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‘Zombie’ misinformation: ‘Rape Day’ hoax resurfaces on TikTok



The 'Rape Day'hoax is an example of what researchers call 'zombie' falsehoods that keep resurfacing despite being debunked

The ‘Rape Day’hoax is an example of what researchers call ‘zombie’ falsehoods that keep resurfacing despite being debunked – Copyright AFP –

Anuj Chopra, with Rachel Blundy in Hong Kong

The hoax that rape was legal for a day was knocked down by fact-checkers two years ago. But it went viral again this year on TikTok, illustrating what researchers call “zombie” misinformation.

The stomach-churning falsehood that groups of men have declared April 24 as “National Rape Day,” giving them free rein to commit sexual violence, crept its way to TikTok fame in 2021, sparking alarm in countries including the United States and Britain.

In a sea of videos, many with millions of views, terrified women declared plans to lock themselves in their rooms all day and men vowed to protect them against imaginary assailants.

In one, a hulking bare-torsoed man appeared to sharpen an axe with a whetstone, warning troublemakers not to “touch anyone I know.”

An 11-year-old girl in Britain “afraid of being raped” went to school armed with knives, local media reported citing police officials.

TikTok users seized on reports of unrelated sexual crimes just before April 24 that year as evidence of the lurking threat, lending further credence to the myth.

Multiple fact-checking organizations debunked the misinformation. But that did not nip it in the bud.

This year, the hoax went viral on the same platform once again, the watchdog group Media Matters for America said, underlining what researchers say are the limits of debunking to stop or even slow the spread of misinformation.

“We call these kinds of situations zombie claims, meaning they are rumors that keep popping up, no matter how many times you debunk it,” said Laura Duclos, from MediaWise, a digital media literacy initiative of the nonprofit Poynter Institute.

“Some zombie claims pop up because they are related to a certain event or date,” Duclos told AFP.

– ‘Fodder for misinformation’ –

Raising alarm about the return of “Rape Day” this year, TikTok users declared their intention to carry tasers, handguns, and in one video, a firearm “with the safety (catch) off.”

While AFP is not aware of any official reports of violent crimes because of the hoax, it lays bare the dangerous potential of even debunked falsehoods to whip up threats, hysteria and chaos.

When asked about TikTok’s response to the hoax, a spokesman told AFP that “content promoting this despicable behavior would be removed if it was found on our platform.”

Words such as “rape” are suppressed by TikTok, with a search redirecting users to a helpline and educational resources. But some videos can go completely undetected if they use no obvious keywords in their posts.

Users promoting the hoax also found workarounds such as “[email protected]” and “national r day.”

Last week, the platform appeared to crack down on the loopholes immediately after AFP shared with the TikTok spokesman a screenshot of multiple “Rape Day” videos that came up using those search words.

Searches using those two workarounds now yield “no results found.”

TikTok “ought to get smarter” about preventing such hoaxes by rigorously studying patterns of how they spread, said S. Shyam Sundar, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.

“Sensational stories that prey on people’s innate fears and desires are always going to be a fodder for misinformation, regardless of whether they have been debunked in the past,” Sundar told AFP.

“Hoaxes may have a short shelf life but can linger in the warehouse for decades only to be recycled every now and then.”

– ‘Game of telephone’

The precise origin of this hoax in April — observed as sexual assault awareness month — is unclear.

According to Media Matters, its earliest mention was a 2021 tweet that cautioned people in Britain that “boys have made a ‘national rape day’” and urged them to carry deterrents such as pepper spray for safety.

The message quickly spread on TikTok, going viral.

“It’s common for misinformation to start on one platform and jump to others, losing context and making it that much harder to find the original source of the information,” said Duclos.

“At that point you’re playing essentially a game of telephone.”

Stopping a wildfire hoax, Duclos said, is down to users “exercising due diligence before resharing misinformation” — which in this case could be a simple keyword search of “national rape day” that leads to multiple fact-checks from credible outlets.

“The fact that this lie has re-emerged… demonstrates what psychologists call a ‘sleeper effect,’” Sundar said.

“The upshot of this is that users and the platform ought to realize that debunking is not as long-lasting as the actual information, underscoring the need to reinforce the debunking message every so often.”


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30 Quick Ways to Increase Your Website’s Conversion Rate [Infographic]



30 Quick Ways to Increase Your Website’s Conversion Rate [Infographic]

Looking to drive more direct conversions from your website listings this holiday season?

