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Conversation with Gleb of Intentional Insights

August 16th, 2016
giving

Gleb Tsipursky has been raising money for his organization, Intentional Insights, which he describes as an EA-aligned organization aimed at growing the EA community. At EA Global someone asked me what I thought of them, and I said Gleb had asked me for funding but I wasn't willing to. After I declined his request, we had a discussion in the comments on LessWrong which did not resolve my concerns and, actually, added more. The discussion is a little hard to read in that format, so here's a condensed version that highlights the main line of the discussion.

Update 2016-10-24: concerns raised in this post and in the comments thread have been expanded and organized into a post on the EA Forum (details).

Gleb

Judging by the fact that this post got 500 FB likes the first day it was posted on The Life You Can Save Blog, people are not tuning it out. Note, the baseline for posts on TLYCS blog is about 100-200 likes over their lifetime, not the first day.

Jeff

Reading through the Intentional Insights fb page it looks to me like you're using paid likes? The "people" who liked those posts all look like fake accounts. While I can't see the specific accounts that 'liked' your TLYCS post, is that what you did there too? If so getting 500 fb likes doesn't tell us that it was unusually good.

Gleb

We at Intentional Insights don't do paid likes, it wouldn't be very beneficial for building a community to do so. Neither does TLYCS.

Jeff

I agree that it's not beneficial for community building, but here's what makes me think you have paid "followers":

Looking back over the past 12 posts on Intentional Insights, I see the following accounts consistently liking your posts:

These all look fake to me, but let's look at the last one because it's the weirdest. The most recent 19 posts are all re-shares of Intentional Insights posts or posts elsewhere by Gleb. Looking at the fb pages they "like" I see:

  • AlterNet (News/Media Website)
  • Nigerian Movies (Local Business)
  • Poise Hair Collection (Health/Beauty)
  • Bold F.aces (Public Figure)
  • Get Auto Loan (Automobiles and Parts)
  • Closeup (Product/Service)
  • Dr. Gleb Tsipursky (Writer)
  • Hero Lager (Food/Beverages)
  • EBook Korner Kafe (Book)
  • Intentional Insights (Non-Profit Organization)

Additionally, looking through the people who like typical Intentional Insights posts, they're from a wide range of third world countries, with (as far as I can see) no one from richer countries. This also points to paid likes, since poor-country likes are cheaper than rich-country ones, and being popular only in third world countries doesn't seem likely from your writing.

Is there some other explanation for this pattern? "Paid likes" is the only thing that seems plausible to me.

Lumifer

They are not fake in the sense of fake people — Gleb runs meatpuppets, err... paid virtual assistants. These are real people, it's just that they are employed by [Intentional Insights] and their job is social media promotion which means they are paid to retweet, like, upvote. See e.g. this comment and the follow-up.

Gleb

Thanks for explaining your claims, and the evidence that led to it.

Let's take Sargin indeed as an example. He's someone who has read Intentional Insights content for a while, and has been getting into rationality and effective altruism as a result. He offered to volunteer for the organization, and has proved a good volunteer. We then brought him on as a part-time contractor. We have several people like him, who volunteer 2/3rds of their time, and work for 1/3 of their time.

[Intentional Insights] social media and our website are targeted to all people around the world. Our website gets about 12K hits per month, with the following countries being the top 5 in the last month: US, India, Phillipines, Malaysia, Indonesia. Our FB page is "liked" mostly by people in developing countries as well.

Why is this? Partially because of how our advertising works. We follow the "drowning child" model of advertising - we don't place higher value on people in rich countries than in poorer countries when we promote content, as we believe our content can help people around the world. So when we boost a post on FB, we boost it in the most cost-effective means possible, which means it gets delivered mostly to the countries where the clicks are cheapest, namely India, Phillipines, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. They then have the option of clicking "like" on the post and "liking" the FB page, if they wish.

While we boost posts on FB, we don't boost posts on Twitter or Pinterest, as we don't have the skills within the organization to do so. So you can see the difference in our followers on Twitter, of whom we have around 11K or so - most are not from developing countries, and the same is true of our 4.5K followers on Pinterest.

This is highly different from buying likes, namely specifically paying people to like the page or posts. Doing so doesn't build community or engagement, which is the point of social media, and would not align with the Intentional Insights mission of spreading rational thinking and effective altruism broadly. Since that's the goal of [Intentional Insights], it really doesn't make sense for us to do so.

We only do what advances our mission, even if some folks here might disagree with our methods or goals - orienting toward asking what advances our mission and working backward from that might help you model us better :-)

P. S. For anyone wanting to help us update, the best way to convince us to do so is to show how what we're doing is not advancing the mission of promoting rational thinking and effective altruist ideas broadly.

Lumifer

Let's take Sargin indeed as an example.

Let's. He is an, ahem, professional virtual assistant. Here is his Google+ page. Notice that it consists entirely of [Intentional Insights] reposts.

specifically paying people to like the page or posts

That is what you do. Your likes come from people you pay money to.

Gleb

I think we're on slightly different semantic grounds here. "Paid likes" is a specific practice, one that we've never engaged in, because it's highly counterproductive to creating an engaged FB community.

Now, are there people we pay who also like our FB posts? Sure. They are the ones who most consistently like them. This is one reason we hired them to work for us. It's a pretty typical thing to do for a nonprofit to hire on volunteers who are passionate about the cause.

Lumifer

It's a pretty typical thing to do for a nonprofit to hire on volunteers who are passionate about the cause.

Yes, but that is not what you are doing. You are not hiring especially passionate volunteers. You're hiring cheap third-world virtual assistants who repost, like, and generally promote your posts for money, not because they are especially fond of [Intentional Insights].

Jeff

"Paid likes" is a specific practice, one that we've never engaged in

Sorry, yes, you're interpreting my use of "paid likes" as being a very specific thing, and I mean it differently. Specifically, I'm talking about accounts that (a) click like and (b) are operated by someone who received money from [Intentional Insights] and (c) wouldn't have done (a) without (b).

Gleb

Ah, I see there was a miscommunication. In that case, sure, there are people who are paid for social media management, and as part of doing so, click like on our posts. Yes, I suppose they would not be doing so as consistently as they are if they were not paid, although someone who was let go due to financial constraints still keeps liking our posts consistently due to his enthusiasm for the content.

Jeff

They are the ones who most consistently like them. This is one reason we hired them to work for us.
You're saying that first they start liking all of your posts, then you reach out to them, and in many cases decide to hire them? The hiring doesn't come before the mass-liking?
Gleb

Not necessarily. Sometimes they expressed enthusiasm in ways other than liking our posts, such as sending me private emails and expressing a desire to volunteer, etc. We only take on as contractors people who are passionate about the cause, have benefited personally from the content, and volunteer at least 2/3 of their time or more.

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