Doctor and activist


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Category: Media

Fake News a Service

4 October 2021

It is unsurprising that fake news is now an industry.  Clearly if Facebook and other social media have many posts, it is just a question of paying people to say what you want, either a lot of people or a few people pretending to be a lot of people.

This is now at the stage that it can determine perceptions and elections.  It is as if technology empowers little people for a while until those with power are able to use and control it.

Here is a story that I had missed, the use of tweets to rubbish the BBC for having a story that forest fires were deliberately lit in Indonesia to clear forests for palm oil plantations.  And the people paying for a slag on the BBC were…?

The Oxford Internet Institute found 48 cases of States working for influence-for- hire firms in 2019-20, up from 21 in 2017-18.

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Chomsky- the 10 Strategies of Media Manipulation

16 July 2021

Chomsky is one of the most important intellectuals alive. He has charted the ability of the State to control people without force, which is the key difference between us and the totalitarian states.

He has drawn up the list of the 10 strategies of manipulation through mass media.

1-The strategy of distraction

The primordial element of social control is the distraction strategy that consists of diverting the public’s attention from major problems and the changes decided by political and economic elites, through flooding by continuous distractions and insignificant information.

Distraction strategy is also essential to prevent the public from becoming interested in essential knowledge in the area of science, economics, psychology, neurobiology and cybernetics. Keeping the audience’s attention deviated from real social problems, imprisoned by themes without real importance.

Keeping the public busy, busy, busy, with no time to think, back to the farm like other animals (quoted in the text ′′ Silent weapons for quiet wars ′′).

2-Creating problems and then offering the solutions.

This method is also called the ′′ problem-reaction-solution “. It creates a problem, a ′′ situation ′′ planned to cause a certain reaction from the public, with the aim that this is the mandate of the measures they want to accept. For example: letting urban violence intensify or spread, or organize bloody attacks, with the aim of the public then requiring security laws and policies to the detriment of freedom. Also: creating an economic crisis to make social rights demotion and dismantling of public services accepted as a necessary evil.

3-The Strategy of Graduation.

To make an unacceptable measure accepted, you only need to apply it gradually, by dropper, for consecutive years. This is how radically new socioeconomic conditions (neoliberism) were imposed during the decades of the 80 s and 90 s: minimum state, privatisation, precariousness, flexibility, mass unemployment, wages that no longer guarantee dignified incomes , so many changes that would have brought about a revolution if they were implemented at once.

4-The Strategy of Deferring.

Another way to get an unpopular decision to accept is to present it as ′′ painful and necessary “, gaining public acceptance, in the moment, for future application. It is easier to accept a future sacrifice than an immediate sacrifice. First, because effort isn’t that taken immediately. Second, because the public, the mass, always tends to naively hope that ′′ everything will be better tomorrow ′′ and that the required sacrifice could be avoided. This gives the audience more time to get used to the idea of change and accept it resigned when the time comes.

5-Reach to the public like children.

Most publicity advertising uses speeches, topics, characters and a particularly childish intonation, many times close to weakness, as if the viewer was a few years old creature or a mental moron. When you try to deceive the viewer the more you tend to use a childish tone. Why? Why? ′′ If someone addresses a person as if they are 12 or under, then based on suggestionability, they will probably tend to a response or reaction even without a critical sense like that of a 12 person. years or less ′′ (see ′′ Silent Weapons for quiet wars ′′).

6-Using emotional aspect much more than reflection.

Take advantage of emotion it’s a classic technique to provoke a short circuit on a rational analysis and, finally, the critical sense of the individual. Additionally, the use of emotional register allows the unconscious access door to implant or inject ideas, desires, fears and fears, compulsions, or induce behaviors.

7-Keeping the public in ignorance and mediocrity.

Making the public incapable of understanding the technologies and methods used for their control and slavery.

′′ The quality of education given to lower social classes must be as poor and mediocre as possible, so that the distance of ignorance that plans between lower classes and upper classes is and remains impossible to fill from the lower classes “.

8-Stimulating the public to be complacent with mediocrity.

Pushing the audience to think it’s fashionable to be stupid, vulgar and ignorant…

9-Strengthening self-guilt.

