Friday, March 26, 2021

The bullshititude of Rebel News: Spy vs Spy edition.

It was several days ago that I pontificated on the absolute rubbish that was Rebel News' Ezra Levant's latest raging paranoia, wherein Ezra openly accused world powers of spying on Rebel News:

(SIDE NOTE: You're free to read that entire pile of cat poop here, as it's been archived at the Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine," so you're free to peruse that nonsense in its entirety without giving Der Rebel any clicks.)

In any event, Ezra's paranoid ravings were -- as always -- total crap, but it behooves us here at CC HQ to establish that beyond any doubt, so let's eviscerate Ezra's spittle-flecked screeching one line at a time, shall we? The salient part of Ezra's bloviating is contained entirely in these two paragraphs:

which I can assure you have effectively zero honest and accurate content. So let's get to work. The paper in question can be found here, so let's start at the top and work our way down.

The first observation is from the title itself, "The Role of YouTube during the 2019 Canadian Federal Election: A Multi-method Analysis of Online Discourse and Information Actors," which even someone as intellectually defective as Andrew Lawton would see says nothing whatever about Rebel News; it's simply explaining that this paper will analyze social media in the context of the 2019 federal election. So far, then, Ezra's screeching has no foundation. Onward.

The paper's abstract does Ezra no favours, as it simply goes into detail about what the reader can expect and, predictably, there is no mention whatever of either Ezra Levant or Rebel News:

Moving on, the introduction continues to do Ezra no favours, as it merely expands on the focus of the paper and its methodology:

So even though we can now confirm that 75 channels are about to be analyzed, once more, Ezra's hideous paranoia still has nothing to back it up -- all you see here is a perfectly reasonable academic paper, purporting to do some statistical analysis and explaining just how they're going to do it. There is nothing amiss here, and it only gets worse for Ezra, as the next couple of sections go into far more detail regarding the selection criteria for the YouTube channels and the statistical analysis to be done. Again, nothing about Der Rebel, so no basis for paranoid shrieking. Onward.

Partway into the paper, we finally get to the data (YouTube channels) and how they were selected, and the selection criteria seems perfectly appropriate for what the paper is trying to do:

Do I really need to say it again? NO MENTION OF REBEL NEWS! And here is the first example of unintentional hilarity, since you might recall Ezra's initial raging:

which is more than a little hilarious since, at this point in the paper, the authors produce a map showing (you guessed it) precisely the 75 channels they're going to analyze. No, really, let me show you:

I'm not sure how it can be any clearer that the paper's authors claimed to have identified 75 channels they wanted to analyze, and here they are. Sure, if you squint, you can see "Rebel News" up in the "Media" quadrant, along with other media outlets across the ideological spectrum like CTV, CBC and the cat box liner that is True North Centre. And once again (and how many times must this be said?), there is nothing to suggest that the journalistic birdcage liner that is Rebel News is, in any way, being singled out. But wait ... if you think we've properly established that Ezra Levant is a total con artist based on how he's grotesquely misrepresented this paper so far, well, it only gets better. Or worse, depending on your perspective.

At this point, the paper's authors explain what they're about to do, thusly:

Now pay attention, as this is important. It doesn't matter if you understand the concept of "measures of centrality" -- all that matters is that it's clear that that is what the authors are going to analyze next. Most importantly, they make it clear that they are about to identify "the communities of channels with the most commenters", and here's the visual result:

Note well that we are already halfway into the paper and this is the very first singling out of Rebel News, but that's only because Rebel -- along with a number of others -- were found to have the highest number of commenters, nothing more. If this is what Ezra is whinging on about, he is effectively bitching that the authors are pointing out that he gets lots of commenters. I'm not sure how it can get any stupider than that, oh, wait, it gets way stupider.

At this point, having done nothing more than identified the YouTube channels that get lots of commenters, the authors now perform a slightly different analysis and concentrate on what they refer to as "co-commenters"; that is, channels that appear to have the same commenters in common:

And in case you feel in a mathy frame of mind, the authors even explain their math:

Note well that it's not important whether or not you understand the math here; what's important is that the authors are being entirely forthcoming as to how their analysis is being done, that's all. And the result of this analysis -- that is, the channels at the top of the co-commenter pyramid?

And what's so significant about the above? Only that Rebel News is nowhere to be seen, putting the lie to Ezra's relentless howling about how he is being picked on. So what can we say so far? What we can say is that the authors of this paper have been relentlessly forthcoming and up-front about their goals, their methodologies and their analysis, and there is not a shred of evidence that Rebel News is being singled out in any way. But here's where it gets good.

