Fact or Fiction?

A look at conspiracy theories, “official truths”, political spin, propaganda, tall tales, urban legends, magic, and illusion, all as they relate to the Art of the Prank. When truth intersects with a personal agenda, established facts are challenged, or human gullibility is preyed upon for ulterior motives, we hope that skepticism, logic, reason, and facts have a balancing effect.

Blog Posts

Alex Jones: Post-Reality Rodeo Clown?

by
Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Pranksters, Spin, You Decide

Talk show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones began his career as an Austin eccentric, known for his associations with comedian Joe Rogan and filmmaker Richard Linklater. His paleoconservative media profile has risen steadily since the election of Barack Obama – he’s now better known for egging on Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, describing the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre as “crisis actors,” and throwing his bulk behind the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.

Now, he’s engaged in a vicious custody battle, and his lawyers are suggesting that he’s not an increasingly unhinged paranoid maniac, but a performance artist playing a character.

Blogger Ken White adds some insight on the importance of this story.


“Alex Jones Says He’s A Performance Artist. Surprisingly, Actual Performance Artists Agree.”
by Priscilla Frank
The Huffington Post
April 19, 2017

Following his 2015 divorce, far-right radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is embroiled in an ugly and somewhat bizarre custody battle.

In response to his ex-wife’s claims that the InfoWars founder and Pizzagate controversy propagator is “not a stable person” ― and therefore should not receive custody of their children ― Jones is arguing that his publicly jacked-up, trumped-up, vitriolic rants are merely instances of “performance art.”

Jones’ lawyer Randall Wilhite outlined the novel defense, telling those present at a recent pretrial hearing that Jones’ InfoWars persona does not reflect who he is as a person. “He’s playing a character,” Wilhite said. “He is a performance artist.”

Jones himself made a similar claim in early April while facing criticism ― and potential criminal proceedings ― after calling Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) an “archetypal cocksucker” and threatening in an expletive-laden rant to “beat [his] goddamn ass.” Jones later posted a follow-up video describing the comments as “clearly tongue-in-cheek and basically art performance, as I do in my rants, which I admit I do, as a form of art.”

Jones’ most famed “performances” to date include calling the 9/11 attacks an inside job, claiming the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was “completely fake with actors,” and suggesting that the American government is “encouraging homosexuality with chemicals so that people don’t have children.” Is it possible that Jones has been putting on some sort of persona to stir up controversy and garner public attention? Of course. It is unlikely, however, and ultimately dangerous, that Jones’ approximately 2 million listeners ― including his most famed fan, President Donald Trump ― were all aware that Jones’ red-faced tirades are for show.

In calling himself a performance artist, Jones is referencing a controversial live art tradition with roots in the 1950s and ‘60s, involving movements like Gutai and Fluxus and individuals like Marina Abramović and Vito Acconci. One of the earliest artists recognized for her performances is Carolee Schneemann, who was recently awarded the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. In one of her most iconic performances, 1975’s “Interior Scroll,” Schneemann stood nude on a table, painted her body with mud, and extracted a scroll from her vagina, from which she proceeded to read.

When asked about Jones’ performance art defense, Schneemann responded swiftly: “I think it’s all a load of crap,” she told The Huffington Post. But ultimately, any attempts to strictly classify what is or is not performance art, she clarified, are futile. Read more.

Ubiquitous Bard Portrait Is More Than Meets the Eye

by
Filed under: Art Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes, The History of Pranks, The World of the Prank, You Decide

Everything is not as it seems… Take for example, the exalted portrait of William Shakespeare and it’s uncanny resemblance to a portrait of Queen Elizabeth. Thank you Lawrence Gerald.


“The Prank of the Face: Unmasking the ‘Droeshout’ Portrait of William Shakespeare”
by Simon Miles
SirBacon.org

In 1977, art historian and pioneer computer artist Lillian Schwartz made a remarkable observation with potentially far-reaching implications for the Shakespeare authorship debate.

She took a copy of the famous “Droeshout” portrait of William Shakespeare which appears in the First Folio of 1623, and scanned it into her computer. Then she did the same with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth 1. She overlaid the two images one on top of the other, scaling them to the same size. Then, adjusting their relative transparency so that they could be readily compared, she noticed something very strange: there were certain portions of the Shakespeare portrait which exactly reproduced the features of Elizabeth.

It was not a question of an approximate copy, or a close facsimile, or a loose likeness. There was an exact reproduction of the key sections.

Her discovery, extraordinary as it appears to be, seems to have attracted almost no commentary in the intervening years. It’s perhaps not hard to see why. There does not seem to be any obvious reason why a portrait of Shakespeare should share elements of a portrait of Elizabeth. I must admit that when I first heard of this discovery, my initial reaction was to dismiss it out of hand as too ridiculous to contemplate. The internet is awash with foolish claims of identity between different people based on dubious photo-shop manipulations, wishful thinking and outright stupidity. This claim, I thought when I first heard about it, no doubt fell directly into such a category. That, however, was before I looked at the superimposed images for myself.