Making the individual believe that he is only the culprit of his disgrace, because of his insufficient intelligence, skills or efforts. So, instead of rebelling against the economic system, the individual devalues himself and blames himself, which in turn creates a depressive state, one of whose effects is the inhibition of his action. And without action there is no revolution!

10-Knowing individuals better than they know themselves.

Over the past 50 years, science’s rapid progress has generated a growing gap between public knowledge and those possessed and used by dominant elites. Thanks to biology, neurobiology, and applied psychology, the ′′ system ′′ has enjoyed advanced knowledge of the human being, both in its physical and psychological form. The system has managed to learn better about the common individual than he knows himself. This means that, in most cases, the system exercises greater control and greater power over individuals, greater than that which the same individual exercises over himself.

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Noam Chomsky’s 10 Media Manipulation Strategies

10 May 2021

Noam Chomsky, one of the most important intellectuals in life today, has drawn up the list of 10 media manipulation strategies.Give 5 minutes and you won’t regret it.If only to expand your knowledge.

1-The strategy of distractionThe primordial element of social control is the distraction strategy which consists of diverting the public’s attention from major problems and the changes decided by political and economic elites, through the flooding technique or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.Distraction strategy is also essential to prevent the public from becoming interested in essential knowledge in the area of science, economics, psychology, neurobiology and cybernetics. Keeping the audience’s attention deviated from real social problems, imprisoned by themes without real importance.Keeping the public busy, busy, busy, with no time to think, back to the farm like other animals (quoted in the text ′′ Silent weapons for quiet wars ′′).

2-Creating problems and then offering the solutions.This method is also called a ′′ problem-reaction-solution “. It creates a problem, a ′′ situation ′′ planned to cause a certain reaction from the public, with the aim that this is the source of the measures they want to accept. For example: letting urban violence intensify or intensify, or organize bloody attacks, with the aim of the public being those requiring security laws and policies to the detriment of freedom. Also: create an economic crisis to make social rights demotion and dismantle public services accept as a necessary evil.

3-The Strategy of Graduation.To make an unacceptable measure accepted, you only need to apply it gradually, to dropper, for consecutive years. This is how radically new socioeconomic conditions (neoliberism) were imposed during the decades of the 80 s and 90 s: minimum state, privatisation, precariousness, flexibility, mass unemployment, wages that no longer guarantee dignified incomes , so many changes that would have brought about a revolution if they were implemented at once.

4-The Strategy of Deferring.Another way to get an unpopular decision accepted is to present it as ′′ painful and necessary “, gaining public acceptance, in the moment, for future application. It is easier to accept a future sacrifice than an immediate sacrifice. First, because effort isn’t that taken immediately. Second, because the public, the mass, always tends to naively hope that ′′ everything will be better tomorrow ′′ and that the required sacrifice could be avoided. This gives the audience more time to get used to the idea of change and accept it resigned when the time comes.

5-Reach to the public like children.Most advertisements directed at the large audience use speeches, arguments, characters and a particularly childish intonation, many times close to weakness, as if the viewer was a few years old creature or a mental moron. When you try to deceive the viewer the more you tend to use a childish tone. Why? Why? ′′ If someone addresses a person as if they are 12 or under, then based on suggestionability, they will probably tend to a response or reaction even without a critical sense like that of a 12 person. years or less ′′ (see ′′ Silent Weapons for quiet wars ′′).

6-Using emotional aspect much more than reflection.Take advantage of emotion it’s a classic technique to provoke a short circuit on a rational analysis and finally the critical sense of the individual. Additionally, the use of emotional register allows the unconscious access door to implant or inject ideas, desires, fears and fears, compulsions, or induce behaviors.

7-Keeping the public in ignorance and mediocrity.Making the public incapable of understanding the technologies and methods used for their control and slavery.′′ The quality of education given to lower social classes must be as poor and mediocre as possible, so that the distance of ignorance that plans between lower classes and upper classes is and remains impossible to fill from the lower classes “.

8-Stimulating the public to be complacent with mediocrity.Pushing the audience to think it’s fashionable to be stupid, vulgar and ignorant…

9-Strengthening self-guilt.Making the individual believe that he is only the culprit of his disgrace, because of his insufficient intelligence, skills or efforts. So, instead of rebelling against the economic system, the individual devalues himself and blames himself, which in turn creates a depressive state, one of whose effects is the inhibition of his action. And without action there is no revolution!

