All About Pranks

This blog has submissions from many known and not so known pranksters, artists, performers, activists and writers. It provides a continuing and growing exploration into the art of the prank; the role of the prankster as artist, activist and social observer; and the contribution of the prank to society.

Blog Posts

Activism: Where the Action Is

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Filed under: Co-option (If You Can't Beat 'Em...), Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Prank News

The sprawling anti-Trump resistance movement has proven to be stronger, funnier, and more creative than any American countercultural force we’ve seen in decades.

As soon as the race was called, the backlash was inevitable. And, like ants at a picnic, the marketers were not far behind. The Guardian has a rundown on the new profits of rage.


“Sex Doesn’t Sell Anymore; Activism Does. And Don’t the Big Brands Know It.”
by Alex Holder
The Guardian
February 3, 2017

Three days ago I hadn’t heard of Lyft. Not until I was greeted on Monday morning by a right-on colleague demanding to know if I’d deleted my Uber app and replaced it with Lyft. On Saturday #deleteuber had been trending after many believed it had undermined a taxi strike at New York’s JFK airport protesting against Donald Trump’s immigration ban. By Sunday, with swift marketing prowess, Lyft’s CEO Logan Green tweeted that the company was donating $1m to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Which led to Lyft’s downloads surpassing Ubers for the first time ever. They used to say sex sells; now, evidently, it’s activism.

Lyft wasn’t the only company flaunting good deeds this week. In reaction to Trump’s immigration ban, Starbucks CEO wrote an open letter to staff committing to hiring 10,000 refugees and Airbnb’s Brian Chesky tweeted that it was providing free accommodation to anyone not allowed in the US. Even Uber, presumably in a bid to outdo Lyft, created a $3m fund to help drivers affected by the “wrong and unjust” ban.

Companies are now attempting to outdo each other with major acts of generosity, but there’s a catch; they’ll do good as long as they can make sure their customers know about it. There is no room for humility when a brand does a good deed. They’re always Larry David and never the anonymous donor. (more…)

Teaching People to Become Bullshit Detectors

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

“Calling Bullshit” is a college course designed to identify & combat bullshit. We need more of these!


From Current Affairs, Science, January 27th, 2017: Two professors at the University of Washington, Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, have created a website meant to accompany a potential college seminar entitled “Calling Bullshit.” Here’s how Bergstrom and West explain the premise of their course. It’s worth quoting them at length.

The world is awash in bullshit. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Higher education rewards bullshit over analytic thought. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. Advertisers wink conspiratorially and invite us to join them in seeing through all the bullshit — and take advantage of our lowered guard to bombard us with bullshit of the second order. The majority of administrative activity, whether in private business or the public sphere, seems to be little more than a sophisticated exercise in the combinatorial reassembly of bullshit.

We’re sick of it. It’s time to do something, and as educators, one constructive thing we know how to do is to teach people. So, the aim of this course is to help students navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combating it with effective analysis and argument. More…

Visit the Calling Bullshit website.

Get your Bullshit Detector Watch website here.

WhatsApp Fuels India’s #FakeNews Fire

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

India has a long history of politically motivated hoaxes and guerrilla propaganda. A popular messenger app has thrown it into overdrive.


“Viral WhatsApp Hoaxes Are India’s Own Fake News Crisis”
by Pranav Dixit
Buzzfeed News
January 19. 2017

The United States is currently experiencing a fake news crisis — bogus news articles disguised to look like real ones to mislead people, influence public opinion, and/or to simply use their massive reach to reap advertising profits. These operations are sophisticated, data-driven, and highly targeted. But in countries like India where internet penetration and literacy still lag far behind the US, misinformation tends to have a more grassroots quality. Twitter is a fertile ground for all kinds of rumormongering, but with just over 30 million users in the country, its impact is limited.

The primary vector for the spread of misinformation in India is WhatApp. The instant messenger is fast, free, and runs on nearly all of India’s 300 million smartphones. It’s also encrypted end-to-end, which means it’s nearly impossible to track what flows through it. Its real-world ramifications, nonetheless, can be brutal.

