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TikTok emerges as a political battleground in Navalny-stirred Russia

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TikTok has crafted a number of policies over the years to distance itself from the often-messy political fray, but its users continue to have other agendas in mind.

In Russia, a tug-of-war has emerged on the social network.

On one side are young people using the app to create videos in support of free speech, rallying the public against the government and its treatment of Alexei Navalny, the anti-Putin, anti-corruption politician and activist.

On the other is a government that has quickly versed itself in the art of video messaging — tapping and allegedly paying influencers to dissuade the masses from joining them.

Navalny’s long-term battle with Putin’s government has included political run-ins, imprisonments and a poisoning (with an evacuation to Germany to heal), followed by a return to Russia, subsequent arrest and conviction for violating a previous parole.

Through all of that, Navalny has taken on the mantle of anti-authoritarian hero. With many already unhappy about how the government is handling a weak economy and COVID-19 — a situation that has shaken (but, apparently, not completely toppled) government approval ratings — Navalny’s call for mass protests has been met with a strong response.

And as those protests unfold, TikTok is shaping up to be the scrappy social media analogue of that activity — not unlike the prominent role that Twitter took on during the Arab Spring.

“Political content is not typical for Russian TikTok,’’ said food blogger Egor Khodasevich, whose @kushat_hochu account has 1.2 million followers on the app. “Before Navalny’s return, Russian TikTok was all about dancing, pranks and post-Soviet trash aesthetics. All of a sudden, political videos have started to appear across all categories — humour, beauty, sport.’’

Now, in a significant turnaround, Russian content on the app is being flooded with catchy videos of teenagers cutting their passports in half and throwing them away, pupils taking down portraits of Putin and swapping them with those of Navalny, and others creating how-to’s for would-be protestors — advising them to wear warm clothes, to equip themselves with water and power banks and, if arrested, to pretend they are foreign.

@almorozova#навальный #свободунавальному быть против власти – не значит быть против Родины♬ оригинальный звук – новый год кончился…

These are pooling around hashtags like #23января (January 23, the date of one of the biggest protests so far) and #занавального (“For Navalny”).

The wave of videos even got shout-outs from Navalny himself — fittingly, not on TikTok, but Instagram, where he praised the TikTok activists for helping get the word and the crowds out.

“Respect to the schoolchildren who, according to my lawyer, caused a frenzy on TikTok,” he noted on one post. Later he poked fun at how the TikTok protest videos were described as “fakes” planted by dastardly Americans.

Russia as a country has a small but fast-growing and vocal group of TikTok users.

Figures provided to us from SensorTower estimate that of the more than 2.66 billion times to date globally that TikTok has been downloaded (a figure that includes its Chinese version Douyin), it has been installed about 93.6 million times in Russia (figures that don’t count third-party Android stores, direct downloads or sideloads).

A report in the Moscow Times from the end of December estimates that there are around 20 million active users in the country, more than double the 8 million it had at the end of 2019. TikTok itself does not disclose current MAUs in Russia or globally, but analysts have projected that the company is on track to pass 1 billion MAUs sometime in the early part of this year.

Even with those sub-100 million numbers, videos with the Navalny hashtag have passed 1 billion views on the platform (as of the time of publishing, the number of views has passed 1.6 billion).

The Empire Strikes Back…

But Russia is nothing if not persistent when it comes to being ahead of the game in tech, and it has been harnessing the media world in a couple of ways in aid of its own ends.

State television and other state media outlets strongly encouraged people to stay away from protests, citing issues like public safety, the spread of Covid-19, and the threat of arrest (one they followed through on: authorities have carried out controversial mass arrests of hundreds of people at these gatherings).

At the same time, attention turned to social media, and in particular TikTok.

Roskomnadzor first confirmed that it would fine all major social media platforms up to 4 million rubles ($54,000) over protest-related content, citing that “these Internet platforms failed to remove a total of 170 illegal appeals in a timely manner.”

It then followed that up with an order to the management teams of TikTok, Facebook, Telegram and Vkontakte to appear at the regulators’ offices to explain why they have not yet removed offending videos, reminding them that failure to comply will mean that fines will be increased to 10% of a company’s annual revenues, dangling the threat that non-compliance could mean services get blocked.

