Media Literacy

Blog Posts

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.


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.


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

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.

How Your Fake Right-Wing News Gets Made

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Satire

Fake news sites have been booming this year, and well before that. But the name “RealTrueNews” probably should have tipped off someone.


“This ‘Conservative News Site’ Trended on Facebook, Showed Up on FOX News – and Duped the World”
by Ben Collins
The Daily Beast
October 27, 2016

aotprealtruenewsMarco Chacon had only spent about $20 on his conservative news website, RealTrueNews, when he heard his words in prime time on Fox News’ The Kelly File.

“Yeah,” Chacon said. “That was an accident.”

Just as he’d done for the last few months, Chacon had read the latest explosive conservative news—this time it was Hillary Clinton’s leaked speeches to Wall Street banks—and typed up an imagined transcript of his own.

“So in the transcript, she’s explaining Bronies to the Goldman Sachs board of directors,” said Chacon. “Do you know what Bronies are?”

Bronies are hard-core, usually adult fans of the cartoon My Little Pony.

“In this one, [Bronies] are part of a threat of subalterns who are going to take over the election. And people believe all this,” he said. “And I’m just… I’m telling people, ‘How can you believe this!?’”

Somewhere in the middle of that block of text about My Little Pony, Chacon’s transcript contained the phrase “bucket of losers,” attributed, falsely of course, to Clinton, which legitimate conservative news websites picked up as real.

Sure enough, by 9 p.m. that day, Trace Gallagher was on Fox News telling viewers that Clinton had “apparently called Bernie Sanders supporters a ‘bucket of losers.’” (Megyn Kelly later apologized after the Clinton campaign vehemently denied Clinton said it.)

Taking official-looking documents at face value isn’t just burgeoning among alt-right media. It’s a tactic now endorsed by the Republican candidate for president. Keep reading.

Meet Trump Booster and Digital Chimera Steven Smith (R-GA)

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Gullibility goes way up during election years.


“The Internet’s Favorite Congessman Is a Joke”
by Molly Taft
Medium
October 24, 2016

aotpssmithRep. Steven Smith of Georgia’s 15th District was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump and has been a vocal advocate for the candidate on Twitter. Two things, though: Georgia doesn’t have a 15th District and there’s no such congressman named Steven Smith. Meet the man behind the myth.

Two days after the third presidential debate, the right-wing internet is buzzing. The past week has been chock full of news fueling the rumors of an unfair election: The Podesta email dumps over the previous weekend were quickly followed by a video investigation into alleged bird-dogging at Trump rallies by DNC operatives, followed then by a report from the Center for Public Integrity titled “Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash.” The Trump campaign’s new anti-corruption hashtag, #DrainTheSwamp, has caught on, and Representative Steven Smith, GA-15, wants to do his part to rally the base.

Using a photo editing app, Smith creates a collage of images familiar to conservative followers: a cartoon of Hillary Clinton being propped up by the mainstream media; an unflattering photo of the candidate mid-sneer; Clinton atop a pile of money. “It’s a #RiggedSystem,” Smith adds as a caption. “But we can beat it at the ballot box. #DrainTheSwamp.” Pro-Trump and anti-media content, which Smith tweets out on average over 60 times per day to over 20,000 followers, has energized his Twitter feed in recent months: @RepStevenSmith is already at 11.3 million impressions in the past 28 days alone. Read more.

Journalist Who Posed as Middle Eastern Tycoon Gets Prison Term

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

UK journalist Mahzer Mahmood didn’t let ethics or truth get in the way of a hot scoop, and now he’s headed to prison. It’s a story that beggars belief, involving politics, pop star drug scandals, royalty real and fake. We’re left to wonder what’s up with the screen rights.


“British Reporter ‘Fake Sheikh’ Jailed for 15 Months”
by Danica Kirka
AP
October 21, 2016

aotpmazhermahmoodA judge sentenced a British journalist who often posed as a Middle Eastern tycoon in sting operations to 15 months in prison on Friday, after the tabloid reporter was convicted of perverting the course of justice in an effort to get scoops.

