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The Tyranny of Ambiguity

Posted

There are a wealth of reasons I was motivated to create TubeShift and share it with the world but fundamentally I felt I needed to do something about the censorship that exists online and especially at the hands of YouTube. This is why TubeShift pushes heavily that it is a tool to Watch less YouTube but you may have noticed that TubeShift is quite capable of shifting away from the other platforms it supports as well. This is because while YouTube has clearly established themselves as an enemy of free speech the other platforms never managed to establish themselves an ally of it either. TubeShift is a tool to fight censorship and it does not care if that censorship is happening at the hands of YouTube, Bitchute, DailyMotion, Rumble, or Odysee.

Since TubeShift was created there has been some concerning changes in the content policies at the alternative platforms that are supported. YouTube has demonstrated themselves the absolute worst offender in terms of the suppression of free expression for the publishers there. Unfortunately though it looks like more suppression of expression is coming. Not only is suppression in our future but it is coming using the same techniques that YouTube started off with: broad content policies that will surely become creatively and selectively enforced. I'm calling this the tyranny of ambiguity.

The tyranny of ambiguity is the trick of making what looks like reasonable content policies but leaving them so open ended and open to interpretation that they can be applied beyond their obvious intent. Lets start by looking at the new Odysee content policies. Most people believe that Odysee are free speech absolutists but this is not the case at all. Odysee is related to the LBRY project but that does not mean that Odysee believes in free speech. Yes Odysee loves to market themselves as the place to go to avoid censorship and to celebrate free speech but that is in direct contrast to their publicly available content policies which you can find at their community guidelines page which they call their Declaration of Indifference. The guidelines are anything but indifferent.

As of the writing of this blog Odysee community guideline number 8 starts off with “We don’t care about what you publish, livestream, comment, or include in channel descriptions” which is very nice to hear but then the sentence continues with “for the most part.” Well then. So what do they care about?

  • Content or posts that incite hatred or violence towards a particular group or person
  • Excessive bullying of persons not well known within the public sphere

For a platform that defines themselves as being against censorship it is quite the interesting set of content restrictions. Those two policies can be summarized as “don't be mean” and they are entirely subjective. Why is this so concerning? Because this is exactly where YouTube started out and after 5 years of slippery slope we find ourselves in the absurd situation today where you can be punished by YouTube for medical misinformation by citing verifiable information the US CDC has published themselves so long as YouTube doesn't agree with it as a part of their coronavirus narrative.

What does Odysee mean when they say content that incites hatred or contains excessive bullying is not welcome on the platform? They offer examples of such content but also include the caveat of “including but not limited to” with their examples. This means that Odysee gets to make it up as they go along. Odysee has decided to start imposing content restrictions while virtue signaling and I think it is because they are caving to pressures from their advertisers since advertisers tend to be extremely risk averse. I believe one of the major problems with YouTube is that they are clearing out their platform from anything more controversial than Pepsi is willing to advertise on. Is Odysee going to ride the same slippery slope that YouTube did? Only time will tell.

Bitchute now has incitement to hatred restrictions in their community guidelines though they are following their obligations under EU law and make those restrictions regional. It does not look like people publishing from the United States are subject to these restrictions unless they are publishing about someone from an EU jurisdiction. I consider this to be a case where they need improvement because they could change the jurisdiction their HQ lives in to improve it. Let's hope Bitchute never caves to advertiser pressure. So far so good.

What's going on at Rumble? According to their Terms and Conditions the following is not welcome: “Content or material that is grossly offensive to the online community, including but not limited to, expressions of bigotry, prejudice, racism, anti-semitism and hatred.” Sigh, here we go again with the ambiguity. What exactly does “grossly offensive” mean? It means what ever they want it to mean.

To make the list complete we need to check DailyMotion. In their Prohibited Content Policy you'll find this:

Any content that promotes violence or incites hatred against individuals or groups based on discriminating attributes (including but not limited to ethnicity, gender identity, nationality, race, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, age, social class, disability, or veteran status), or any content meant to incite the audience to terrorist acts, will be immediately removed.

As you can see there is only one platform that looks like they are trying to stick to ideals of free speech even if they must make certain restrictions because of legal requirements: BitChute. Every other platform has created content policies based on open-ended feelings based restrictions. Out of all the platforms that have such policies only one of them professes to believe in free speech: Odysee. I find this to be quite disingenuous of them.


Auto-shifting TubeShift

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Howdy TubeShift users,

As I'm quite positive all the FireFox users noticed TubeShift was running an experiment with automatically sending users to an alternative video when it is available. This was done because from the server logs it looks like people were not noticing the notifications when they were available. A feature request had come in for automatic redirect to an alternate video when one is available and after asking some users about the feature it sounded desireable.

An initial version went out to FireFox only a few days ago and some improvements were made pretty quickly after. Unfortunately though this is very difficult to get right! So I have decided to leave the auto-shift feature present but disabled by default. If you would like to try out the auto-shift feature you can enable it by going into the TubeShift preferences and clicking the checkbox called "Auto-Shift From" for YouTube in the platform configuration matrix.

A part of implementing the auto-shift feature included two other features I think are going to be a big help. First the visual overlay is now animated which makes it quite a bit more eye catching. I think this will help a lot with people not seeing notifications about an alternate being available. The second feature that was implemented is allowing the users to control the sort order of the alternatives when more than one is available. Both of these features are still available and I think are very good improvements.

