.

My own workplace is just now working on updating 25 process critical servers over the next 30 days because they haven't been taken offline to be patched in over a year.

I was in a division meeting today where one of our IT leads cracked a joke about how screwed we'd be if someone malicious found out the version of windows server we were still on for these servers.
I agree that it’s an insecure business model but it’s not that unusual. Lots of businesses piggy back on other platforms and leave themselves exposed. Just think of any company developing mobile apps or plugins for another piece of software. It’s why 'serious' influencers are setting up their own websites and subscription services to try and break the reliance on YT or Twitch.

A bigger risk, IMO, is building an audience around a single game. If the game tanks, a scandal happens, or you simply grow bored of it, you’re a bit screwed regardless of how you’re monetising your content. Just look at what’s happened to WoW and some of its key influencers recently. It doesn’t matter how their making money if they’re no longer playing the game people want to see them play.
@Unknow : True but you can pivot and switch to another game. This has happened multiple time in the past, not always with success. While you CANNOT switch from YouTUbe to something else : there is simply no concurrent. Even for Apps, there are still two platform ( Apple and Google) + the computer market + the Switch.

@Camo : A lot of very good content creator, with millions of subscriber are still not strong enough to go against YouTube.

Youtube is big enough that it should be regulated, and its censor power should be constrained ( in both direction) by governements. I am all for cutting the fund for dangerous channel to spread dangerous Health advices, or hate speech, , but this decision shall not be within the hand of a private company.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool