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How soft porn is masquerading as YouTube health tips

  • Published at 11:06 pm July 29th, 2017
  • Last updated at 11:20 am July 30th, 2017
How soft porn is masquerading as YouTube health tips
If you were concerned about your health, how likely is it that you would go to YouTube? It could be for health tips, it could be for exercise tips. Not everyone has the time to go to a gym or consult a trainer. And in the age of YouTube, maintaining your health on the move has gotten easier than ever. Or so it seemed.  Until typing in “health tips” on the search bar produced video results topped by “Protidin shohobash korle shorirer jeshob upokar hoy” (How having daily sex can benefit you). It was quite a shock, especially with a titillating thumbnail of a woman’s face and breasts being the focal point of the picture. Three of the top five results were such “health tips” related to sex. How to pleasure the husband, how to pleasure the wife, top hacks to drive a girl crazy, these were the content with Bangla titles and the “health tips” suffix. These videos have millions of views, despite being less than a year old. The top result is five months old, and has 1.3 million views. The channels that upload them are littered with similar videos. The videos are mostly slideshows, of images with text while a monotonous voice narrates questionable content.

By popular demand

One of the channels called “Bangla Health Tips BD” joined YouTube on January 8, 2017. It has 200 videos and over 5 million views. The most viewed five videos of the channels have a combined view count over 3 million. Why so, because all five are “guides” to boost sexual prowess. They are followed by even more sex-oriented content. The majority of the videos are along the same lines. The videos which were not about sex were among the ones with the lowest view counts. The identities of the creators remain shrouded in mystery. From their appearance and behaviour on social media, they are for all intents and purposes, anonymous. The same is true for similar channels like Hakim Bari, Digital Hakim Bari, Tips Point, among countless others. Their usage of racy thumbnails and suggestive titles are designed to entice viewers helps YouTube cluster them together, so when a video of one channel is played, YouTube recommends similar videos from similar channels. Bangla Health Tips BD has 200 videos with over 5 millions views as of July 22, 2017. All of their top 10 most viewed videos are of the same nature. In total, only 92 of their videos did not pertain to sex at all, but tips on skincare, hair care, diet and breath. And they were the least viewed videos. The channel also has a Facebook and Twitter page where the videos are shared for wider distribution. Kobiraj Ghor has 29 videos with a net 1.4 million views on their channel. All but 1 of their videos are DIY hacks for a “better” sex life. BD Health Care has 60 videos and 1.6 million views since joining on December 27, 2016. Digital Hakim Bari joined YouTube on March 13, 2017 and has 20 videos with over 5.7 million views. Hakim Bari seems to be a popular name among purveyors of sexual advice. Along with Digital Hakim Bari, there is Hakim Bari, Health Tip – Hakim Bari, and several other copycats. A channel by the name of Bhinno Khobor (in Bangla font) has 82 videos with over 24 million views. Most of the videos are shoddy attempts at teaching sex education with vague facts and crude language. A woman identifying herself as Dr Farzana describes various sex with toys and dolls. Her “lessons” sound and look rather shady, especially as a legitimate doctor with the intention to teach would not blur their face throughout every single video. YouTube-soft-porn-2

Defining pornography under Bangladeshi law

Bangladeshi law defines pornography as “any sexually stimulating vulgar dialogue, acting, gesturing, nude or semi-nude dancing which can be disseminated via photo, video, or graphically represented lacking any educational value or artistic aesthetic.” The punishment for distributing pornographic content on electronic platforms is a maximum of five years of hard labour and Tk1lakh in fines.

YouTube policy on sexually explicit and/or misleading content

The videos do not violate the YouTube policy on sexually explicit content, but they are in violation of the policy on misleading content The YouTube policy on nudity and sexual content states: “A video that contains nudity or other sexual content may be allowed if the primary purpose is educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic, and it isn’t gratuitously graphic. For example, a documentary on breast cancer would be appropriate, but posting clips out of context from the same documentary might not be.” The “health tips” videos are not sexually graphic, and their public goal still is to “educate people,” hence the videos are not in violation. But, the pictures used are not appropriate for academic purposes because not only are they out of context, but their presentation in a salacious manner is certainly in violation of the policy on misleading content. The policy reads: “Selecting a sexually provocative thumbnail may result in the removal of your thumbnail or the age-restriction of your video… Videos that are deemed deceptive will be removed from the site and strikes may be issued to the uploader.” How the innocuous search for health tips led to the discovery of clickbait soft-core pornography was baffling.
The video titled were written in Bangla, with “health tips” as an English suffix. But among millions of videos on YouTube, why did these pop up on the screen?