At this point, the authors introduce the notion of "Cyber Forensics", which is the next analysis they are going to perform:

and it's here where Ezra thinks he has grounds to howl hysterically, as he wrote earlier:

It should be obvious that this claim is utter rubbish, as nothing in the paper until now has, for the sake of "brevity," focused on Rebel News exclusively, so we already know that that claim is spectacularly dishonest. But, lo, what's this? In this upcoming section on "cyber forensics", what have we here?

Good Lord, could Ezra be right after all? Could the authors be picking on Rebel News exclusively, to the exclusion of everyone else? Of course not, as one can see if one reads the explanation as to why Rebel News was being singled out in this particular section:

In short, Rebel News is being singled out here for no other reason than, based on the criteria being analyzed, Rebel is far and away the most prolific culprit in terms of using what the authors describe as "information maneuvering tactics":

Quite simply, the authors focus on Rebel News for this specific analysis as Rebel is such a deliciously splendid example of what the authors refer to as a "redirection dissemination campaign"; in simpler terms (and as most people already know) the fact that Ezra Levant and Rebel News register thousands of domain names that link to each other and back to Rebel News to drive traffic and artificially inflate visit statistics. This is not, in any way, picking on Rebel News; it is doing nothing more than pointing out that Rebel appears to be the most egregious offender when it comes to playing manipulative games like this (and might very well have something to do with YouTube recently demonetizing their site, but that's just a guess).

In any event, the paper's authors make it clear what they think of the arguably sleazy and deceptive strategies employed by Rebel News:

And that's it, other than, in the paper's conclusion, the authors make one more reference to Rebel News by implication, for no other reason than that Rebel was such an obvious and shameful manipulator of online traffic and disseminator of disinformation:

In short, there is nothing in this paper that suggests in any way a particular focus on Rebel News, other than that Rebel was such an obvious and egregious violator of online norms that it simply percolated to the top in some of the analyses. Put another way, if someone were to do an analysis of which Canadian "media outlets" were most responsible for obvious disinformation, would it be picking on Rebel News to suggest that it was them? Which brings us back to Ezra's original bitching and moaning:

which, as we have now established, is rancid, putrid dishonesty from beginning to end. But, in the end, it served its purpose in generating more contrived outrage among the slack-jawed yokels of Rebel Nation, and got them to open up their wallets one more time:

In other words, same as it ever was.

You're welcome.

AFTERSNARK: As hard as it might be to believe, all of the above is not the most depressing idiocy Ezra wrote in reference to this absolute nonsense. No, far and away the stupidest thing he put to paper is this paragraph from his deranged raving:

That's right -- he's filed Freedom of Information requests regarding this paper with both Queens U and the U of Arkansas, and if you don't understand just how howlingly, thigh-suckingly, nad-grindingly asinine that is, let me explain.

I have a background in academia, and I can't begin to imagine the utter befuddlement on the part of an author who got a FOI request related to one of his papers, since the author would almost certainly be wondering, "Information about what?"

One wonders ... just what extra information does Ezra think he is owed by the authors? If one reads that treatise, one is provided with the authors and their affiliations, an abstract explaining what's about to happen, detailed descriptions of the methodologies about to be used, selection criteria, statistical analysis employed, charts, graphs, maps and a plethora of footnotes and references in case you want to follow up on anything. What in the name of Keean Bexte's battery-operated Evatronic 3000 with realistic orifices does Ezra think is missing that a Freedom of Information request is going to resolve?

All Ezra has established here is that he has no idea how academic publishing works, but that's OK because that's clearly not the point; rather, the point is to whip up even more bogus and contrived outrage for the purpose of ... Jesus, do I really need to draw you a picture?

BONUS TRACK: Amusingly, if you do an online search for the phrase "information maneuvering tactics", this is what you get -- three hits all of which refer to the same academic publication.

Hilariously, one of those sites does indeed call out Rebel News for its painfully obvious deception and evasion:

In other words, if you insist on acting this deceptively, you can't really complain if you get star billing in a piece talking about how deceptive people can be.

See how that works?

DOUBLE BONUS: It's truly worth pointing out this excerpt from this online piece, which clearly refers to Rebel News:

Note well the timeline involving Rebel News. Rather than starting from a position of focusing on Rebel News, the highlighted section makes it unmistakably clear that it was the social cyber forensics analysis that brought Rebel News to the attention of the researchers. Put another way, the researchers went looking for suspicious, deceptive and nefarious social media behaviour, and their analysis took them right to Rebel News' front door.

The end.

P.S. We're not done here ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As is his wont, Ezra has rerun this story half a dozen times at the Rebel, always vaguely spun and weasel-worded to suggest to the gullible that Justin Trudeau, trembling in terror at the Righteous Legions of the Levant, hired the US military to target and smear the Rebel. Not quite - as you pointed out, they're a minor player in a minor study by some minor academics.

What's noteworthy, though, is that in all that expostulation, Ezra neither explained nor denied ANY of the scummy practices it uncovered. Not once.