Mazher Mahmood, a tabloid reporter nicknamed the “Fake Sheikh,” was found guilty earlier this month of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drug trial of pop star and actress Tulisa Contostavlos. The case against Contostavlos originally was based on interviews Mahmood, 53, conducted for the Sun newspaper.

The Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing another 25 convictions linked to Mahmood’s work and has dropped active criminal cases in which Mahmood was to be a witness.

As he was led away to prison, a man in the crowd shouted, “Your turn now, Mazher.”

One of his most famous scoops involved the wife of Prince Edward, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II. Edward’s wife. Posing as an aide to a Saudi Arabian prince interested in hiring her public relations company, Mahmood charmed Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, into making indiscreet comments about the British government in 2001.

The countess also was caught on tape describing then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, as “horrid, horrid, horrid.”

For the sting involving Contostavlos, Mahmood posed as a film producer and discussed a movie role with her that would have her share screen time with Leonardo DiCaprio. Prosecutors said Mahmood gave evidence to police that led to Contostavlos being charged with supplying illicit drugs. Continue reading.

Ghostwatch Remembered

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Looking back on a controversial BBC show called Ghostwatch and its creator Stephen Volk, a hoaxer who out-Orsoned War of the Worlds.


“The BBC Halloween Hoax That Traumatized Viewers”
by Jake Rossen
Mental Floss
October 6, 2016

aotp_ghostwatchAfter more than 20,000 phone calls, one induced labor, and thousands of angry letters, the UK’s Broadcasting Standards Council convened for a hearing. On June 27, 1995, they ruled that the producers of Ghostwatch, a BBC program that aired on Halloween night less than three years earlier, had deliberately set out to “cultivate a sense of menace.”

Put another way, the BBC had been found to be complicit in scaring 11 million people senseless.

Airing from Northolt, North London, Ghostwatch alleged to report on the paranormal experiences of the Early family, which had been besieged by the actions of a ghostly apparition they called “Pipes.” Four recognized BBC presenters appeared on the show, which took on the appearance of a straightforward documentary and offered only subtle clues that it was an elaborate hoax. For a significant portion of viewers, it appeared as though they were witnessing documented evidence of a malevolent spirit.

Viewers grew so disturbed by the content that the network became embroiled in a controversy over what audiences felt was a ruse perpetrated by a trustworthy news source; cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in children were even reported in the British Medical Journal. What the BBC had intended to be nothing more alarming than an effective horror movie had petrified a country—and would eventually lead to accusations that it was responsible for someone’s death. Read more.


An Internet Writer Breaks Up With Her Boyfriend Over Trump… You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation

The ferocious and funny Anna Merlan takes an impressively deep dive into the made-up career of Rachel Brewson, the JT LeRoy of womens-interest clickbait.


“The Team of Men Behind Rachel Brewston, the Fake Woman Whose Trump-Fueled Breakup Went Viral”
by Anna Merlan
Jezebel
October 4, 2016

aotp_brewsonIn December 2015, readers at women’s site xoJane were enthralled and filled with all-caps rage by Rachel Brewson, a self-described “giant liberal” who boldly declared her love for a Republican named Todd. She described, in rapturous terms, how the couple’s political disagreements fueled an ecstatic third-date bipartisan fuck-fest that soon flowered into a real relationship.

Mid-date, they got into a “heated debate” about politics, Brewson wrote. They fought from wherever the date took place (she didn’t say), into the street, and into a cab. The discussion ended when Todd—who, as it turned out, was a gun-loving, Iraq-war-supporting libertarian—manfully invited himself up to her apartment.

“What followed was the best sex of my life up to that point,” Brewson wrote, whose author bio said she was a “dating editor” at a site called Review Weekly. “Somehow the political tension between us had transformed into sexual tension. I was hooked.”