10-Knowing individuals better than they know themselves.Over the past 50 years, science’s rapid progress has generated a growing gap between public knowledge and those possessed and used by dominant elites. Thanks to biology, neurobiology, and applied psychology, the ′′ system ′′ has enjoyed advanced knowledge of the human being, both in its physical and psychological form. The system has managed to learn better about the common individual than he knows himself. This means that, in most cases, the system exercises greater control and greater power over individuals, greater than that which the same individual exercises over himself.

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Fake Facebook Pages Allow Dictators to Rule

1 May 2021

A Facebook whistleblower, Sophie Zhang, says that in many countries fake pages are distorting perceptions of politicians and trolling opposition leaders.  She says that while there is some interest in this in the Western Democracies there is not much interest in countries like Honduras, Azerbaijan, Mexico and the Philippines.  Clearly if action is delayed in these areas politicians may win elections, distorting whole nations’ futures. 

Sophie Zhang was a low-level data analyst who found this and tried to get Facebook management interest, but was continually rebuffed and finally sacked. 

Marx said that ‘Power is control of the means of production’ in that it gave access to money, but now it would seem that power is control of the means of information.  This is why Murdoch and Fox are so powerful.  With 70% of Australia’s print media a drip-feed of negative stories can get rid of governments. 

My personal view is that the fact that Rudd would not change the media ownership laws in Murdoch’s favour was why Rudd fell, though of course his two other key policies, a carbon tax, and royalties on mining offended the mining lobby.  Offending both Murdoch and the miners was terminal.

Apart from the mainstream media (MSM) the other significant media player, which the population think that they control, is the social media, particularly Facebook.  We might ask whether it determined the 2016 US election that elected Trump, or the 2016 Brexit vote.  My more recent view is that my own personal lack of awareness of the power of social media probably cost me my seat in NSW Parliament.

Be all this as it may, Sophie Zhang has raised a very important issue in the power of Facebook and the clash between its commercial interests and its social function. Like many whistle-blowers, she is a hero who has suffered for her efforts.

www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/apr/12/facebook-fake-engagement-whistleblower-sophie-zhang

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Liberal Government Backflips

30 April 2021 Morrison is running a highly Presidential style of government such that the evening news is now more like ‘What Morrison did today’. This reminds me of when I was in Parliament and would try to sell an issue to the Parliamentary media, and they would say, ‘We’ve got our NSW story for today; it is Minister X opening Y’. I would say, ‘Yes, but that is staged and not really news and there will something else staged tomorrow and the next day and you are merely a government propaganda arm’. The journalist would reply, ‘Yes, probably, but if I don’t cover that story I will get my ass kicked’. These government backflips are mainly ignored by the mainstream media because of Morrison’s media management strategy. He hold media briefings in which he says what he is going to announce the next day, so those invited can have a ‘sneak preview’. He then announces whatever it was so gets two bites of the cherry. Of course any journalist who gives an unfavourable spin risks having their outlet not invited next time, so they will just be commentators 15 hours behind the story. Here is a story from Bernard Keane at Crikey, who is one of those not invited. http://www.crikey.com.au/…/china-backflips-media…/…
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Facebook will not carry Australian News

18 February 2021

Here is the ABC story about this. Note that Facebook sees itself as giving clients and coverage to other media, not using them to get customers. In support of this, the interesting figure is that only 4% of its users are looking for media news sites. Readers of my posts will definitely be in the 4%, presumably the other 96% is items of interest other than news. People have a right to family and social contacts, and a zillion other interests.

But Facebook is like google in that it is paid per click, so it does not seem unreasonable that it should pay the news outlets per click. It is a worry that deals are being done with the major (i.e. Big) media with no guarantee that the smaller media that give diversity of opinion will get any money. The question then become as to who sets the rate? Presumably google and Facebook charge per click and this is ‘commercial in confidence’.

The other question that is never addressed is whether we the users should ever be paid from the data harvested from us. As someone said, ‘if you are not paying for the product you are the product’.

