On Sunday night, Lana Del Rey played the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. By the next day, a video had popped up on YouTube titled “Lana Del Rey (Live) Stream Concert at Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA, US.”
If you’ve ever tried to find live concert footage on YouTube, you probably won’t be shocked to learn that the video was a fake. The four-minute clip shows generic concert footage behind large white text instructing viewers to follow a link in the description leading to UltraLive4K.online, which appears to be a clone of LiveList, an actual site for livestreaming concerts.
YouTube’s fake livestream problem is a longstanding one. Scammers upload the clips in order to coax viewers off YouTube and onto sketchy sites that demand that users enter an email address and password — an easy dodge for a savvy web user, but maybe not for a kid who loves Lana Del Rey. Some YouTube users complained last year that the videos had already been showing up for a year, and new ones show up every day — far too many for individuals to report. “Each time I want to check some footage from the gig that I was at I'm drowning in a scam,” wrote user Michal Bielejewski. As of this writing, the first 100 results for a YouTube search for “concert live stream” clips uploaded in the past 24 hours are all fake livestreams.
Allen Sanford, the CEO of LiveList, has been frustrated by the fakes. “Yes, we are seeing rampant fake livestreams,” he told me. “We’d love for YouTube to do more to take these down.”
Following the links to other sites promoted in the fake livestreams on YouTube felt like descending into an underworld of spam. On Concert-Worldwide.stream, where I ended up by clicking a link on a fake Arcane Roots concert video, the “register” button sometimes leads to Coreplays.com, which made garbled promises like “Watch as many movies you want!” and “Secure Scanned, No Virus Detected” while it asks for me to create an account. Other times it leads to Parryplay, which urged me to create an account to access “over 30,000 songs.” There were no videos to be found.
None of the sites seem to be legitimate livestream sites. UltraLive4K is a convincing facsimile, with commenters typing in a scrolling Twitch-style chat window on the right side of the screen. But it quickly becomes clear that they’re just cycling through a few comments again and again. “Awesome work bro!” says an account named metalfish, over and over. “Loving this live streaming. No lag.”
(Concert-Worldwide.stream, by the way, is probably related to UltraLive4K.online — or, at least, it has a strikingly similar clientele. “Awesome work bro!” said an account called marvinj in the chat box, every minute or so. “Loving this live streaming.” And on Live-List.stream, another site advertised in the fake streams, metalfish was back again. “Awesome work bro!” it wrote. “Loving this live streaming.”)
The account that uploaded the fake Lana Del Rey video, Cierra Cantu, has uploaded a dozen videos, all of which are fake livestreams of bands including Less Than Jake, King’s X, and even the metal act Leprous. Fake streams seem to be genre-agnostic. In addition to superstars like Lana, I spotted The Killers, Tiësto, Sonata Arctica and even the Composition in Asia Symposium. Cantu would have needed to be a jet-setter to capture all the concerts the account claimed to offer over the past 24 hours, which took place at international locales including the U.S., Argentina, Australia, and France.
“Awesome work bro! Loving this live streaming. No lag.”
Most of the videos uploaded by Cantu and others seem to be referencing actual concert listings, lending them a veneer of plausibility to YouTube users who are searching for footage of a specific event. One theory: There just isn’t that much livestreamed concert footage on YouTube, so spammers upload the fake content to fill the void.
YouTube is already in the middle of a content moderation battle. New rules on the site mean that content creators need bigger audiences to monetize their content, and that every video that’s paired with top-tier ads needs to be watched by a human moderator before it’s approved — efforts to fight poor perception of the platform in the wake of its struggles with everything from terrorist videos to a culture of over-the-top stunts.
And to be fair, YouTube does contend with a flabbergasting amount of content — every day its users watch a billion hours of video. But it doesn’t seem unreasonable for the site to crack down on the fake streams algorithmically, either by filtering for suspect text in descriptions, or flagging links to known fake livestream sites, or by identifying videos that are duplicates of one another, or something else clever. It is Google, after all.
The site may already be taking steps to fight the fake livestreams. A Google spokesperson told me that the company was “aware and actively working to resolve the issue” — and, though many fake livestreams remained the next day, the fake clip of Lana Del Rey in Philadelphia had been removed.