Tag Archive for: lockdown

Sydney Protests

I was asked to write an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald last week as a reaction to the anti-lockdown protests in Sydney, which took place the week before.

I found it incredibly interesting how those who attended the event left a trail of ‘evidence’ across social media, and who that would be the first place that police agencies, who are incredibly angry, would go for that evidence. There self-posted celebrations would be their downfall ultimately.

What is more interesting is that this is an event which is master-minded by a far-right group in Germany, who has brought quite disparate groups together to march on the status quo. They, who are at an arm’s length, will not be touched by any form of Sydney based policing.

Below is a version of the final article which appears here in the SMH.

Hiding in plain sight: Facebook a ‘honeypot’ for police to monitor protests


Calls for tighter regulation on Facebook are the standard reaction to the spread of disinformation across the social media giant, but considering the recent anti-lockdown protests, perhaps the platform should do nothing.

Activist groups are calling on Facebook to tighten measures on misinformation, claiming “disinfo kills”. Killer disinformation was potentially manifest in the anti-lockdown protests in Sydney last weekend, where the social media platform was likely used to promote and organise. The protest organisers are again encouraging their networks to take to the streets on Saturday to call for change against mandatory vaccinations and lockdowns. These protests have prompted renewed pressure to monitor Facebook’s capacity to attract problematic groups.

However, digital traces of the anti-lockdown protesters on Facebook serve as aides to law enforcement agencies who seek to identify and prosecute hundreds of individuals since the chaos erupted in Sydney. The platform also provides insights for planned activities of these same groups.

The amplification of social media messaging left a trail of videos, images, chats and discussion among thousands of individuals who opposed the current public health orders to stay at home, wear a mask when in public and get vaccinated against COVID-19; a veritable honeypot of data for use by law enforcement agencies seeking to identify and prosecute those who flout public health orders.

So Facebook needs to weigh the potential for the disinformation it hosts to be destructive with the intel it can gather on groups who spread it. And the intel can be vast. We now know that a combination of activity on Instagram, Telegram and Facebook, supported by a German-based group, Freie Bürger Kassel (or the Free Citizens of Kassel), was able to mobilise thousands of individuals in a number of cities around the globe. The Worldwide Rally for Freedom, of which the Sydney protest formed a part, saw a collection of somewhat aligned cohorts of anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, lockdown-opposers, health and wellness groups and far-right extremists come together to protest for their freedom.

This prompts the question: What will Facebook do to prevent these sorts of ill-intent events from occurring in the future? The answer is likely to be nothing. This is the approach that remains consistent with Facebook’s right to freedom of speech position, which enables a wide variety of opinion and conversation to continue. Given the array of horrific moments that have been broadcast live, organised and discussed by its users, one might ask why there isn’t more done to protect the safety of others on Facebook. But perhaps the best thing Facebook could do after the recent Worldwide Rally for Freedom is nothing.

While this approach may be counter to a growing public opinion of Facebook’s responsibility for safe and civil societies, the platform finds itself in a unique position that sees it collecting and profiling the personal data of those who seek to “remain free”. Inherently, through its crowd gathering and mobilisation applications – for example, Facebook Events – the platform is able to collect, sort, organise and archive the personal and network data of those who participated in the rally and documented their efforts on Facebook.

By not de-platforming, silencing or delisting the public event, has Facebook provided law enforcement the breadcrumb trail and the evidence it needs to identify those at the heart of the protest and to prosecute accordingly? This unique and insightful database may indeed be the last chance that police and law enforcement agencies have before these sorts of organisations disappear to the dark web. From there, it becomes increasingly difficult for the law to find and follow leaders of such groups.

The regulatory pressure of this moment places Facebook again in the challenging position to decide on how, in a post-Christchurch massacre world, to manage free speech against the negative and ill-conceived events that are harmful to our societies. But as we saw in the fallout of the ANOM app that brought down more than 200 members of Australia’s underworld, digital databases remain unfriendly to activities that contrast with lawful directives. In that sense, it is the users themselves who are undertaking the detective work.

Ironically, those who wish to be “free” are further incriminating themselves through their public digital traces left on social media platforms. NSW Police have used these traces to administer hundreds of fines to the anti-lockdown protesters.

**This article first appeared in The Conversation, May 28 2020**

The constraints of coronavirus isolation have closed down most recreational activities, but some creative industries are responding in innovative ways.

I have been researching “digital first personalities” – content producers who build massive (or highly engaged) audiences online first and then often make the jump to traditional media.