Our personal information is hoovered up in our normal activities. whatever we buy, the words of our emails, our click preferences, and if we have voice-activated phones or devices, every word we say. This is on-sold, and what we get is the convenience of having email software, chatting on apps, or having a computer bot serve us. But what is the profit margin on the data?  Could and should we get a cut of what we generate?

ABC News:

Facebook news ban stops Australians from sharing or viewing Australian and international news coverage

Australians are being blocked from accessing news in their Facebook feeds, in a dramatic escalation of the social media giant’s stand-off with the federal government.

Australians waking up this morning found they were blocked from viewing or sharing news content from publishers’ pages, including news organisations like the ABC.

The social media giant said it made the move in response to the government’s proposed media bargaining laws, which would force major tech giants to pay Australian news outlets for their content.

The move also prevents people overseas from sharing Australian content on the social media site.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tweeted that he had held “constructive” talks with Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg this morning, while Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said Facebook should “think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing”.

Facebook said the proposed Australian law fundamentally misunderstood the relationship between their platform and publishers who use it to share news content.

It said it faced the stark choice between attempting to comply with a law, or banning news content on its services in Australia — and “with a heavy heart” it was choosing the latter.

The move came a day after Nine and Seven West Media reportedly made multi-million-dollar deals with Google for use of content.

“We understand many will ask why the platforms may respond differently,” the Facebook statement said.

“The answer is because our platforms have fundamentally different relationships with news.

“Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content.”

A Google spokesperson took issue with this claim, highlighting growing division in the technology sector.

“All publishers, along with everyone else, always have a choice about whether their site shows up in Google Search,” they said.

The social media giant said it had explained for months that “the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favour of the publishers — which is the reverse of what the legislation would require the arbitrator to assume”.

“Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million.”

The company said what it gained from news content was “minimal”, and made up about 4 per cent of what people saw in their newsfeed.

Google deals continue

The legislation implementing the proposed new media code passed the House of Representatives last night. The Senate is likely to pass it next week.

The code is designed to ensure media companies are paid fairly for the use of their content on search engines and social media platforms.

Major media companies Seven West Media, Nine, and News Corp have all reportedly struck content deals with Google this week.

News Corp and Google will develop a subscription platform, share advertising revenue through Google’s ad technology services, build out audio journalism and develop video journalism by YouTube.

The deal comes after years of public feuding between Mr Murdoch and Google, most recently in Australia, where Google has threatened to shut down its search engine to avoid “unworkable” content laws.

News declined to comment on financial details of the deal, which it said involved “significant payments” by Google.

The Nine and Seven West Media deals are collectively worth $60 million a year, according to media reports.

ABC/Reuters

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Make Google Pay for Content? But who does the money go to? 29/1/21

I searched for something on google today and first up came a message from them on why they should not have to pay for content. Hey, it was like me telling a neighbour where a coffee shop was and then having to pay for having done so. Not quite!
There was no feedback to google- hey we are used to one-way communication these days. Most emails have a ‘No reply’ address and the rest of advertising has been one-way communication since BUGA UP stopped spraying on billboards in the mid-1980s.
But after the google position there was this video by Kevin Rudd, which talks about how the ACCC, which is now claiming to be doing this for media diversity, a.k.a. competition, happily approved Nine buying Fairfax and Murdoch buying almost all Australia’s rural newspapers to get an effective monopoly. They have not looked at media monopolies in Australia and do not seem to want to.
Rudd asks what has changed in media diversity and suggests that Scotty from Marketing is actually just collecting revenue to give to Murdoch. He points out that the legislation does not say where the money will go, and if it goes to existing media, principally Murdoch, it may do nothing at all for media diversity. He also points out that exempting the ABC from getting any money will mean that he can continue to defund them, while subsidising Murdoch, an American citizen who he just gave a gong to in the Australia Day honours. The message is clear from Scotty to Murdoch, ‘Those nasty Labor people want to investigate monopoly in Australian media, but we will support you and give you money- support us next election’.
Google and the multinational tech companies, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Expedia, the gambling websites and the rest that live overseas and pay no tax should be taxed on their turnover in Australia. The ABC should be better funded, and I am open to suggestions as how to support media diversity. The worry is that the extra revenue could just to used to favour sources that suit the government.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_mSnAKWHZA

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Big Tech’s Media Monopoly 15/1/21

Google and Facebook are taking most of the advertising revenue, which is naturally undermining Murdoch as the biggest player in conventional mass media.

