TechCrunch reveals unethical practices of some viral video makers

TechCrunch provides a guest post from Dan Ackerman Greenberg on “how to make your video viral.”

Without a touch of irony or remorse, Mr. Greenberg then goes through a long list of techniques that includes creating fake identities, gaming tag systems, paying bloggers to embed videos and spamming e-mail lists.

The post is a good reminder of why it’s important for sites that plan to host social media need to be vigilant about identity and conscientious about creating systems that are difficult (making it impossible is impossible) to game.

Obviously, YouTube isn’t doing enough in this regard.

It isn’t that marketers would create video with the intention of making it viral that bugs me; it’s that marketers would engage in unethical practices to try and artificially inflate a video’s popularity.

There are more than 300 comments on the post, most of them blasting Mr. Ackerman for his unethical behavior, which Mr. Ackerman clearly doesn’t get:

What we do is grease the viral wheels. If that means commenting back and forth between fake users, who cares? It’s all about entertainment – we’re just making the whole experience entertaining, not just the video itself.

Of course, journalists take ethics very seriously, but they might be surprised at how important ethics are to the wider tech world. Google, for example, works hard to ensure search results are delivered in a non-biased way; many in the tech world take seriously the ethics of “radical transparency,” and the whole open source movement has given rise to a culture of collaboration that depends on giving due credit.

So it’s not surprising that so many of the TechCrunch commenters would have a problem with Mr. Greenberg’s business model.

It’s situations like this that encourage me to further believe that those of us who are working to build systems that depend on identity and transparency will benefit long-term. Increasingly, I believe the public will gravitate toward systems and sites they trust, as they become more educated about the ways in which less ethical operators try to manipulate and falsify.

I fully expect, btw, for YouTube to go to school on this post and figure out ways to tighten it’s own systems to make these practices harder to pursue, just as Google is constantly revising its search algorithms to make it harder on search spammers to succeed.

TechCrunch did a fine public service in posting this piece. It’s very educational, but not in the ways Mr. Greenberg intended, I’m sure.

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