TubeShift version 0.0.17 will focus on improving communication to users especially in the realm of when new features are added and how to configure them. I'll also continue to work on improving auto-shifting.


Surprise Guest

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This is certainly a very interesting and exciting milestone: TubeShift had a guest start using api.tubeshift.info which is offered as a public API. TubeShift is happy to help out and anyone may talk to the API to query the system but I'd like to know who is out there doing what and also, most importantly, don't lie!

Dear Guest,

Howdy! I didn't know how else to reach you besides break the API you were using.

You definitely are not submitting those requests with an accurate referer from https://tubeshift.info/! And the probability that your user agent is actually Mozilla running on Windows NT is nearly zero considering these requests are originating from a datacenter attached to the Internet. The IPs that are hitting my web services even have port 80 and 443 open to the entire Internet.

What are you doing? Why are you lying? Send me an email! [email protected].

Cheers!


Experimental FireFox Release

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FireFox is going to be upgraded to TubeShift Extension 0.0.15.0 which is an experimental release to validate the new server implementation is working correctly before it goes out to all the browsers. There are not any expected issues but it is being called an experiment for a reason.

May 27, 2021 Update: The experiment was a success and version 0.0.15.1 is going out to all users. FireFox and Brave/Chrome are already updated. Microsoft will likely catch up with Edge in a few days.


State of the Shift: May 2021

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Hello TubeShift community! This is the first State of the Shift which I'll write periodically to keep you informed about what's been happening with TubeShift and what you can expect to happen in the future. There have been some exciting developments though you can't always see them. Now that there are some users I've got some ideas for where the TubeShift browser extension is going and what else TubeShift might do to help people watch less YouTube.

User Experience

TubeShift does not spy or collect usage information right now so I don't have a lot of visibility into how well things are going for you. I do have some idea though and I've noticed something: for some people TubeShift is an effective tool and for the majority of people TubeShift isn't doing very much at all. From what I see in the logs there is an alternative video available for a YouTube video only about 1% of the time. That certainly is not very good.

What is even worse though is that the 1% of the time when an alternative is available the alternative itself is not used. I suspect this is because people are missing the notification that the alternatives are available. During initial user testing this was a big problem and I've already tried some things to help here. I've got some more ideas and some suggestions have come in from users.

Coming Soon

I have a few priority items to implement next in the TubeShift browser extension.

Automatic Redirect

This is a feature request that came in from a user. It is also a feature that the Watch on LBRY browser extension offers. This is also the ultimate way to make sure that people don't miss an alternative when it is available.

Submit Channel

I want to let users sign up for an account and then submit new channels to TubeShift. This way users that already have channels they like and know about alternatives for can have them available in TubeShift. Channels submitted by one user will be available for all users so this should really help improve the lookup success rate for an alternative video.

Channel Subscriptions

Are you subscribed to channels that were on YouTube but now aren't all available at the same place? That won't be a problem in the future because you'll be able to subscribe and follow channels at TubeShift. You'll be able to keep track of all your favorite creators with out having to check a bunch of different websites.

Growth

Here's a brief history of how TubeShift has grown since it's inception:

  • TubeShift went out for initial user testing in March 2021 and started out with a total of 3 daily users.
  • In April 2021 TubeShift was announced at Show Hacker News then had around 30 daily users.
  • In May 2021 Sarah Corriher published TubeShift Plugin Uncensors the Net which gave TubeShift about 500 daily users.

Google reports 447 users for Chrome (which includes Brave, Vivaldi and Opera), Mozilla reports 74 users for FireFox, and there is a small handful of installs in Edge.

There are around 600 unique visitors and 11,000 requests a day across both www.tubeshift.info (which is what people look at) and api.tubeshift.info (which is what the extension talks to).

Parting Thoughts

I'm very pleased with how TubeShift is progressing so far. We are certainly off to a great start with a lot more work to do. The browser extension so far is just the start. I'm really looking forward to creating many different tools to help people watch less YouTube.

Tyler Riddle - CTO TubeShift.info


Fixed: Microsoft Edge Bug

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The Microsoft Edge Bug isn't a problem anymore after Microsoft updated the Edge Extension store to publish extension version 0.0.14.1.

There now aren't any known existing bugs that users will see or will impact operation.


Microsoft Edge Bug

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Currently the Microsoft Edge browser is stuck at TubeShift Extension version 0.0.14.0 which has a minor user interface bug. The bug fix has already been submitted to Microsoft but is pending their review before it is made available to Edge users. It is expected that Microsoft will approve the bugfix by March 15, 2021 and probably a bit sooner.

If the TubeShift icon in the browser is clicked on and there are no results to display than the width of popup will be very narrow and the layout/flow of the user interface elements is very poor; an example image is provided below.

There is no decrease in functionality with this bug.


New Website

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I'm happy to be writing this blog entry which will be seen for the first time on the new TubeShift website. With the new website not only comes this blog but also a system status page that contains information about the server health, TubeShift extension versions, and any unresolved bugs that people might be encountering.

This blog will get posts about new or upcoming TubeShift features, articles or videos produced by other people about TubeShift, and other random stuff.


TubeShift Thinking

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Have you ever wondered what it looks like when TubeShift is thinking?