In November, WhatsApp rumors of a salt shortage sparked panic in at least four Indian states and caused stampedes outside grocery shops as people rushed to stock up. The government eventually debunked the rumours — but not before a woman died.

India’s misinformation problem predates the internet. In the early ‘90s, rabble-rousers in northern India trying to stir up tensions in Hindu and Muslim communities would mass-produce cassette recordings full of fake gunfire, screams, and chants of “Allah-ho-Akbar,” and then play them in car stereos at full volume in the dead of the night to incite communal violence. Read more.


Has a Trump Inauguration COINTELPRO been Trumped?

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

Activists sting James O’Keefe’s latest attempt at a 1960s FBI-style COINTELPRO.

COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) was a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations.

This is an unfolding story that needs more verification, but…


Is Project Veritas Conducting Political Hit Jobs for Donald Trump?
Rightwing operative caught offering money to protesters to stage violent disruption of the Trump inauguration, part of a pattern of attacks orchestrated against progressives by James O’Keefe, in coordination with Breitbart News and with the support of Donald Trump.


Produced by Lauren Windsor and Peter James Callahan.

Learn more about this here: Counter-Sting Catches James O’Keefe Network Attempting To Sow Chaos At Trump’s Inauguration, by Ryan Grim, Huffington Post, January 9, 2017

and here:

Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.
Project Veritas has been caught trying to pay liberal groups to break the law.

and…

A warning goes out to women attending the Women’s March on January 21, 2017

Creative Activism at the Library

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Media Literacy

Algorithms be damned! Power to the people! Library workers take the fate of automated inventory control into their own hands in a cheeky way.


Librarians Go Rogue In Devious Attempt To Save Books From Getting Tossed, Hilary Henson, Huffington Post, January 6, 2017

The scheme involves a fake patron named “Chuck,” who checked out thousands of books last year.

A Florida librarian has been fired after in connection with a scheme to create a fake patron to check out books.

Staff at the East Lake County Library say they were just trying to save books.

But one librarian has been fired in connection with a scheme involving the creation of a fake library patron who “checked out” more than 2,000 books over the last year, as first reported by the Orlando Sentinel. Read the rest of the article here.


“Les choses sont contre nous” (‘Things’ are against us). Happy New Year!

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Filed under: The History of Pranks

“Resistentialism is largely a matter of sitting inside a wet sack and moaning.” So says Paul Francis Jennings, author of this Report on Resistentialism first published in 1948 in The Spectator.


Report on Resistentialism by Paul Francis Jennings
from The Jenguin Pennings, Penguin Books, 1963

It is the peculiar genius of the French to express their philosophical thought in aphorisms, sayings hard and tight as diamonds, each one the crystal centre of a whole constellation of ideas. Thus, the entire scheme of seventeenth century intellectual rationalism may be said to branch out from that single, pregnant saying of Descartes, ‘Cogito ergo sum’ – ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Resistentialism, the philosophy which has swept present-day France, runs true to this aphoristic form. Go into any of the little cafés or horlogeries on Paris’s Left Bank (make sure the Seine is flowing away from you, otherwise you’ll be on the Right Bank, where no one is ever seen) and sooner or later you will hear someone say, ‘Les choses sont contre nous.’ ‘Things are against us.’
 
This is the nearest English translation I can find for the basic concept of Resistentialisin, the grim but enthralling philosophy now identified with bespectacled, betrousered, two-eyed Pierre-Marie Ventre. In transferring the dynamic of philosophy from man to a world of hostile Things,’ Ventre has achieved a major revolution of thought, to which he himself gave the name ‘Resistentialism’. Things (res) resist (résister) man (homme, understood). Ventre makes a complete break with traditional philosophic method. Except for his German precursors, Freidegg and Heidansiecker, all previous thinkers from the Eleatics to Marx have allowed at least some legitimacy to human thought and effort. Some, like Hegel or Berkeley, go so far as to make man’s thought the supreme reality. In the Resistentialist cosmology that is now the intellectual rage of Paris Ventre offers us a grand vision of the Universe as One Thing – the Ultimate Thing (Dernière Chose). And it is against us. (more…)

Pizzagate: Cheesy Hand-tossed Lies

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

The bizarre tale of Comet Ping Pong restaurant and “Pizzagate” provides a case study in how fake stories proliferate online.
Update: And now it’s somehow gotten darker.
Another update: There is now a direct link between the spread of Pizzagate rumors and the nascent Trump Administration.