The question is how much money are they making? They can transfer money around and avoid tax, but if how much they are making is opaque, they cannot even be taxed properly on turnover.

Australia is leading the world in wanting to tax google to pay for other media that produce content. Who will be the main beneficiary of this? Murdoch; of course. So actually the Australian government is doing Murdoch’s bidding. This is unlikely to be a coincidence. We are having an inquiry into Murdoch’s power on one hand, and passing special laws to give him money on the other.

The key problem is that the media funding model is broken. Years ago media proprietors were willing to keep editorial and advertising departments separate. No more. At first we found there were fewer stories about smoking caused disease in the women’s magazines that took the advertising. Then we noticed that Murdoch’s coverage of Indonesia and China were slanted when he was trying to buy satellites or networks. Naturally his companies were well reported in his newspapers, then there was cross-promotion of his other businesses. So as well as restricting content critical of advertisers things progressed to having stories slanted to be more exciting rather than more accurate or relevant.

Now, as social media eats away at conventional media advertising revenue they sack journalists to save money and delete or slant stories even more.

Simply funding good people to produce news is what has been done with the ABC on the BBC model, and this is what should happen. But the current government wants to manage the media and so want to de-fund the ABC.

So while I favour simply taxing google on its income and using the money to fund the ABC there are a number of problems with this. Who will or can make google disclose how much money it makes and where? An international cooperative of taxation departments empowered to send in IT-savvy forensic accountants? Can governments ever be trusted to fund public media adequately and then not interfere in what they report?

www.crikey.com.au/2021/01/15/google-facebook-ad-regulation/?utm_campaign=Daily&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter

Written 15/1/21

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Media Diversity Inquiry 22/11/20

The inquiry into media diversity is now a reality, and submissions close quite soon- 11 December.

Please make a submission, even if it only short- we need to show that a lot of people care about this issue.

It seems to me that the funding model s broken. Years ago, the wealthy Fairfax family got all the ad revenue and were relatively happy to let the journalists write what they liked. When the ad revenue started to fall, the stories were more to please the advertisers so that they would use this paper. Of course stories that were against their interest simply did not happen, so self-censorship got worse. As the paper got thinner, there was simply not enough space for many stories, which worsened the situation.

Finally a senior financial journalist told me that rather then headline writers putting headlines on his finished stories, he was being told the (catchy) headline and asked to write the story to under it. There was naturally some pressure to make sure that the story was at least consistent with the arbitrarily chosen (click inviting) headline.

The rise of social media has of course siphoned off a huge percentage of the ad revenue, and stories can be posted and accessed free, so those funding journalists have a problem.

Democratic ideas and the social media have made many people think that an ignorant opinion has the same value as an informed one. The algorithms that are to keep us watching give us the friends who think like we do, so as we think we see the world, we actually see our own sub-cultural bubble.

Since the funding mechanism is broken, this must be admitted and a new model found. Putting money into existing structures that work, like the ABC and SBS is obviously a good start, but not popular with the commercial media, who see them merely as subsidised competitors.

The idea that google and Facebook should subsidise the commercial media is also a convenient one for Murdoch. It is a massive government interference in the market. Presumably if the ABC is not involved in this subsidy scheme the algorithms would favour free information sources, which would in itself not be a bad thing, though it may also favour blogs of indifferent quality.

It would seem that if Google and Facebook had to pay a ‘turnover tax’ based on their revenue from Australian consumers we could have a sensible debate about how the money should be allocated to inform the population. As well as the ABC and SBS, entities like the Australian Bureau of Statistics might be worth considering, so that they can generate information and then distribute it to inform debate. The idea of evidence-driven policy is not dead, merely very ill.

If the government believes in competition as it professes to do, it must make rules that level the playing field. Chapter One of the economics books tell of open markets, which are modelled on some sort of medieval village where many farmers come to the square on market day, and the consumers have to spend all their money wisely and choose how much of each product they will buy. This is a very limited model and the rest of the textbooks tell about the development of monopolies, oligopolies, collusion, barriers to entry and other distortions to this simplistic market model. It seems that the politicians never get past chapter one. They need to this time. If you want a competitive market there need to be regulations that just stop big fish eating little fish.