The team from Red Website Design share 30 ways to improve your website conversion rate in this infographic.

Here’s the top five from the list:

  • Include as few fields as possible on forms
  • Use testimonials
  • Clearly state product/service benefits
  • Include subscriber and social media follower counts
  • Write clear, compelling copy

Check out the infographic for more detail.

A version of this post was first published on the Red Website Design blog.

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With the end of the Hollywood writers and actors strikes, the creator economy is the next frontier for organized labor



With the end of the Hollywood writers and actors strikes, the creator economy is the next frontier for organized labor

Hollywood writers and actors recently proved that they could go toe-to-toe with powerful media conglomerates. After going on strike in the summer of 2023, they secured better pay, more transparency from streaming services and safeguards from having their work exploited or replaced by artificial intelligence.

But the future of entertainment extends well beyond Hollywood. Social media creators – otherwise known as influencers, YouTubers, TikTokers, vloggers and live streamers – entertain and inform a vast portion of the planet.

For the past decade, we’ve mapped the contours and dimensions of the global social media entertainment industry. Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, these creators struggle to be seen as entertainers worthy of basic labor protections.

Platform policies and government regulations have proved capricious or neglectful. Meanwhile, creators’ bottom-up initiatives to collectively organize have sputtered.

Living on the edge

Industry estimates regarding the size and scale of the creator economy vary. But Citibank estimates there are over 120 million creators, and an April 2023 Goldman Sachs report predicted that the creator economy would double in size, from US$250 billion to $500 billion, by 2027.

According to Forbes, the “Top 50 Creators” altogether have 2.6 billion followers and have hauled in an estimated $700 million in earnings. The list includes MrBeast, who performs stunts and records giveaways, and makeup artist-cum-true crime podcaster Bailey Sarian.

The windfalls earned by these social media stars are the exception, not the norm.

The venture capitalist firm SignalFire estimates that less than 4% of creators make over $100,000 a year, although YouTube-funded research points to a rising middle class of creators who are able to sustain careers with relatively modest followings.

These are the users who find themselves most vulnerable to opaque changes to platform policies and algorithms.

Platforms like to “move fast and break things,” to use Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous expression. And since the creator economy relies on social media platforms to reach audiences, creators’ livelihoods are subject to rapid, iterative changes in platforms’ features, services and agreements.

Yes, various platforms have introduced business opportunities for creators, such as YouTube’s advertising partnership feature or Twitch’s virtual goods store. However, the platforms’ terms of use can flip on a switch. For example, in September 2022, Twitch changed its fee structure. Some streamers who were retaining 70% of all subscription revenue generated from their accounts saw this proportion drop to 50%.

In 2020, TikTok, facing rising competition from YouTube Shorts and Instagram reels, launched its billion-dollar Creator Fund. The fund was supposed to allow creators to get directly paid for their content. Instead, creators complained that every 1,000 views only translated to a few cents. TikTok suspended the fund in November 2023.

Bias as a feature, not a bug

The livelihoods of many fashion, beauty, fitness and food creators depend on deals brokered with brands that want these influencers to promote goods or services to their followers.

Yet throughout the creator economy, people of color and those identifying as LGBTQ+ have encountered bias. Unequal and unfair compensation from brands is a recurring issue, with one 2021 report revealing a pay gap of roughly 30% between white creators and creators of color.

Along with brand biases, platforms can exacerbate systemic bias. Creator scholar Sophie Bishop has demonstrated how nontransparent algorithms can categorize “desirability” among influencers along lines of race, gender, class and sexual orientation.

Then there’s what creator scholar Zoë Glatt calls the “intimacy triple bind”: Marginalized creators are at higher risk of trolling and harassment, they secure lower fees for advertising, and they are expected to divulge more personal details to generate more engagement and revenue.

Couple these precarious conditions with the whims and caprices of volatile online communities that can turn beloved creators into villains in the blink of a text or post, and even the world’s most successful creators live on a precipice of losing their livelihoods.

Food influencer Larry Mcleod, 47, better known on social media as Big Schlim, reviews the restaurant Shellfish Market in Washington, D.C.
Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Rumblings of solidarity

Unlike their counterparts in the legacy media industries, creators have neither taken easily nor well to collective action as they operate from their bedrooms and fight for more eyeballs.

Yet some members of this creator class recognize that the bedroom-boardroom power imbalance is a bottom line matter that requires bottom-up initiative.

