Super Mario Bros. Movie streamed more than 9 million times on moderation-light Twitter

·3-min read
 (Universal Pictures)
(Universal Pictures)

Over the weekend, The Super Mario Bros. Movie was illegally streamed more than nine million times on Twitter.

That’s a relatively small number for a film that has grossed more than $1 billion (£860 m) at the box office, but it’s still not insignificant and reveals some serious weaknesses in Twitter’s moderation process.

The account that uploaded the film across two tweets, called ‘vids that go hard’, has now been suspended but, at the time of its suspension, it had 1.1 million followers, meaning that this piracy violation wasn’t exactly subtle. Yet, when Forbes first reported the flagrant piracy, the movie had been up for more than seven hours without action from Twitter.

While you can no longer watch the Super Mario Bros movie on Twitter, The Standard has seen several scammers sharing tweets purporting to be links to watch the film, which attempt to download malware onto users’ computers when clicked.

It’s hard to imagine this happening on another mainstream user-generated video platform. For all its faults with radicalisation and disinformation, YouTube is extremely effective at preventing copyright content from being shared through a mix of human moderation and filters to detect illegal content during the upload process automatically. It’s actually somewhat overzealous in its enforcement, with some using DMCA takedown orders as an effective weapon to silence criticism.

So why is Twitter comparatively vulnerable to copyright violations? It comes down to two things, both linked to Elon Musk’s leadership.

The first is due to Musk’s cost-cutting measures since he bought the social network. During his memorable BBC interview, Musk revealed that he’d overseen an 81 per cent drop in full-time staff, but even that sobering stat doesn’t cover the full picture, as much of Twitter’s content moderation — lax by social-network standards at the best of times — was partly outsourced to contractors. There, an estimated 4,400 of its original 5,500 have been let go.

Fewer humans looking into rule-breaking content might explain the slow reaction to the copyright breach, but a bigger question is how the video was uploaded without raising red flags in the first place. As mentioned earlier, if you tried to upload The Super Mario Bros. Movie to YouTube, it wouldn’t work, so how was it so easy on Twitter?

The answer is likely because, until recently, you wouldn’t be able to upload any clips longer than 140 seconds (two minutes and 20 seconds). Musk has made longer videos a perk of the £7.99-per-month Twitter Blue service, first upping the cap to 10 minutes and now an hour.

In other words, video piracy was a niche concern until recently for practical reasons. Yes, you could upload an entire film, but having to divvy up The Super Mario Bros. Movie into 140-second chunks would result in a thread spanning 40 tweets. That’s a pain both to upload and to watch.

You would imagine Twitter will act fast to put in filters to catch such blatant infringements in future. Elon Musk may see himself as a free speech absolutist, but copyright infringement is one law that’s taken very seriously on the internet, and leaving his company open to legal action from studios around the world is likely not an ideological hill he wants to die on.