Manipulating SEO

Search Engine Optimisation is quite a desirable skill in this decade. With the advent of web-based marketing, learning SEO is a cheap but profitable alternative to an undergraduate degree for many people. SEO courses are available almost everywhere, and almost anyone can take them. An experiment was ran to assess exactly how widespread the SEO manipulation went – how many people would find the same results if they used the same keyword to search on YouTube. 10 people were asked for their top 20 results. At least 12 videos were common among nine participants. But one person found only two such misleading videos. When the participant was asked if they had done anything different, the response was illuminating. Most users remain logged into their Gmail account while browsing YouTube, so were the other nine participants. The sole exception had been using proxy to browse the video platform. With a proxy server, the participant’s location was shown as to be in the US by default. What were the top results to the Bangladeshi audience were among the bottom of the top 20 search results to the North American audience. This raises questions – does YouTube ping our locations to decide what sort of videos they will provide in response to search queries? And is this feature being exploited by these uploaders?

How shutting down hardcore porn gave rise to the softcore industry

In the age of the internet, monetising content is easier than ever. Porn sites have a large number of viewers. Some estimate one-third of all internet traffic is porn, while for others it is around 4-10%. Regardless of the percentage, the volume is quite high, and hosting ads to make money off of it is a pretty good deal. But porn sites do get shut down for various reasons, like when the government of Bangladesh issued a list to ISPs, gateway providers and telecom services on December 26 to block 500 pornographic websites in Bangladesh.

Why YouTube?

YouTube is a much more acceptable and widely available platform. One does not necessarily need to hide when browsing YouTube. Moreover, the opportunity to exploit YouTube policies by drawing viewers with misleading metadata is a risk-free venture. The “health tips” videos may be considered as pornographic content under the law of Bangladesh, but not by YouTube. Even if people are offended by the content and report the videos to YouTube, the worst that could happen is that the channel is shut down, but users can always open another. Prosecution is nigh-impossible, as YouTube and its users have a non-disclosure agreement, preventing government agencies from learning about the users. There is also the misconception that reporting a video for offensive content does not really matter, given how many videos with offensive content are out there.

What is yours is mine, what is mine is not yours

These channels with their singular theme also take part in another criminal activity. They steal videos from each other. The number one result for health tips has at least eight duplicates which could be tracked on YouTube. The oldest video belongs to Bangla Health Tips BD, but it has been re-uploaded from eight other channels. On some of these videos, there are various comments by YouTube users accusing them of outright theft in a very strong language. It is not the only video in this instance. There are dozens, if not hundreds of videos which are duplicated. Since none of the channels responded to any queries, it remains to be known whether they will pursue legal action or ask YouTube to take down their copycats. But as of July 22, the duplicates are alive and well, with the youngest duplicate of the top result uploaded on June 13.

How the government is fighting back

Zakir Hossain, senior assistant director of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, lamented that despite their best efforts to combat pornographic content, the people behind the scenes have always been able to steer clear of the law. “There is an acute shortage of manpower. We cannot monitor around-the-clock. There is just too much content out there for our limited resources to tackle. It is difficult to pick a place to start, because you don’t know how far it runs.” The BTRC official did offer helpful information, in that there is a hotline to help people. The number 2872 can be called to report offensive content, which the BTRC will immediately pursue. However, the number remains open from only 9-5 on the weekdays and charges Tk0.25 per minutes. MD Alimuzzaman, deputy commissioner, Cyber Security and Crime Division of the CTTC unit of the police said that there are severe constraints to fight pornography due to the conflict of policy between Bangladesh and YouTube. He said that reporting the YouTube videos are short-term solutions, but not effective enough. Alimuzzaman said advanced filtering at internet gateways into the country could help reduce some of the traffic. He maintained that YouTube is in a much stronger position to deal with these issues, but there is no YouTube office in Bangladesh for the law enforcement agencies to engage and discuss these issues. The Asia-Pacific office for YouTube is in Singapore, so every complaint has to be sent rigorously to bring it to the notice of the internet giant. “The people who are doing this are getting away because we cannot track them. Bangladesh does not have IP logs yet to track down abusers. The current protocol for us to take actions involves 1. Someone reports something to us 2. Then we review it 3. And then we pursue possible actions. But given the number of videos that exist, it is more appropriate to tackle the channels and uploaders. “In addition, the video tags that they are using to manipulate the search engines, if they are blocked with the gateway filtering in conjunction with YouTube’s search engine, they can be blocked as well.” Alimuzzaman said that there are other tactical ways to combat the misleading videos on YouTube. “People whose photos are being used without their consent can file a complaint. YouTube will be compelled to take action immediately.” The police officer further explained that only YouTube can shut down the channels and provide any assistance to criminally prosecute the people behind them. “We have two platforms via which people can complaint. They can either shoot an e-mail to [email protected] or contact us on the android app Hello CT. It is unfortunate that we receive very few reports on either channel.”