The post was a modest success—it was shared just under 3,000 times on social media, and racked up 1,000 comments on xoJane itself (whose editor-in-chief is Jane Pratt of Sassy fame. The site was purchased by Time. Inc last fall). Many of those comments complained about Rachel’s privileged white-woman version of liberalism, which allowed her to ignore “petty differences”—her term—between her and Todd on issues like immigration.

“He flashed some money your way and you’re ready to label things like rape culture and systematic racism as ‘petty differences,’” one commenter fumed. “You aren’t as liberal as you want to believe you are.”

Three months later, the fairytale was over. (more…)

Fake Newspaper Endorses Reality TV Politician

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

Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump may have his “personal Pravda,” but everyone from The New York Times to the Arizona Republic has endorsed his opponent, and the media at large have taken the gloves off with him. The real estate developer hasn’t gotten any extra love from the fourth estate in the wake of his rough debate performance on Monday. He’ll be happy to know that the Baltimore Gazette has his back.


“Trump Gets Big Boost From Fake Newspaper”
by Jason Linkins
Huffington Post
September 27, 2016

aotp_baltimoregazetteBig media news for Hillary Clinton Tuesday night as the Arizona Republic ― which had never in its history endorsed a Democrat for president ― has thrown its endorsement to the former secretary of state, citing her lifetime of never coming across like an impulsive man-baby: “The president commands our nuclear arsenal. Trump can’t command his own rhetoric.”

But not so fast! Donald Trump has a media coup of his own to brag about. Seems that some eagle-eyed investigative reporters at the Baltimore Gazette have brought home a dilly of a scoop: “Multiple reports and leaked information from inside the Clinton camp claim that the Clinton campaign was given the entire set of debate questions an entire week before the actual debate.”

Trumpet sting!

Earlier last week an NBC intern was seen hand delivering a package to Clinton’s campaign headquarters, according to sources. The package was not given to secretarial staff, as would normally happen, but the intern was instead ushered into the personal office of Clinton campaign manager Robert Mook. Members of the Clinton press corps from several media organizations were in attendance at the time, and a reporter from Fox News recognized the intern, but said he was initially confused because the NBC intern was dressed like a Fed Ex employee.

That’s some serious shoe-leather! Unfortunately there was un problema. Read more.

Uncle Sam’s Imaginary Pen Pal

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, The History of Pranks

Gizmodo’s Paleofuture blog examines the canon of opinion writer Guy Sims Fitch, a prolific non-existent writer for the United States Information Agency.


“Meet Guy Sims Fitch, a Fake Writer Invented by the United States Government”
by Matt Novak
September 27, 2016
Paleofuture

aotp_guysimsfitchGuy Sims Fitch had a lot to say about the world economy in the 1950s and 60s. He wrote articles in newspapers around the globe as an authoritative voice on economic issues during the Cold War. Fitch was a big believer in private American investment and advocated for it as a liberating force internationally. But no matter what you thought of Guy Sims Fitch’s ideas, he had one big problem. He didn’t exist.

Guy Sims Fitch was created by the United States Information Agency (USIA), America’s official news distribution service for the rest of the world. Today, people find the term “propaganda” to be incredibly loaded and even negative. But employees of the USIA used the term freely and proudly in the 1950s and 60s, believing that they were fighting a noble and just cause against the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism. And Guy Sims Fitch was just one tool in the diverse toolbox of the USIA propaganda machine.

“I don’t mind being called a propagandist, so long as that propaganda is based on the truth,” said Edward R. Murrow in 1962. Murrow took a job as head of the USIA after a long and celebrated career as a journalist, and did quite a few things during his tenure that would make modern journalists who romanticize “the good old days” blush.

But even when USIA peddled its own version of the truth, the propaganda agency wasn’t always using the most, let’s say, truthful of methods. Their use of Guy Sims Fitch—a fake person whose opinions would be printed in countries like Brazil, Germany, and Australia, among others—served the cause of America’s version of the truth against Communism during the Cold War, even if Fitch’s very existence was a lie.

Read more.