It is important that a lot of submissions are received, and it would be good if they had a range of suggestions. Please put one in.

www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/Mediadiversity

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Marketing Obesity to Children 11/10/20

About 37 years ago BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions) identified the problem of advertisers marketing to children and produced a guide, ‘AdExpo- A Self-Defence Course for Children’.  It was in black and white as BUGA UP had no money and the ads are a bit dated now, but the text us still relevant.  www.bugaup.org/publications/Ad_Expo.pdf

Advertisers market to children, and are successful with it.  Now there is the internet, which has made things a lot worse.  Kids can be targeted with the parents only dimly aware of what is going on, and before the kids have actually been formally ‘taught’ anything.  The ads are part of the exciting environment that their little heroes show them.  At last attention is being drawn to this.  This article is from the NY Times, with a cut-down version in the SMH of 7-8/11/20.

Are ‘Kidfluencers’ Making Our Kids Fat?

By Anahad O’Connor, NY Times 30/10/20

Popular YouTube channels often bombard young children with thinly veiled ads for junk food, a new study finds.

One of the most popular YouTube videos from Ryan’s World shows its star, Ryan Kaji, pretending to be a cashier at McDonald’s.  “It’s a stealthy and powerful way of getting these unhealthy products in front of kids’ eyeballs,” a public health expert says.Credit…via YouTube

That is the conclusion of a new study published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics. The authors of the study analyzed over 400 YouTube videos featuring so-called kid influencers — children with large social media followings who star in videos that show them excitedly reviewing toys, unwrapping presents and playing games. The study found that videos in this genre, which attract millions of young followers and rack up billions of views, were awash in endorsements and product placements for brands like McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Hershey’s, Chuck E. Cheese and Taco Bell.

About 90 percent of the foods featured in the YouTube videos were unhealthy items like milkshakes, French fries, soft drinks and cheeseburgers emblazoned with fast food logos. The researchers said their findings were concerning because YouTube is a popular destination for toddlers and adolescents. Roughly 80 percent of parents with children 11 years old or younger say they let their children watch YouTube, and 35 percent say their children watch it regularly.

A spokeswoman for YouTube, citing the age requirement on its terms of service, said the company has “invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app, a destination made specifically for kids to explore their imagination and curiosity on a range of topics, such as healthy habits.”  She added, “We don’t allow paid promotional content on YouTube Kids and have clear guidelines which restrict categories like food and beverage from advertising on the app.”

Young children are particularly susceptible to marketing.  Studies show that children are unable to distinguish between commercials and cartoons until they are 8 or 9 years old, and they are more likely to prefer unhealthy foods and beverages after seeing advertisements for them.

Experts say it is not just an advertising issue but a public health concern.  Childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed in recent years: Nearly 20 percent of American children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese, up from 5.5 percent in the mid 1970s.  Studies have found strong links between junk food marketing and childhood obesity, and experts say that children are now at even greater risk during a pandemic that has led to school closures, lockdowns and increased screen time and sedentary behavior.  The new findings suggest that parents should be especially wary of how children are being targeted by food companies on social media.

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“The way these branded products are integrated in everyday life in these videos is pretty creative and unbelievable,” said Marie Bragg, an author of the study and an assistant professor of public health and nutrition at the New York University School of Global Public Health.  “It’s a stealthy and powerful way of getting these unhealthy products in front of kids’ eyeballs.”

Dr. Bragg was prompted to study the phenomenon after one of her co-authors, Amaal Alruwaily, noticed her young nieces and nephews obsessively watching YouTube videos of “kidfluencers” like Ryan Kaji, the 9-year-old star of Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel with 27 million subscribers, formerly named Ryan ToysReview.

The channel, run by Ryan’s parents, features thousands of videos of him excitedly reviewing new toys and games, doing science experiments and going on fun trips to stores and arcades.

