Yesterday I watched this video about Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition. The major difference between this video and the droves of similar-seeming content is that this is in Hindi. It’s part of Hindi youtube, discussing Indian politics and topics of particular relevance to the subcontinent, as well as more world-news topics such as Elon’s latest.
I found the video remarkably entertaining, and it has some good insights. I wanted to share some of my experience with this and try to distill some of the reflections I’ve had from encountering this part of youtube.
I mostly only have the sample of this one guy’s channel. I’ve seen a few of his videos so far. I’m quite confident there’s an entire mess of hindi language ‘youtube news’ style channels to be found here.
The channel is called The Deshbhakt, which translates to The Patriot, or the ‘devotee of the country’. The host is a guy named Akash Banerjee. The channel pitches itself as “India’s first and largest political satire channel”, and Akash states clearly that this satire section is missing from the Indian news and Bollywood media complex. It seems pretty close to Some More News or even John Oliver or a whole series of other similar pop news content creators. At time of writing, the channel has 2.44M subscribers on youtube and states that it’s primarily funded by its Patreon. This particular video has 500k views and came out late last month.
I don’t regularly watch or subscribe to a lot of satire-news, but structurally as a youtube channel this is pretty similar to creators I follow: probably-mostly-independent content creators using a combination of Patreon supporters and youtube ad revenue to crank out reasonably engaging videos where the host talks to the camera, interspersed by news video clips, text snippets, video memes, stock footage… you get the picture.
I can mostly understand hindi. When watching this guy’s video I’d say I got about 75% of it without subtitles, and having subtitles on boosted that to 100% comprehension. The interesting thing is that the subtitles often diverge from anything close to a word-for-word translation of what the guy’s saying. The topics and major points are preserved, but most of the colloquialisms and ‘tone’ is lost. The colloquialisms and tone are what I found both entertaining and interesting for different reasons.
For one early example, there’s a line where the subtitle says “CEO Parag Agarwal and board weren’t that interested in the beginning”. But what our host is saying is more animated, and translates closer to something like:
Twitter’s board and Mr Agarwal’s son Parag were saying “oh jeez oh god what are you doing Mr Musk”Akash
I don’t want to get too in the weeds with translating colloquialisms, but this at least partially illustrates the point that you’re not getting the full picture with just the subs.
Deshbhakt makes several points quickly, including:
- Twitter really caught Elon’s eye, he’s gotten obsessed
- It’s pretty common for billionaire moguls to own media companies: Mukesh Ambani and Network 18, Jack Ma and South China Morning Post, Jeff Bezos and Washington Post, Mark Benioff and Time Magazine… and now Elon Musk and twitter.
- Tesla basically gets the credit for making electric cars cool
- SpaceX is the most successful rocket company in the world
- Twitter might distract Musk from these more exciting companies
He says: “How can a social media platform disturb a genius billionaire businessman in his work?”. Akash’s focus on this point starts to give a good cultural read of his audience. There’s a degree of reverence for “good businessman who knows best because otherwise he wouldn’t’ve become a good businessman”. The comments really reflect this too:
This is already good insight! This reverence for the business magnate, the admiration for the bootstrapped businessman. These are cultural factors that I am familiar with, and also fairly skeptical of.
- Jack Dorsey has stated that twitter’s the closest thing we’ve got to a global consciousness
- But… twitter’s user base is pretty small. It’s smaller than facebook, youtube, but also smaller than snapchat and pinterest.
- On the other hand it’s true that news travels first and faster on twitter. It really is some kind of high-speed information hub, despite having a relatively small userbase
Musk’s proposed changes:
- Make twitter’s algorithm open source to increase transparency and trust.
- Defeat the spam bots, which everyone including twitter knows about but hasn’t acted on.
- Edit button
- Verified badge to all humans.
Another translation to show what’s missing in the subs:
Subtitle: “So how many real users does twitter have?”
More direct translation: “After these bot accounts are gotten rid of, twitter reality will become front and center. Meaning: we’ll learn how many real users there are! Because that’ll be even fewer than the current user count, and will show even more clearly how stagnant twitter is.
All real humans getting a verified badge is a pretty cool idea, and I hadn’t heard it before.
From here, Akash gets into free speech absolutism.
Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated. – Musk
The question of course is where does free speech reach its limits?
Along with the fate of Trump’s ban, there’s an Indian actress named Kangana Ranaut who’s account was also banned for violating Twitter’s terms.
In the absolutist version of free speech, where nobody is going to stop any speech, in this situation you can have a ‘no holds barred’ conversation, nobody’s going to police or silence you. This is all good and well. And sure, let’s say you can do personal attacks, ‘below the belt’ punches. But… Doxing? Misogyny? Homophobia? Racist comments? Are these also coming in under the free speech banner? Where are you gonna draw the line, Elon brother?Akash
He goes on to point out very clearly that having no clear line will only increase the fighting on twitter, and some kind of community guidelines and moderation are the norm on all social media platforms and indeed in all communities. That’s how we get civilized conversation.
This is a great point! It stands out to me in particular that it’s framed outside the kind of culture war language I’m usually used to in American newsmedia.
Even Zuckerberg originally had more absolutist stances towards free speech on facebook, on which he’s since changed tack when faced with the reality of what a truly absolutist view implies.
One of Akash’s big points in this video is that it seems like Musk thinks twitter is a problem to be solved… because it is… but that this problem will be solved with math, science, engineering. Similarly to how he’s successfully approached problems in engineering electric cars and building rockets. But Twitter’s not an engineering problem, primarily. It’s a human problem. Engineering has gone on for years to target CSAM and violent activity, and so on. But the magic solution isn’t in the engineering.
Another big point is that Musk really isn’t as much of a free speech absolutist as he makes out to be. Famously Musk spoke out against the COVID mask mandates in the US, even purposefully ignoring them within tesla factories. He spoke out against the vaccine before it had come out. But… what does musk say in china?
When it comes to China, Musk is such a free speech absolutist, he is such a free speech absolutist… that he says absolutely nothing. Totally silent.
When the Chinese government says ‘shut up, wear masks’, Musk doffs his hat and says “yes sir, thank you sir, right away sir”. Workers will sleep in the factory? Sure. They’ll eat there and live there too, for $63 a day? Sure!
The free speech concerns have a way of evaporating when it comes to getting a slice of that sweet sweet Chinese automobile market.
Twitter too is a global platform, which has deals in various regulatory regimes, including India. Will Musk address the issue of twitter in these countries, whether millions of people get speech at all?
All in all, these aren’t engineering problems! These are social and political and human problems.
Oh, also: Twitter isn’t profitable. Mr Businessman Musk is well aware that this is a $44 billion deal for a company that loses money. The financing he’s received could cost $1 billion/year in debt service alone. Way less than Twitter’s EBITDA. Seems like a bad deal.
When’s he going to make the rockets? When’re we getting to Mars? All this is going to take time and energy. Why not invest that $44B in improving global hunger and thirst, helping with climate change, or anything that might grant him some good will. The video ends on this note, that Musk’s gonna get snared in this web of annoying twitter politics, and that it’s just a big waste of his resources.
Anyways, that’s the video summarized. I thought getting a glimpse of this style of content in Hindi medium was pretty interesting, and the specifically India-specific cultural context and phrasing gives insights to what people are thinking in India.
I watched another couple of his videos that I also thought were interesting and will plan to write up why I found those interesting too, and maybe glean some more insights about what Indian politics are like.