Online spaces and social media platforms including Twitch, Patreon, Streamlabs, OnlyFans, and SubStack are becoming more familiar to consumers. This new frontier of the creative industries has writers, comedians, gamers, musicians and even porn producers adopting new ways to make a buck online that could prove viable beyond lockdown.

Plamping the DJ

Zoom and TikTok have emerged as the go-to social platforms during isolation. Families share meals together online, colleagues enjoy drinks remotely after work, families perform micro-dance challenges together, and trivia has found a new audience.

DJs and their record labels) are providing an innovative model and keeping the good-time vibes rolling during isolation.

The recent phenomenon of “plamping” (a portmanteau of plant and lamp to describe the DJ’s classic background mise en scène) has emerged as a meme. When people are “plamped” they are ready to socially engage with others by tuning in to a live DJ set on Twitch TV and interacting with others in a “hosted” Zoom room.

This is the online equivalent of paying your entry fee to the club and hanging out with your mates. Once there, DJs and their labels encourage participants to donate to support the creators.

As users engage with each other via the chat functionality on the Twitch channel’s stream, they build relationships. Twitch has its own communication style – from platform-specific emojis to catch-cries. As the party kicks into gear, someone will likely ask: “Still plamped?”

New York club Nowadays is hosting virtual DJ sets and asking for financial contributions via Patreon. The highest level of support includes entry to a post-pandemic party.

DJ Khaled and Katy Perry are among high profile artists who will perform live concerts via BeApp, though the platform (sponsored by Coca Cola) will raise funds for International Red Cross.

Embedded video
Plamping hard at Virtual Neon Oasis Fest! 🌴🌴The full set is up on SoundCloud now – check it out! http://Bit.ly/2TxpqHZ  #plamp

Front Runner Platforms

Twitch has exploded as the go-to streaming platform during coronavirus times. Italy’s Twitch gaming traffic alone increased by 70%. There are now 5 million monthly streamers on site, up almost 40% on last year.

What is new, however, is the evolution of Twitch (owned by Amazon) for other entertainment areas, including fundraising, house parties, and of course, plamping. It is estimated Twitch’s turnover was approximately US$1.54 billion in 2019 (A$2.32 billion), with creator revenue around US$600 million (A$900 million) per year.

Beyond Twitch, there are a number of other monetised streaming apps and platforms, established to enable creators to earn money while they “perform” their craft.

Patreon, Streamlabs, OnlyFans, and SubStack all have business models in place that enable creators to choose a plan and partner with the streaming app.

Started in 2013, Patreon now claims to be home to over 150,000 creators supported by more than 4 million patrons. A Patreon creator will select either a 5, 8, or 12% membership plan, with each level offering increased member benefits. As the artist earns more money, so does the streaming app.

OnlyFans – where users sell nude pics and videos – has reportedly been booming since lockdown, with a 75% increase in monthly sign-ups and gaining 150,000 new users every 24 hours.

Lee Reynolds digitally busking during his DJ set. Twitch TV

Can you make a living?

It is estimated Patreon paid its members approximately US$1 billion (A$1.5 billion) up to and including 2019. And with the isolation period in the first three months of 2020, Streamlabs says its active user base has increased by over 30%.

Online gamer Ninja earned US$17 million (A$25 million) in 2019 alone according to Forbes. Social media influencer Caroline Calloway (famous for securing book deals and then not delivering on them) has bragged about a projected US$223,800 (A$337,000) salary from OnlyFans pics, while porn creator Monica Hudt claims she earned over $100,000 on OnlyFans in 2019.

But are these figures representative of online streamers more broadly?

As with all start-up platforms, there are varying degrees of success with typically only a few rising as top earners above the majority of creators. Most streaming creators generally offer branded merchandise alongside their stream to support their income. In the plamping space, DJs are digitally busking by asking punters to leave tips or contribute to their rent.

OnlyFans has been criticised for recent changes to referral bonuses that will cut into earnings.

After lockdown

Some believe creative industries and major events will change forever after COVID-19. If that’s the case, new economic models are required for those who work in this space.

Digital first personalities who integrate streaming apps are leading the way, but it remains to be seen whether they can sustain themselves this way. As with all disruptive technologies, they explode when they emerge, then settle in the larger media framework.

Still with the increased exposure to live streaming during COVID-19, it is likely we will see more integration of online activity even when live events return. And that is a space where more attention is required to ensure those who work in the industry are supported.