Media Literacy

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The Strange Saga of Melania Trump’s Speechwriter

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Prank News

In one of many remarkable moments in this year’s Republican National Convention, potential First Lady Melania Trump delivered a speech blatantly plagiarized from incumbent First Lady Michelle Obama. A little-known Donald Trump speechwriter named Meredith McIver showed up to take the blame, sparking conspiracy theories. And things have stayed weird.


“Who’s Impersonating Melania Trump’s Plagarist Meredith McIver?”
by Gideon Resnick
The Daily Beast
August 2, 2016

meredith-mciver-melania-trump-8Meredith McIver, a former ballerina turned Donald Trump co-author, is definitely a real person. But her social media persona, which came into being after she took the blame for Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, definitely is not.

The account @imeredithmciver began tweeting on July 20, the day after Melania Trump’s prime-time Republican National Convention speech was upended by the revelation that she had cribbed some lines from an address by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. And it is still posing as McIver to this day, with no comment or pushback from the Trump campaign.

As the campaign is in the throes of daily sparring with a Gold Star family, fire marshals, and even the speaker of the House, there’s been no acknowledgment of the fake social media presence of McIver, who told The Daily Beast she has no online presence. Multiple people have emailed The Daily Beast claiming to have some knowledge about the mysterious appearance of the account, ranging from abject satire to claims the Trump campaign is actually behind it.

“I just wanted to set the record straight. @realDonaldTrump is a wonderful man,” the account tweeted just as McIver was getting roped into the burgeoning scandal. With her social media proclamation, the account included a photoshopped image of McIver and Trump standing next to each other in his office. (more…)

The NYT Interviews Russian Pranksters Who Aren’t President of Anything

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

The New York Times did a phoner with two dudes posing as embattled Ukrainian President Poroshenko and indirectly give us the delightful new term “pranker.”


“Two Russian men pranked the The New York Times by giving a US journalist an interview posing as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko”
by Staff
Sputnik News
April 13, 2016

1027247581Russian prankers [sic] Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, more commonly known as Vovan and Lexus, spoke with The New York Times journalist Carol Giacomo pretending to be Petro Poroshenko.

The prankers spoke with the journalist about the president’s business and his involvement in the recent Panama Papers leak. They assured The New York Times that Poroshenko is a law-abiding citizen who always pays all of his taxes and cares for his country.

Kuznetsov and Stolyarov went even further when after the interview they called The New York Times back and said the interview, in fact, wasn’t done with Poroshenko, but with a phony who wanted to discredit the newspaper for its recent article which called Ukraine a “corrupt swamp.”

In other words, the prankers fooled The New York Times again, this time simultaneously discrediting Poroshenko’s administration. Read more.

We’re Gonna Need More Enthusiasm

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Pranksters

Davy Rothbard of Found fame profiles a company that hires out fake crowds. H/t Dave Pell.


“Crowd Source: Inside the company that provides fake paparazzi, pretend campaign supporters, and counterfeit protesters”
by Davy Rothbard
The California Sunday Magazine
March 31, 2016

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When he can, Adam trains his hired crowds himself, but more often he relies on local coordinators who manage the events. In Los Angeles, Del Brown — the woman I met at the Marriott — is Adam’s point person. Del moved to California in 2012 to pursue an acting career and soon landed a Doritos commercial, but after that, she mostly found work as an extra in student films and small indie projects. She worked a gig with Crowds on Demand, and Adam was so impressed he immediately put her on staff. Del has established a wide network she can reach out to when she needs, say, 60 crowd-fillers for a party on the roof deck of the W Los Angeles hotel or a 6-foot-6-inch man in a leather kilt to act as a fan at the launch of a book about S&M culture. Many of Del’s recurring crowd members are background actors she’s met on film sets, yet she is continually trawling for fresh faces.

At the Marriott, I’d met Jackie Greig, who typifies the crowd members Del and Adam often hire. Jackie is 50 years old, a film student at Los Angeles City College. A teacher had shared a posting about what she thought was an upcoming film shoot that was looking for paid help. Jackie showed up at the Marriott only to discover that this was not a film shoot. Yes, she was being asked to aim her camera at the life coaches, but whether she hit record was immaterial. On one hand, Jackie was frustrated. She’d skipped class and driven more than an hour to be there. On the other hand, after a couple of hours, she’d made $37.50 and could now afford a Foo Fighters concert for her daughter. “I just wish they’d been more transparent about what the gig really was,” Jackie tells me.

If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know.

The tricky thing, Adam says, is how many of his clients insist on secrecy. If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know. Adam must balance his goal of spreading awareness of his company, so he can attract more clients, with the benefits of keeping the public in the dark. If people start to doubt the veracity of crowds, his business might suffer. “Right now, we’re still kind of this secret weapon,” Adam says. “We have the element of surprise. Yeah, you might’ve heard about political candidates paying to bring some extra bodies into their campaign events, but it’s beyond the realm of most people’s imagination that crowds are being deployed in other ways. Nobody is skeptical of crowds. Of course, in five years that could change.”

Adam says he gives Del wide latitude to recruit crowd members. Most often, she presents the gigs as background acting work. This is only slightly misleading: Crowd members won’t bulk up their IMDB profile, but being part of a fake crowd is a kind of acting. In a world where everybody is constantly playing a part, staging moments to be broadcast later on social media, the line between counterfeit and authentic has become blurred. Is curating a version of yourself on Facebook any less fake than pretending to be a superfan of a life coach? Read more.


Let’s Bomb Agrabah!

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Creative Activism, Media Literacy, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

A significant portion of the American voting public, particularly from the Republican ranks and particularly among Donald Trump fans, are at least somewhat in favor of bombing Agrabah.


“People Want to Bomb the Fictional Kingdom in Aladdin, But Don’t Panic Yet”
By Ariel Edwards-Levy and Natasha Jackson
Huffington Post
December 18, 2015

jafarvsaladdin“Americans are deeply divided over whether to bomb the kingdom of Agrabah, according to a new poll, with Republicans more likely to be in favor and Democrats tending to be opposed.

But here’s the problem: “Agrabah” happens to be the fictional home of Aladdin.

Public Policy Polling, a prominent Democratic-leaning polling firm, included the question in its most recent national poll. (Let’s not forget that this is the same firm that listed “Deez Nuts” as a candidate on a North Carolina poll.)

Over half of Democrats and 43 percent of Republicans answered the Agrabah question. Thirty percent of Republican primary voters were in favor of bombing the fictional location, while 13 percent were opposed. Among Democrats, 19 percent were in favor and 36 percent were opposed. (more…)

Catching Up With Serial Fabulist Stephen Glass

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Hanna Rosin attempts to square up with her former bestie, one of American journalism’s most notorious bullshitters.

Bonus: Longform.org has a confounding collection of essays on frauds in journalism.


“Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I’m Sorry”
By Hanna Rosin
The New Republic
November 10, 2014

He nearly destroyed this magazine. Sixteen years later, his former best friend finally confronts him.

shattered-glass2

The last time I talked to Stephen Glass, he was pleading with me on the phone to protect him from Charles Lane. Chuck, as we called him, was the editor of The New Republic and Steve was my colleague and very good friend, maybe something like a little brother, though we are only two years apart in age. Steve had a way of inspiring loyalty, not jealousy, in his fellow young writers, which was remarkable given how spectacularly successful he’d been in such a short time. While the rest of us were still scratching our way out of the intern pit, he was becoming a franchise, turning out bizarre and amazing stories week after week for The New Republic, Harper’s, and Rolling Stone—each one a home run.

I didn’t know when he called me that he’d made up nearly all of the bizarre and amazing stories, that he was the perpetrator of probably the most elaborate fraud in journalistic history, that he would soon become famous on a whole new scale. I didn’t even know he had a dark side. It was the spring of 1998 and he was still just my hapless friend Steve, who padded into my office ten times a day in white socks and was more interested in alphabetizing beer than drinking it. When he called, I was in New York and I said I would come back to D.C. right away. I probably said something about Chuck like: “Fuck him. He can’t fire you. He can’t possibly think you would do that.”