“The saga of ‘Pizzagate’: The fake story that shows how conspiracy theories spread”
BBC
December 2, 2016

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No victim has come forward. There’s no investigation. And physical evidence? That doesn’t exist either.

But thousands of people are convinced that a paedophilia ring involving people at the highest levels of the Democratic Party is operating out of a Washington pizza restaurant.

The story riveted fringes of Twitter – nearly a million messages were sent last month using the term “pizzagate”.

So how did this fake story take hold amongst alt-right Trump supporters and other Hillary Clinton opponents?

Let’s start with the facts.

In early November, as Wikileaks steadily released piles of emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, one contact caught the attention of prankster sites and people on the paranoid fringes.

James Alefantis is the owner of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington. He’s also a big Democratic Party supporter and raised money for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He was once in a relationship with David Brock, an influential liberal operative.

Alefantis – who’s never met Clinton – appeared in the Podesta emails in connection with the fundraisers.

And from these thin threads, an enormous trove of conspiracy fiction was spun. Read more.


Russia’s New Transgenetic Weapon

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, Media Literacy, You Decide

Putin prepares for world dominance.


“Is 14-legged killer squid found TWO MILES beneath Antarctica being weaponised by Putin?”
by Joey Millar
Express
November 30, 2016

killer-octopus-putin-735175Doctor Anton Padalka claims he was part of a Russian scientific expedition to a subterranean lake in the Arctic that discovered the terrifying creature – known as Organism 46-B.

He said their discovery at Lake Vostok was covered up by Russian officials who are now looking at ways to weaponise and breed the deadly squid – with potentially devastating effects.

Dr Padalka said the squid, which was discovered in a fresh water lake trapped beneath two miles of ice, possessed an array of weapons and was responsible for the deaths of at least two of his scientific colleagues on the expedition.

Giving details which sounded like the script of a B-movie horror film he said: “We encountered Organism 46-B on our first day. It disabled our radio – which we later learned, to our alarm, was intentional.

“It is also able to paralyse prey from a distance of up to 150 feet by releasing its venom into the water.

“Tragically my colleague and lifelong friend was killed this way. He tread water wearing a blissful smile as the organism approached him. Read more.


Joey Skaggs on Fake News (and he should know)

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

A master of fake news speaks. Published earlier today in Huffington Post, Joey muses on media literacy and the need for vigilant skepticism.


Fake News: The Relentless Pursuit of Mind Control
by Joey Skaggs
Huffington Post
November 29, 2016

Jojo, King of the New York Gypsies (a.k.a. Joey Skaggs), protesting to rename the Gypsy Moth in 1982


Jojo, King of the New York Gypsies (a.k.a. Joey Skaggs), protesting to rename the Gypsy Moth in 1982

The news media is all a-flutter with headlines about the rise and proliferation of fake news media: “Did Russia Install Donald Trump As the Next U.S. President?” “It’s About To Get Worse!” “Living in a Media Bubble” “Can American Democracy Survive?” Excuse me? Wait a minute…

Propaganda and disinformation have been an integral part of our daily dose of information forever. In essence, everywhere you look, whether it’s the allegedly trustworthy mainstream media or the not-so-trustworthy social media alt-right or left-trending news stories, someone is always peddling influence.

It wasn’t just the Russians who supposedly engaged in influencing election results by hacking emails and proliferating fake news that damaged the Democrats’ pursuit of the White House. Americans can’t play the innocent victims here. We’re all using the same propaganda techniques. Now, because of warp-speed Internet and social media delivery systems, we have a perpetual game of Propaganda Pong, and the onslaught is much more ruthless and, at the same time, highly profitable financially.