With TikTokers claiming they were being called in by the police after their videos were taken down, TikTok more directly started to get threatened with fines by the regulator in the wake of all this.

As with previous moves to censor online platforms, investigators explained their actions as a response to societal impact. In this case, regulators described protest videos as a coordinated criminal attempt to get minors to commit illegal acts that could endanger their safety.

In addition to all that, the state appeared to take on a guerilla approach, too.

Small accounts, newly created accounts and popular bloggers slowly all started posting videos persuading people away from the protests. These videos, in Russian, warn of the dangers of protesting.

It turns out that at least some of the people posting videos were quietly getting paid. Sums ranged from 2,000 rubles, or about $25, through to 5,000 rubles, according to one TikToker who declined the offer and posted the proposal on TikTok instead.

(Those figures may not sound very high, but they can still be welcome sums for young people in a country where the average salary as of 2019 is around $718 per month.)

It hasn’t taken long for the situation to get unmasked. Several videos criticizing protests have been removed in the last week. It’s unclear whether TikTok — which declined to comment for this article — or the original creators removed them.

But in one case, a TikToker who goes by the name @golyakov_ (741,000 followers) initially posted a stream of reasons why protesting was dangerous. He then later admitted to getting paid but claimed to believe in what he was saying (perhaps one reason why the video has stayed up?).

Startok, one of the agencies that represents social media influencers, confirmed to us that it has cut ties with two of the creators who had taken payments to make videos in support of the state.

TikTok’s immediate connection and current popularity with younger adults has made  it unique in the social media pantheon. However, it wasn’t the only social media platform seeing anti-Navalny activity — both in terms of messaging, and entities soliciting posts for payments.

A Navalny assistant posted this thread on Twitter of Stories from Instagram casting doubt on Navalny’s decision to return to Russia as a publicity stunt, knowing he would be arrested.

Meanwhile, Boris Kantorovich, a sales director of social media agency Avtorskiye Media who has used Twitter to post about people getting detained, noted that he also came across briefs on Telegram chat ADvizer.me, as well as in a Facebook group that required bloggers to create a video with one or two talking points. He said included “protesters provoked the police at the rally,” “we are tired of Navalny” and “we want peace and quiet.”

When Kantorovich posed as one of the TikTokers that he represents, he received a brief for a 15-second video. “After a quick negotiation I hiked the price up from 2,000 rubles to 3,500 rubles,” he said.

Further creative briefs came with the guidance that they needed to condemn protests on 31 January and 2 February, the second being the date of Navalny’s trial.

“Bloggers should say that ‘Navalny will go to jail 100%’, he is ‘funded from the West’ and ‘his recent imprisonment is legal,” Kantorovich said.

Kantorovich added that authorities didn’t reach out to his agency Avtorskiye Media to advertise with the bloggers it works with: “We clearly mark all ads but authorities don’t like it, because they are trying to create an illusion of a public opinion,” he said.

Similar information was shared by Anatoly Kapustin with the “Picture” advertising agency.

Kapustin, speaking in an interview on non-State-owned Russian TV station Rain, named the “public organization for youth affairs” as an advertiser.

“Talking points on offer were: ‘criminal charges could be brought against protesters,’ ‘you might end up in jail and then not find well-paid jobs,’ and ‘Navalny’s children are studying in America,’” he said in the interview.

In some cases, the virality tricks that TikTok is known for have been used by protestors to turn some of those pro-government campaigns around.

After a wave of people created videos based on the same clip of music that repeats in a deep voice that TikTok is not a place for politics, it’s a place for [fill in a fun and non-political activity/video here] — the audio and hashtag were hijacked by protestors seeking to encourage people to embrace free speech and not silence their voices.

TikTok declined to comment for this story, but in general the company has made it a policy not to wade into partisan politics, or to make a space for political advertising, turning its platform into a commercial opportunity to get political points across.