I was wrong, and Chuck, ever-resistant to Steve’s charms, was as right as he’d been in his life. (more…)

4Chan v. Tumblr: Young Idealists at War

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Media Literacy, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters

Over the last two decades, kids in the U.S. have grown up never not having had the internet. Plumbing the culture they’re maturing in and exploring the places they hone their ideas and social skills can lead to some interesting clues about the future. This is the second in a series of reports on contemporary American pranksters from Emerson Dameron, a writer, storyteller, and humorist searching for signs of life in a world plastered with ads.


4Chan v. Tumblr: Young Idealists at War
by Emerson Dameron
September 6, 2014

This summer, some of the most extreme personae on the internet celebrated their constitutional freedom of association by going to war.

Various self-contained hives of the internet give its users thousands of targeted factions to join. Over time, these sub-communities foster their own in-jokes, jargon, and culture that defies penetration by outsiders. They can be maddeningly complex. Asking their denizens the most basic of questions pegs one as impossibly square, an easy mark for mockery that strengthens the group.

These subcultures sometimes compete with each other. It can look silly from the outside, but the stakes can be quite high for those involved.

Tumblr

In the last few years, the blogging platform Tumblr, with its emphasis on sharing and community rather than high-effort original content, has become a hub for young outsiders looking for very specific places to belong. It may be eroding Facebook’s dominance among teenagers and college students, quite a few of whom seem to be in the early stages of embracing feminist theory, questioning their sexuality, and performing fraught public experiments with personal identity, gender, and politics. Because they feel so ostracized in “real life,” these Tumblr users can be intensely protective of each other and hostile toward anyone who may be antagonizing them in their safe spaces. (more…)

“Liked” to the Max

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Filed under: Media Literacy

What can happen if you open your floodgates (and those of your friends) to Facebook’s marketing machine?


I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days.
Here’s What It Did to Me

by Mat Honan
Wired
August 11, 2014

thumbs-up-425

…I like everything. Or at least I did, for 48 hours. Literally everything Facebook sent my way, I liked—even if I hated it. I decided to embark on a campaign of conscious liking, to see how it would affect what Facebook showed me. I know this sounds like a stunt (and it was) but it was also genuinely just an open-ended experiment. I wasn’t sure how long I’d keep it up (48 hours was all I could stand) or what I’d learn (possibly nothing.)

Read the whole article here.


Art of the Hoax – Joey Skaggs on PRI

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Definitions, Media Literacy, The Prank as Art, What Makes a Good Prank?, Why Do a Prank?

Jester_waitscmMarch 30, 2014: Pranks and Hoaxes, produced by Wisconsin Public Radio and distributed by Public Radio International, presents an interview with Joey Skaggs called Art of the Hoax – Joey Skaggs.

Listen here

A New Definition of News?

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Prank News

UPDATE: It’s only fair to update stories when they’ve been debunked. Check out Michelle Goldberg’s explanation in The Nation about why Linda Tirado, lead character in one of the recent viral stories tagged as a hoax in the below article from the New York Times and also this one from CNN, is not a hoax.


Last week it was CNN, now it’s the New York Times weighing in on viral content as news. The new description of news is not “is it true?” but “is it interesting?” Submitted by Peter M. and Joe King.


If a Story Is Viral, Truth May Be Taking a Beating
by Ravi Somaiya and Leslie Kaufman
New York Times
December 9, 2013

viraltweet-200Truth has never been an essential ingredient of viral content on the Internet. But in the stepped-up competition for readers, digital news sites are increasingly blurring the line between fact and fiction, and saying that it is all part of doing business in the rough-and-tumble world of online journalism.
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Twitter posts told the tale of a feud on a plane that never occurred. The writer later said it was a short story.
Enlarge This Image

Twitter posts about a feud on a plane that never happened.

John Cook, Gawker’s editor, said it was impossible to vet all its articles.
Several recent stories rocketing around the web, picking up millions of views, turned out to be fake or embellished: a Twitter tale of a Thanksgiving feud on a plane, later described by the writer as a short story; a child’s letter to Santa that detailed an Amazon.com link in crayon, but was actually written by a grown-up comedian in 2011; and an essay on poverty that prompted $60,000 in donations until it was revealed by its author to be impressionistic rather than strictly factual.

