Propaganda Watch–The Soul

Centennial Light, Fire Station #6, Livermore, California.

If you had to name the third biggest media company on YouTube behind Disney and Warner Media, who would you guess? Netflix? Amazon? Nope. The Soul Publishing.

That name’s not ringing a bell? Understandable because, even though the chances are you’ve seen one of their videos on one social media platform or another, their postings are via one of their many channels. One is Avacado Couple with animations about–you guessed it–a couple of sentient avacados. Another is Doodland which is doodles drawn and animated on everyday objects. There’s 123 Go! with pranks and life hacks. Now I’ve Seen Everything with life hacks. Bright Side with life hacks. 5 Minute Crafts with life hacks. Are you noticing a trend here? Between YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites, The Soul gathers millions of hits monthly. So how did a company specializing in life hacks and cheap animation become the third largest content provider? It’s not as straightforward as Disney’s success.

These life hacks are compilations of ten to fifteen second clips and recipes. You get pointers on how to get red wine out of a white carpet, how to make bread with just mashed potatoes and flour, how to use milk to get ink out of a t-shirt. The biggest problem? The “hacks” don’t work. Beer won’t get red wine out of your carpet. You can’t make bread without some sort of leavening agent. Milk won’t take ink out of fabrics. Some of the hacks are downright dangerous, like the recipe for white strawberries (use bleach!) or where they encourage brushing your teeth with hot glue.

If the videos don’t actually work, how do they get so many views? They look fascinating as long as you don’t think too hard. I personally had three people tag me on a video about how you can take hot charcoal and peanut butter to make a diamond. “This sounds like something you and the kid would have fun with!” Of course if you think about it for even a second it makes no sense, but we’ve fallen out of the habit of questioning things we see on video.

Another reason for their success is algorithms. Their clips aren’t designed around effectiveness, but around what will trigger the algorithm to suggest their video next on the sidebar. One suggestion triggers the next, and before you know if the channel’s had millions of hits and millions of dollars in ad revenue. And when you have a reported 140 channels at your disposal you can cross-tag from one “creator” to the next, artificially inflating the number of clicks. And the more clicks a video gets, the more it pops up in the recommended list.

So it’s a dishonest channel. It’s not the first to create fake content. So what if it’s a Russian company that isn’t forthcoming about the country of origin, or that they moved their video factory to Cypress after Facebook cracked down on Russian content? Their just a few Russians with glue guns (and hundreds of employees across at least three continents). Where is the harm? Why bother writing about The Soul Publishing on a Propaganda Watch column. The answer is that, despite a press release from The Soul denying any political activity, they have published some…interesting takes on history, specifically Russia’s place in the past and the future of the world. According to this piece from Lawfare Blog, under their “Smart Banana” channel, they’ve made claims like Khrushchev “gifted” Alaska to the United States and that Stalin was the Russian Robin Hood. They also had videos stating that the United States would no longer exist in 20 years, and eventually Russia would take over most of Europe.

No, there’s nothing right now that glaringly shows that The Soul Publishing has nefarious motivations, but there’s enough to make me believe it’s worth keeping an eye on. After all, even the 2016 interference included seemingly innocent content like Spongebob memes. This video from Ann Reardon both debunks a lot of the content and explains why to be concerned about The Soul:

I have to wonder if any of this really matters in our “post truth society” anyway. Even if The Soul isn’t involved in governmental conspiracies, they’ve been shown to push unsafe “tips and tricks” towards children and gullible adults. That alone should have been enough to get them shut down. However, there’s money to be made–hundreds of millions–so it’s easy for companies to look the other way. It was just recently announced that they garnered a Streamy Award nomination (the Oscar of online videos) for a series of collaborations between Five Minute Crafts and Mattel’s Barbie dolls. Yep, Mattel decided to partner up with the people who told kids to eat bleach because there was money to be made. I get the feeling a little revisionist history won’t mean much more either.

THIS IS AN OPEN THREAD. Take care, and be well.

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