That’s what life is like these days. You’re either the provider or the recipient—or more likely both—of propaganda and disinformation.

Read the whole article here.


Wanted: Media Gate Keeper

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Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

Has the media lost it’s mooring? And, if so, how will it right itself?


Donald Trump and the Rise of Alt-Reality Media
by Charles Sykes
Politico
November 25, 2016

You think the truth took a hit last year? It’s about to get worse. A lot worse.

alt-right_mediaEarlier this year, I argued that the conservative movement did not merely have a Donald Trump problem—it had a media problem. As Trump slouched toward the nomination he was backed by a conservative media that had successfully created an alternative reality bubble around his candidacy. When Trump claimed that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey had celebrated the attacks on 9/11, for instance, callers to my show lined up to provide supporting evidence the only source of which was an echo chamber of partisan bloggers; listeners chimed in with evidence they had seen on Facebook linking Ted Cruz’ father to the JFK assassination. Of course, we know the origin of that “evidence” was the National Enquirer. Crowd-sourcing has its limits.

As a #NeverTrumper, I had hoped that the election would prompt a moment of reckoning and introspection, not merely about conservative values but also the role of the conservative media. As someone who has spent much of his career promoting conservative values on my radio show, I was depending on it.

Clearly, that is not going to happen now. In fact, it’s going to get a lot worse. Read the whole article here.

Reheating the Cold War: Blame it on the Ruskies

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

“They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who along with two other researchers has tracked Russian propaganda since 2014. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”


Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say
by Craig Timberg
The Washington Post
November 24, 2016

Putin TV

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. Read the rest of the article here.

Did Fake News Skew the Presidential Election?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Prank News, Pranksters

Among the myriad of influences on the presidential election results, a prominent and pervasive force has been fake news, propagated by unscrupulous merchants seeking traffic via social media. Here’s a quasi-confession of one such voice.

Here also, from NYMag.com is “An Extremely Helpful List of Fake and Misleading News Sites to Watch Out For“.


Facebook fake-news writer: ‘I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me’
by Caitlin Dewey
Washington Post
November 17, 2016

imrs-sm

What do the Amish lobby, gay wedding vans and the ban of the national anthem have in common? For starters, they’re all make-believe — and invented by the same man.

Paul Horner, the 38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire, has made his living off viral news hoaxes for several years. He has twice convinced the Internet that he’s British graffiti artist Banksy; he also published the very viral, very fake news of a Yelp vs. “South Park” lawsuit last year.

But in recent months, Horner has found the fake-news ecosystem growing more crowded, more political and vastly more influential: In March, Donald Trump’s son Eric and his then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, even tweeted links to one of Horner’s faux-articles. His stories have also appeared as news on Google.

In light of concerns that stories like Horner’s may have affected the presidential election, and in the wake of announcements that both Google and Facebook would take action against deceptive outlets, Intersect called Horner to discuss his perspective on fake news. This transcript has been edited for clarity, length and — ahem — bad language. ” target=”_blank”>Read more

We Are Movie Geeks Interview: Joey Skaggs – Subject of ART OF THE PRANK

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Filed under: Art of the Prank - the movie, Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Prank News, Pranksters, The Prank as Art

SLIFF 2016 Interview: Joey Skaggs – Subject of ART OF THE PRANK
by Tom Stockman
We Are Movie Geeks
November 2, 2016

artoftheprankatsliff

ART OF THE PRANK offers a hilarious and provocative profile of New York artist Joey Skaggs, the godfather of the media hoax. Famed for such media fictions as the Celebrity Sperm Bank, the Cathouse for Dogs, the Fat Squad, and the Portofess (a mobile confessional booth) — all reported as fact by reputable journalists — the prankster qualifies as one of America’s greatest living satirists. Chronicling the most demanding hoax of Skaggs’ career, filmmaker Andrea Marini provides privileged access to the thoughts and actions of this most unconventional man, following the evolution of an artist who has dedicated his life to seeking social change by relentlessly challenging the status quo. With unprecedented access to Skaggs and his archives, the documentary reveals the man behind the curtain, interweaving his current unfolding hoax with a look behind the scenes at some of his classic performance pieces. The New York Observer calls the film “an upbeat summary of decades of mischief” and “an intimate portrait of an earnest man earnestly engaged in the business of tomfoolery.”