It declined to comment on whether it was taking down videos that might be reported as possible paid advertising by viewers, nor would it comment on whether it had responded to any government requests to remove videos. It periodically publishes transparency reports where some of that detail, and its subsequent actions, can be found, after the fact. (It judges each request individually.)

One thing that the Navalny situation has exposed is that there is a strong appetite among younger people to be more politically engaged, and for the moment, TikTok is emerging as their preferred place to do that.

Khodasevich, the food blogger, thinks TikTok can replace Twitter as a platform of choice for the opposition in Russia.

“Thanks to its clever algorithms, TikTok can show your video to a bigger audience than YouTube or Instagram, even if you don’t pay for promotion,” he said in an interview. “TikTok representatives told me political videos without direct calls for protests will not get banned.’’

It means that, with a bit of creativity — and a very heavy dose of opportunism and cynicism — both sides might still be able push forward with their political agenda. Boris Kantorovitch agrees.

“Authorities will change their strategy and become more subtle,” he said. “They acted in haste. Probably they thought of TikTok as a good breeding ground for loyalists. Now, the only way to stop people talking about politics on TikTok is by banning access to this platform.’’

Or, if you can’t beat them, join them? The last few days have seen government organizations the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Emergency Situations joining the platform to give the public a glimpse into how they, too, can roll with it.

@mchs.russiaВы только посмотрите, что могут наши сотрудники! Отправляйте свою реакцию в комментариях!Спасибо за предоставленное видео @@anatoly.doletsky♬ оригинальный звук – МЧС России

Some of the content is not exactly subtle — the Foreign Affairs almost immediately used its new account to post a TikTok discrediting Navaly — but more generally, these are signs that the government is all too aware of the impact the platform is having to galvanize people against it, and it’s trying various things to fight that.

So did TikTok really manage to bring a considerable number of young people to rallies? Are we witnessing a birth of a new protest movement or yet another example of one click activism?

According to a poll conducted on 23 January by TV Rain in Moscow, 44% percent of protesters took to the streets for the first time ever. Only 10% of respondents were under the age of 18, with an average age of protesters hovering around 31 years old, showing an overlap with the audience using TikTok in the country.

Other major movements (such as last year’s run of BLM activism) point to 18-34 being the biggest age demographic among protestors (albeit, worth noting strong participation among other ages, too).

With that in mind, it seems that both authorities and opposition in Russia will try to use the social media platforms most popular among that age group to recruit their new foot soldiers.

Social media might even take on a bigger role in coming months, as the wave of physical, outdoor protests have died down amid the Russian winter weather and the police response, giving people a moment to regroup.

In the meantime, Navalny supporters are planning to stand outside their homes on Sunday evening, February 14, from 8.00 – 8.15 pm, holding up their telephone flashlights, taking photos and uploading them to social media using a new hashtag: #ЛюбовьСильнееСтраха (Love is Stronger than Fear).

The Kremlin may well oppose these, too. Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said that that “in the event of a violation of the law, all our law enforcement officers will bring those responsible to justice.”

Of course, as with everything on social media, it’s sometimes hard to figure out everyone’s actual agenda. As Khodasevich said, some political posts are genuine, some could be attributed to “news jacking.” But ultimately, they are sparking a lot of attention that the government is now mobilizing to counteract.

And with another critical Navalny hearing coming up on February 15th, as well as the September 2021 state Duma elections being only months away, the stakes are high for whatever political battles come next.

TechCrunch

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OpenAI Introduces ChatGPT Plus with Monthly Subscription of $20

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Open AI - Chat GPT

OpenAI, the leading artificial intelligence research laboratory, has launched a new product – ChatGPT Plus. The new product is an advanced version of its previous language model, ChatGPT, and is available for a monthly subscription of $20. The company aims to provide a more sophisticated and efficient conversational AI tool to its users through this new product.

ChatGPT Plus is a state-of-the-art language model that uses advanced deep learning algorithms to generate human-like responses to text inputs. The model has been trained on a massive corpus of text data, allowing it to generate coherent and contextually relevant responses. The model is designed to handle a wide range of conversational topics and can be integrated into various applications, such as chatbots, customer support systems, and virtual assistants.