Their creators describe them essentially as online performance art, never intended to be taken as fact. But to the media outlets that published them, they represented the lightning-in-a-bottle brew of emotion and entertainment that attracts readers and brings in lucrative advertising dollars.

(more…)

Fox News’ Spin Doctors – Keeping the Critics at Bay

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Spin

Fox News Reportedly Used Fake Commenter Accounts To Rebut Critical Blog Posts
by Ben Dimiero
Media Matters
October 20, 2013

New Book Details An Extensive Campaign By The Networks’ PR Staffers

fox-sockpuppet-425

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik writes in his forthcoming book Murdoch’s World that Fox News’ public relations staffers used an elaborate series of dummy accounts to fill the comments sections of critical blog posts with pro-Fox arguments.

In a chapter focusing on how Fox utilized its notoriously ruthless public relations department in the mid-to-late 00’s, Folkenflik reports that Fox’s PR staffers would “post pro-Fox rants” in the comments sections of “negative and even neutral” blog posts written about the network. According to Folkenflik, the staffers used various tactics to cover their tracks, including setting up wireless broadband connections that “could not be traced back” to the network.

A former staffer told Folkenflik that they had personally used “one hundred” fake accounts to plant Fox-friendly commentary: Read the whole article here.

via Huffington Post

Eyeball-licking Craze? Really?

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Media Pranks

From W.J. Elvin III: An interesting study in mainstream media wiggling and waffling. They should have just said “We were suckered. Sorry.” But instead a lot of jabber about how they were just one of many, “maybe” dropped the ball as far as fact-checking and heeding warnings, blah, blah, blah…


The readers’ editor on… how we fell into the trap of reporting Japan’s eyeball-licking craze as fact
bu Chris Elliott
The Guardian
August 25, 2013

The story was all over the web, but it was not especially difficult to cast doubts on the claim that there was an epidemic of tongue-induced pink eye

lick2-200The web is voracious. It gobbles up stories, themes and memes like a monster from outer space. With the merest puff of wind to launch them, a bewildering slew of tales take off, powered by the perpetual motion of repetition.

The Guardian was among a crowd that made the mistake of filling the sails of one of the weirder stories to take off in this way. The article appeared on the Shortcuts blog. It aims to be a fast-paced humorous column, which is described as “trending topics and news analysis”.

[Video from Huffington Post]

The headline on the story, posted on 14 June 2013, is: “Eyeball-licking: the fetish that is making Japanese teenagers sick”. The author explains that the article will be about “oculolinctus, an eye-licking fetish that is currently sweeping across the schools of Japan like, well, like a great big dirty bacteria-coated tongue sweeping across a horrific number of adolescent eyeballs … oculolinctus is being blamed for a significant rise in Japanese cases of conjunctivitis and eye-chlamydia … It’s apparently seen as a new second-base; the thing you graduate to when kissing gets boring.” (more…)

Dylan, the Consummate Sampler?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s an essay by Scott Warmuth for New Haven Review regarding Dylan’s hidden charlatanism subtext in Chronicles: Volume One


Bob Charlatan
Deconstructing Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One

by Scott Warmuth
New Haven Review

The world luvs to be cheated, but they want to hav it dun bi an honest man, and not bi a hornet and then they never seem to git tired ov it.
—Josh Billings

When Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles: Volume One was released in 2004 it received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Dylan’s recollections came off as disarmingly personal; the use of language in his prose was said to be as distinctive and captivating as it is in his songs. But over the past several years, in loose collaboration with Edward Cook, of Washington, DC, I have been giving Chronicles a closer look. Ed is, among other things, an editor of The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation—deciphering and translating are his business—but he is also a Bob Dylan fan and blogger. In 2006, he first posted about borrowings in Chronicles: Volume One from Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, and jazzman Mezz Mezzrow’s 1946 autobiography Really the Blues; later he posted about borrowings from Jack London and even Sax Rohmer, creator of Dr. Fu Manchu. And together Ed and I have found in Chronicles an author, Bob Dylan, who has embraced camouflage to an astounding degree, in a book that is meticulously fabricated, with one surface concealing another, from cover to cover.

