On YouTube, views make creators king — and the market to buy fake ones is still thriving, according to a recent report from The New York Times.
Martin Vassilev, who runs a site that has sold 15 million computer-generated YouTube views so far this year alone, told the Times that if a customer wants, his site can deliver “an unlimited amount of views to a video.” He added, “They’ve tried to stop it for so many years, but they can’t stop it. There’s always a way around.”
To test exactly how easy those “ways around” can be, a New York Times reporter made 13 videos from clips of presidential speeches, then uploaded them onto a newly-created dead channel with no subscribers, no other uploads, and no community activity. Then, the Times reached out to nine companies to purchase views for the clips. Data from the test seems to back up Vassilev’s claims. Views purchased through his site were the most costly — $134.99 for 25,000 — but the order was fulfilled in one day and the skyrocketed viewcount remained steady, indicating that YouTube’s filters had not flagged any of the traffic as computer-generated.
A couple of orders do appear to have been caught by YouTube’s filters, including one where the Times reporter paid $40 for 5,000 “high retention” views (or views where the “viewer” stays with a video’s content for a significant amount of time instead of clicking away). Another order for 5,000 views was subsequently chopped down by YouTube’s filters.
A YouTube spokesperson tells Tubefilter:
“We take any abuse of our systems, including attempts to artificially inflate video viewcounts, very seriously. For well over a decade, YouTube has built, deployed and invested in proprietary technology to prevent the artificial inflation of video viewcounts. While no anti-spam system will ever be perfect, our teams work very hard to manage spam views to less than one percent of all views. We have additional safeguards in place to mitigate the impact of these views on all of our systems. We also periodically audit and validate the views videos receive and, when appropriate, remove fraudulent views and take other actions against infringing channels.”
Sean Tamir, a supplier who works for Vassilev, told the Times that YouTube retools its detection systems throughout the year, but that suppliers can dodge those changes by implementing their own — like making their traffic appear more human-like, the Times reports. In the past, suppliers have used bot traffic and pop-up videos to pump views.
Jennifer Flannery O’Connor, YouTube’s director of product management, confirmed to the Times that fake views are an ongoing problem that YouTube has been working on for “many, many years…Our anomaly detection systems are really good.”
YouTube isn’t the only site to be targeted by fake traffic generators. The Times has previously reported on the bustling bot industry on Instagram, which provides fake followers, positive comments, and likes. Investigative company Dovetale looked at Instagram’s top 20 accounts and told the Times that on average, 16.4% of those 20 accounts’ followers were fake. Twitter has also recently been hit with concerns over fake accounts, particularly after reports that a large amount of Donald Trump’s followers may be bots.