Joey Skaggs took the time to talk to We Are Movie Geeks about ART OF THE PRANK.


Election 2016: The Laughter Has Died

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire

It may be paying their bills, but the writers for The Onion are just as sick of this dumpster-fire election as the rest of us. Thanks to Scott Beale for the link.


“How To Satirize This Election? Even The Onion Is Having Trouble”
by Sarah Lyall
The New York Times
November 4, 2016

05onion-1-superjumboNow that it’s almost over and we’re all thoroughly miserable, is there anything funny left to say about this dreadful election? Even the writers at the satirical website The Onion were struggling the other morning to come up with fresh avenues of amusement.

Lounging around the writers’ room, they listened to the editor in chief, Cole Bolton, read from a list of potential headlines they had submitted for consideration. Some of them were pretty funny – “Trump Tells Supporters Next Stop in Movement Is Buying Luxury Condos,” for instance, and “Clinton Vows Complete Transparency for Remaining 6 Days of Campaign” — but by the end of the meeting, only three out of 48 had been selected as worthy of turning into an item for the site. A kind of comic fatigue seemed to be setting in.

“We feel like we’ve passed every single stage of despair, hopelessness and rage,” Mr. Bolton said. “This last week is just us strafing to find new angles, to put into words how horrible this experience has been.”

It’s not that The Onion, which began as a campus humor magazine at the University of Wisconsin in 1988 and went all-digital at the end of 2013, has not faced dismaying events before. Its specialty is finding satire even in topics seemingly impossible to satirize. “God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule” was its headline for a post-9/11 article in which a despairing God rails at the moronic nature of his creation. Keep reading.

Snopes Checks In on the Facebook Standing Rock Check-in Trend

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fact or Fiction?, Legal Issues, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, You Decide

Our friends at Snopes have their hands full these days, but hubbub around the Standing Rock Facebook check-ins got too big for them to ignore.


“DAPL Radar”
by Kim LaCapria
Snopes
October 31, 2016

A viral Facebook status update urged users to check in at Standing Rock in order to prevent the Morton County Sheriff’s Department from geotargeting DAPL protesters.

AOTPStandingRockProtests

Example: [Collected via e-mail, October 2016]

This popped up on my Facebook newsfeed today, any idea as to its validity? It seems like Facebook “share spam” but I’m curious if there’s any element of truth.

“The Morton County Sherriff’s Department has been using Facebook check-ins to find out who is at Randing Stock in order to target them in attempts to disrupt the prayer camps. So, Water Protectors are calling on EVERYONE to check in at Standing Rock, ND to overwhelm and confuse them. This is concrete action that can protect people putting their bodies and well-beings on the line that we can do without leaving our homes.
Will you join me in Standing Rock?
If you’re sharing your location at Randing Stock (which you should be doing)
1) make it public
2) make the clarification post separate, and so that only your friends can see it
3) don’t clarify on your check in, message friends who say “stay safe!” to let them know what’s up — the stay safe posts are more convincing / confusing for p*lice
4) copy paste to share clarification messages (like this one) because making it public blows our cover
5) say “Randing Stock” in clarification posts so that when they filter out / search those terms, your post is visible to the right people”


Hey,

I saw this and I’m slightly confused by why this would help disrupt police action. My theory is that this is a message meant for people actually there protesting not the Facebook community at large. Protestors are probably posting at unique locations/ tribe grounds they get to. Instead of doing that, this message is for them, telling them to keep their location general. Adding in the Facebook mass is just an added touch to show support for the action against DPL.

Origin:On 31 October 2016, a viral Facebook status meme began circulating, claiming that the Morton County Sheriff’s Department was using Facebook check-ins to target and disrupt prayer camps at Standing Rock protests.

The rumor involved a two-part status update, along with a message that the actions described would “confuse” or “overwhelm” police officers in their purported attempts to target individual demonstrators… Read more.

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