Dozens upon dozens of quotations and anecdotes have been incorporated from other sources. Dylan has hidden many puzzles, jokes, secret messages, secondary meanings, and bizarre subtexts in his book. After many months of research my copy of Chronicles: Volume One is drenched in highlighter and filled with marginalia and I have a thigh-high stack of books, short stories, and periodicals that Dylan drew from to work his autobiographical alchemy. (more…)

Video Projector Pranks: When One Equals Two

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Filed under: How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals, Media Literacy

As seen on Laughing Squid, posted by Aaron Muszalski on April 6, 2010:


Matthew Weathers, a Mathematics and Computer Science Professor at Biola University in Southern California, has a charming talent for surprising his students with clever video projector pranks.

For a tutorial on how Matthew Weathers creates these video projector pranks, click here.

LiteratEye #49: Biff! Bam! Super-Journalist Takes On the Academics

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Filed under: Media Literacy

Here’s the forty-ninth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #49: Biff! Bam! Super-Journalist Takes On the Academics
By W.J. Elvin III
January 29, 2010

“I have never done any research that shows blondes are more aggressive, entitled, angry or ‘warlike’ than brunette or redheads.” Aaron Sell, Center for Evolutionary Psychology, in a letter to the Times of London.

You probably noticed the anti-British journalist rant posted on this site yesterday, provoked by the article referred to above. If not, it’s still available for your reading enjoyment.

The controversy has been getting a lot of play on sites catering to scholars such as Arts & Letters Daily as well as some more popular arenas like Defamer.

Thus far, though, no one seems to be standing up for British journalists. Until now, that is. Here in the LiteratEye bunker we’re taking a contrarian position on the matter. We declare British journalists to be the best and brightest in the business.

As I recall, old school British journalists could typically run circles around their American counterparts as news-getters and as entertaining writers. The few I’ve known as editors could no doubt have donned general’s uniforms and tidied up Afghanistan and Iraq in short order.

Their secret – and I’m speaking here of those I knew in the good old days — is that they understood and served reader interest. I’m sure they could have produced brilliant thumb-sucker think pieces or razor-sharp analysis of yet another boring issue. Or they could have written suck-up puff stories touting their intimate buddy-buddy relationships with the high and mighty. But, no, they wrote for the fellow who, over his morning coffee, would peek from behind the paper to say: “Jumpin’ cheeses, Alice, listen to this!” (more…)

Freedom of the Press vs. The Truth

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Filed under: Media Literacy

Submitted by W.J. Elvin III: British Journalism 101: Don’t let facts stand in the way of a good story…


British Newspapers Make Things Up
by Satoshi Kanazawa
Psychology Today
January 24, 2010

In April 2008, I wrote that British journalists interpret “freedom of the press” to mean that they can make up anything they want and publish it as fact in British newspapers. Now another evolutionary psychologist has learned the lesson the hard way.

In the earlier post, I explain that, by the American standards, all British newspapers are tabloids because they don’t distinguish between what is true and what they make up. I knew this from my own experiences of dealing with British journalists, but, as it turns out, even the British government admits, in an official government publication, that British newspapers make things up and report them as facts.

Most British people consider the Times of London to be the most respectable “broadsheet” newspaper (as opposed to “tabloid” newspapers) in the UK, despite the fact that the Times, along with most British “broadsheet” newspapers, is now published in the tabloid size to make it easier for people to read it in crowded London subways. Last week, the Sunday Times published an article with the headline “Blonde women born to be warrior princesses.” The article reported that “Researchers claim that blondes are more likely to display a “warlike” streak because they attract more attention than other women and are used to getting their own way – the so-called “princess effect.”” The Times article quotes the evolutionary psychologist at the University of California – Santa Barbara, Aaron Sell, and his findings are purportedly published in his article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, written with the two Deans of Modern Evolutionary Psychology, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby.

As it turns out, however, none of this is true, as Sell explains in his angry letter to the Times. He and his coauthors do not mention blondes at all in their paper and they don’t even have hair color in their data. The supplementary analyses that Sell performed after the publication of the paper, as a personal favor to the Times reporter, show the exact opposite of what the Times article claims. After he presumably listened to Sell explain all of this on the phone, the Times reporter nonetheless made up the whole thing, and attributed it to Sell. (more…)