One of the main advantages of ChatGPT Plus over its predecessor, ChatGPT, is its ability to generate responses in a more human-like manner. The model has been fine-tuned to incorporate more advanced language processing techniques, which enable it to better understand the context and tone of a conversation. This makes it possible for the model to generate more nuanced and appropriate responses, which can greatly improve the user experience.

In addition to its advanced language processing capabilities, ChatGPT Plus also offers improved performance in terms of response generation speed and efficiency. The model has been optimized to run on faster hardware and has been fine-tuned to generate responses more quickly. This makes it possible for the model to handle a larger volume of requests, making it an ideal solution for businesses with high traffic websites or customer support centers.

The monthly subscription fee of $20 for ChatGPT Plus makes it an affordable solution for businesses of all sizes. The company has designed the pricing model in such a way that it is accessible to businesses of all sizes, regardless of their budget. This makes it possible for small businesses to take advantage of advanced conversational AI technology, which can greatly improve their customer engagement and support.

OpenAI has also made it easy to integrate ChatGPT Plus into various applications. The company has provided a comprehensive API that allows developers to easily integrate the model into their applications. The API supports a wide range of programming languages, making it possible for developers to use the technology regardless of their preferred programming language. This makes it possible for businesses to quickly and easily incorporate conversational AI into their operations.

In conclusion, OpenAI’s launch of ChatGPT Plus is a significant development in the field of conversational AI. The new product offers advanced language processing capabilities and improved performance, making it an ideal solution for businesses of all sizes. The affordable pricing model and easy integration make it accessible to businesses of all sizes, and the advanced language processing capabilities make it possible for businesses to improve their customer engagement and support. OpenAI’s ChatGPT Plus is set to revolutionize the conversational AI industry and bring advanced technology within the reach of businesses of all sizes.

Visit OpenAI.com to read more and to get the latest news about ChatGPT.

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What can ChatGPT do?

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ChatGPT Explained

ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI that is trained on a massive amount of text data. It is capable of generating human-like text and has been used in a variety of applications, such as chatbots, language translation, and text summarization.

One of the key features of ChatGPT is its ability to generate text that is similar to human writing. This is achieved through the use of a transformer architecture, which allows the model to understand the context and relationships between words in a sentence. The transformer architecture is a type of neural network that is designed to process sequential data, such as natural language.

Another important aspect of ChatGPT is its ability to generate text that is contextually relevant. This means that the model is able to understand the context of a conversation and generate responses that are appropriate to the conversation. This is accomplished by the use of a technique called “masked language modeling,” which allows the model to predict the next word in a sentence based on the context of the previous words.

One of the most popular applications of ChatGPT is in the creation of chatbots. Chatbots are computer programs that simulate human conversation and can be used in customer service, sales, and other applications. ChatGPT is particularly well-suited for this task because of its ability to generate human-like text and understand context.

Another application of ChatGPT is language translation. By training the model on a large amount of text data in multiple languages, it can be used to translate text from one language to another. The model is able to understand the meaning of the text and generate a translation that is grammatically correct and semantically equivalent.

In addition to chatbots and language translation, ChatGPT can also be used for text summarization. This is the process of taking a large amount of text and condensing it into a shorter, more concise version. ChatGPT is able to understand the main ideas of the text and generate a summary that captures the most important information.

Despite its many capabilities and applications, ChatGPT is not without its limitations. One of the main challenges with using language models like ChatGPT is the risk of generating text that is biased or offensive. This can occur when the model is trained on text data that contains biases or stereotypes. To address this, OpenAI has implemented a number of techniques to reduce bias in the training data and in the model itself.

In conclusion, ChatGPT is a powerful language model that is capable of generating human-like text and understanding context. It has a wide range of applications, including chatbots, language translation, and text summarization. While there are limitations to its use, ongoing research and development is aimed at improving the model’s performance and reducing the risk of bias.

** The above article has been written 100% by ChatGPT. This is an example of what can be done with AI. This was done to show the advanced text that can be written by an automated AI.

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Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

Searchenginejournal.com

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