Why Linus Tech Tips’ Pirate Box Video Got 2.3m Views & Official PSAs Get Ignored

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In recent years numerous campaigns have attempted to scare pirates into submission by linking their habit with malware that suddenly empties their bank accounts. For various reasons these messages are largely ignored yet a Linus Tech Tips video on avoiding cheap, piracy-configured set-top boxes has been viewed 2.3 million times in two weeks. So what's the secret sauce?

linus-pirate-sOnline piracy has always been linked to computer viruses and similar badware but for years that connection was rarely exploited by groups hoping to deter piracy. KaZaA and LimeWire users needed no reminder, of course.

Several years ago, TorrentFreak was reliably informed that anti-piracy groups were preparing to push the piracy/malware nexus into the mainstream. What followed was a series of reports and PSAs that focused on ‘concerns’ that pirates were being infected with malware, but skipped over important details such as ‘where’ and ‘how’.

“Don’t use pirate sites,” was the best advice on offer; security software was never mentioned.

Why This Type of Messaging Fails

To be fair, issuing advice on how to safely navigate the high seas would’ve been counterproductive to the point of encouraging piracy. But more fundamental than that, almost all campaigns and press releases relied on bare statements about malicious ads, malware, phishing, fraud, identity theft and banking trojans, accompanied by zero supporting evidence.

In internet speak it was “Trust me, bro” versus “Pics or it didn’t happen.” The pics never arrived and only reluctantly do people trust random strangers, even those who want to prevent pirates’ houses burning down.

At least in the early days, we tried to encourage those making the claims to back them up. Letting people see how malware works didn’t have to amount to technical piracy advice, but there was always a chance they might see those pushing malware on them in new light.

Lecturing people and expecting compliance often leads to immediate pushback. Educating people helps them to make their own choices and, if all goes well, they may come along voluntarily.

Don’t Tell People What To Think – Show Them

A video published by Linus Tech Tips earlier this month is a great example of how to reach out to people. In just two weeks it’s been viewed over 2.3 million times, with viewers not only learning why cheap piracy-configured boxes should be avoided, but also being shown exactly why.

But first, Linus gets to break the ice in a way no anti-piracy executive would dare. After describing himself as part of the Napster generation (he would’ve been around 14 at the time) he implies that he may have first hand experience of the topic in hand.


“[A]s part of the Napster generation I may or may not have dabbled myself at some point. No judgment,” he says.

“However, it’s important to remember that the kinds of folks who are willing to help you circumvent copyright law tend to be the same kinds of folks who don’t care about other laws either. Like privacy or data collection laws. To which you might think, ‘come on, Linus, how bad could it be?’.”

At this point Linus shows the viewer just how bad things can get with some of the most popular Android boxes sold on platforms including Amazon and eBay. Anyone who peruses the device sections on either of those sites will have seen at least one of the examples in the video. Rest assured, the video won’t help their sales moving forward.

Just the Facts, No Preaching, No Lecturing

While Linus is in the fortunate position of not being in a job that pays him to tell people to stop pirating, he clearly understands his audience. He also sticks to the topic in hand.

“And I’m not gonna stand here and tell you to pirate or not to pirate. I’m just gonna tell you to practice safe computing, and this ain’t it,” he says.

The video was well received and while it isn’t an anti-piracy commercial, the end result is effortlessly more effective, based in fact, and achieved without drama. It also has 5,000+ comments, suggesting excellent viewer engagement, something the professionals simply cannot match.

Two videos (1,2) produced by the United States’ StreamSafely campaign released in 2020 have around 2,500 combined.

To be clear, that’s 2,500 views overall – the videos have a grand total of zero comments. To be fair they’re not as bad as those figures suggest but without context they are dry and without a slither of supporting evidence, they’re ultimately meaningless.


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