Children’s channels like Ryan’s World — which are frequently paid to promote a wide range of products, including toys, video games and food — are among the highest grossing channels on YouTube, raking in millions of dollars from ads, sponsored content, endorsements and more.   According to Forbes, Ryan earned $26 million last year, making him the top YouTube earner of 2019.  Among the brands he has been paid to promote are Chuck E. Cheese, Walmart, Hasbro, Lunchables and Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., the fast food chains.  One of his most popular videos shows him pretending to be a cashier at McDonald’s.  In it, he wears a hat with the McDonald’s logo, serves plastic Chicken McNuggets, cheeseburgers and French fries to one of his toys, and then eats a McDonald’s Happy Meal.  The video has been viewed about 95 million times.

“It looks like a normal child playing with their normal games, but as a researcher who studies childhood obesity, the branded products really stood out to me,” Dr. Bragg said.  “When you watch these videos and the kids are pretending to bake things in the kitchen or unwrapping presents, it looks relatable.  But really it’s just an incredibly diverse landscape of promotion for these unhealthy products

In a statement, Sunlight Entertainment, the production company for Ryan’s World, said the channel “cares deeply about the well-being of our viewers and their health and safety is a top priority for us.  As such, we strictly follow all platforms terms of service, as well as any guidelines set forth by the FTC and laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels.”

The statement said that Ryan’s World welcomed the findings of the new study, adding: “As we continue to evolve our content we look forward to ways we might work together in the future to benefit the health and safety of our audience.”

Other popular children’s channels on YouTube show child influencers doing taste tests with Oreo cookies, Pop Tarts and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or sitting in toy cars and ordering fast food at drive-throughs for Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and other chains.  “This is basically a dream for advertisers,” said Dr. Bragg.  “These kids are celebrities, and we know from other rigorous studies that younger kids prefer products that are endorsed by celebrities.”

To document the extent of the phenomenon, Dr. Bragg and her colleagues identified five of the top kid influencers on YouTube, including Ryan, and analyzed 418 of their most popular videos.  They found that food or beverages were featured in those videos 271 times, and 90 percent of them were “unhealthy branded items.”  Some of the brands featured most frequently were McDonald’s, Hershey’s, Skittles, Oreo, Coca-Cola, Kinder and Dairy Queen.  The videos featuring junk food have collectively been viewed more than a billion times.

The researchers could not always tell which products the influencers were paid to promote, in part because sponsorships are not always clearly disclosed.  The Federal Trade Commission has said that influencers should “clearly and conspicuously” disclose their financial relationships with brands whose products they endorse on social media.  But critics say the policy is rarely enforced, and that influencers often ignore it.

McDonald’s USA said in a statement that it “does not partner with kid influencers under the age of 12 for paid content across any social media channels, including YouTube, and we did not pay or partner with any of the influencers identified in this study.  We are committed to responsibly marketing to children.”

Last year, several senators called on the F.T.C. to investigate Ryan’s World and accused the channel of running commercials for Carl’s Jr. without disclosing that they were ads.  The Council of Better Business Bureaus, an industry regulatory group, also found that Ryan’s World featured sponsored content from advertisers without proper disclosures.  And a year ago the watchdog group Truth in Advertising filed a complaint with the F.T.C. accusing the channel of deceiving children through “sponsored videos that often have the look and feel of organic content.”

In March, Senators Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced legislation to protect children from potentially harmful content online.  Among other things, the bill would limit what they called “manipulative” advertising, such as influencer marketing aimed at children, and prohibit websites from recommending content that involves nicotine, tobacco or alcohol to children and teenagers.

The F.T.C. has long forbidden certain advertising tactics on children’s television, such as “host selling,” in which characters or hosts sell products in commercials that air during their programs.  Critics say the agency could apply the same rules to children’s programs on the internet but so far has chosen not to.

“It’s beyond absurd that you couldn’t do this on Nickelodeon or ABC but you can do this on YouTube just because the laws were written before we had an internet,” said Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group.

“These videos are incredibly powerful,” he said.  “Very busy parents may take a look at them and think that it’s just a cute kid talking enthusiastically about some product and not realize that it’s often part of a deliberate strategy to get their children excited about toys, or in the case of this study, unhealthy food.”

Anahad O’Connor is a staff reporter covering health, science, nutrition and other topics. He is also a bestselling author of consumer health books such as “Never Shower in a Thunderstorm” and “The 10 Things You Need to Eat.” 

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