The Creators Guild of America, or CGA, which launched in August 2023, is but one of many successors to the original Internet Creators’ Guild, which folded in 2019. Paradoxically, CGA describes itself as a “professional service organization,” not a labor union, yet claims to offer benefits “similar to those offered by unions.”

There are other movements afoot: A group of TikTok creators formed a Discord group in September 2022 to discuss unionizing. There’s also the Twitch Unity Guild, a program launched in December 2022 for networking, development and celebration and includes a dedicated Discord space. In response to the rampant bias in influencer marketing, creator-led firms like “F–k You Pay Me ” are demanding greater fairness, transparency and accountability from brands and advertisers.

Twitch streamers are already seeing some of their organizing efforts pay off. In June 2023, after a year of repeated changes in streamer fees and brand deals, the company capitulated in response to the backlash of their top streamers threatening to leave.

None of these initiatives has yet attained the legal status of unions such as the Writers Guild of America. Meanwhile, efforts by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists to recruit creators have proved limited. Legal scholar Sara Shiffman has written about how SAG-AFTRA provides creators with health and retirement benefits, but offers no resources to ensure fair and equitable compensation from platforms or advertisers. Nonetheless, while on strike, SAG-AFTRA threatened creators that partnered with studios with a lifetime ban from joining the union.

And despite these bottom-up efforts, the tech behemoths refuse to recognize creators’ fledgling organizations. When a union for YouTubers formed in Germany in 2018, YouTube refused to negotiate with it. Nonetheless, you’ll see companies trot out their biggest stars when they find themselves under regulatory scrutiny. That’s what happened when TikTok sponsored creators to lobby politicians who were debating banning the platform.

People of all races and ages pose holding signs that read 'Keep TikTok' and 'My small business thrives on TikTok.'
TikTok creators gather outside the U.S. Capitol to voice their opposition to a potential ban on the app, highlighting the platform’s impact on their livelihoods.
Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

An invisible class of labor

Meanwhile, most governments have failed to provide support for – or even recognition of – creator rights.

Within the U.S., creators “barely exist” in official records, as technology reporters Drew Harwell and Taylor Lorenz recently pointed out in The Washington Post. The U.S. Census Bureau makes no mention of social media as a profession; it is invisible as a distinctive class of labor.

To date, the Federal Trade Commission is the only U.S. agency to introduce regulation tied to the work of creators, and it’s limited to disclosure guidelines for advertising and sponsored content.

Even as the European Union has operated at the forefront of tech and platform policy, creators rate scant mention in the body’s laws. Writing about the EU’s 2022 Digital Services Act, legal scholars Bram Duivendvoorde and Catalina Goanta criticize the EU for leaving “influencer marketing out of the material scope of its specific rules,” a blind spot that they describe as “one of its main pitfalls.”

The success of the 2023 Hollywood strikes could be just the beginning of a larger global movement for creator rights. But in order for this new class of creators to access the full breadth of their economic and human rights – to borrow from the movie “Jaws” – we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

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Paris mayor to stop using ‘global sewer’ X



Hidalgo called Twitter a 'vast global sewer'

Hidalgo called Twitter a ‘vast global sewer’ – Copyright POOL/AFP Leon Neal

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Monday she was quitting Elon Musk’s social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, which she described as a “global sewer” and a tool to disrupt democracy.

“I’ve made the decision to leave X,” Hidalgo said in an op-ed in French newspaper Le Monde. “X has in recent years become a weapon of mass destruction of our democracies”, she wrote.

The 64-year-old Socialist, who unsuccessfully stood for the presidency in 2022, joined Twitter as it was then known in 2009 and has been a frequent user of the platform.

She accused X of promoting “misinformation”, “anti-Semitism and racism.”

“The list of abuses is endless”, she added. “This media has become a vast global sewer.”

Since Musk took over Twitter in 2022, a number of high-profile figures said they were leaving the popular social platform, but there has been no mass exodus.

Several politicians including EU industry chief Thierry Breton have announced that they are opening accounts on competing networks in addition to maintaining their presence on X.

The City of Paris account will remain on X, the mayor’s office told AFP.

By contrast, some organisations have taken the plunge, including the US public radio network NPR, or the German anti-discrimination agency.

Hidalgo has regularly faced personal attacks on social media including Twitter, as well as sometimes criticism over the lack of cleanliness and security in Paris.

In the latest furore, she has faced stinging attacks over an October trip to the French Pacific territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia that was not publicised at the time and that she extended with a two-week personal vacation.

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