Watch the video here:

In this short article, I would like to revisit Lillian Schwartz’ original discovery, with an open mind. I will present the images, and allow the reader to make up her own mind. Then, once we have seen for ourselves the extent to which the two portraits share common elements, we will explore some possible implications of this challenging discovery. Read more.

Not #FakeNews, But an Incredible Simulation

by
Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, The World of the Prank

A new video game brings your republic-wrecking fantasies to life.


If you were for some reason dying to play a video game about fake news, it’s here now
by Marissa Wenzke
Mashable
March 27, 2017

This fake news simulator is the depressing video game America deserves

It’s something that’s come to be reviled, the very thing that may have cost America a presidential election — fake news.

And the horrible phenomenon that’s been called out by everyone from former President Barack Obama to Apple CEO Tim Cook now has a video game all about it.

Yes, you can actually climb inside the minds of real-life humans who distribute lies for money. Fake It to Make It describes itself as “a social impact game about fake news.”

By that definition, it’s less a celebration of fake news and more a socially conscious dissection of it. Well, that’s at least what it’s intended to be, as its creator Amanda Warner explains.

“I think that better understanding how and why we are manipulated by others, for profit or power, is worthwhile knowledge to have,” she told The Verge.

The game takes you through a journey that mirrors the stories of real-life fake news creators. For instance, it starts by asking you to choose a purchase you want to make, like a $1,000 used car or $400 for a deposit on an apartment (deals we think questionably exist IRL). Read more.


The Full Dossier on the Right’s New Radical Kingmakers

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

Donald Trump rose to power as a candidate in service to the people. Specifically, two of them: eccentric billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah. This essential long read goes deep into their background, motivations, and historically destructive power.


“The Blow-it-all-up Billionaires”
by Vicky Ward
The Huffington Post Highline
March 17, 2017

Last December, about a month before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Rebekah Mercer arrived at Stephen Bannon’s office in Trump Tower, wearing a cape over a fur-trimmed dress and her distinctive diamond-studded glasses. Tall and imposing, Rebekah, known to close friends as Bekah, is the 43-year-old daughter of the reclusive billionaire Robert Mercer. If Trump was an unexpected victor, the Mercers were unexpected kingmakers. More established names in Republican politics, such as the Kochs and Paul Singer, had sat out the general election. But the Mercers had committed millions of dollars to a campaign that often seemed beyond salvaging.

That support partly explains how Rebekah secured a spot on the executive committee of the Trump transition team. She was the only megadonor to frequent Bannon’s sanctum, a characteristically bare-bones space containing little more than a whiteboard, a refrigerator and a conference table. Unlike the other offices, it also had a curtain so no one could see what was happening inside. Before this point, Rebekah’s resume had consisted of a brief run trading stocks and bonds (including at her father’s hedge fund), a longer stint running her family’s foundation and, along with her two sisters, the management of an online gourmet cookie shop called Ruby et Violette. Now, she was compiling lists of potential candidates for a host of official positions, the foot soldiers who would remake (or unmake) the United States government in Trump’s image. Read more.


In the White House, Fake News Is Good News

by
Filed under: Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Satire, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

The Trump Administration loves good satire at its own expense… as long as it doesn’t get the joke. #45 isn’t just parody-proof; he’s literally unbelievable. Satire is dead.


“White House Shares Parody Article as Real News in Daily Briefing”
by Ryan Grenoble
The Huffington Post
March 17, 2017

On Friday, as part of its regular “1600 Daily” email briefing, The White House included a roundup of links of news friendly to President Donald Trump’s administration, as it regularly does.

First on the list was a Washington Post article titled, “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why.”

If that headline sounds suspiciously servile to you, there’s a good reason why: It’s satire.

The column, written by Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri, employs a clearly satirical tone in an attempt to justify President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to various departments.

“We don’t need to fund historic sites,” one section reads. “Those parks have sassed the administration enough and they must get what is coming to them.”

So either the Trump administration didn’t bother reading the actual article itself, or, even more troubling, read it but failed to distinguish it as parody. Read more.

Meet New Alt-Right Media Power-Broker Robert Mercer

by
Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

He made his money in tech and he’s investing it in new toys — data analytics and international politics. With his sights set on the media, his ultimate target is your heart and mind.


“Robert Mercer: The Big Data Billionaire Waging War on Mainstream Media”
by Carol Cadwalladr
The Guardian
February 26, 2017

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.

Prominent rightwing journalist Andrew Breitbart, who founded the site but died in 2012, told Bannon that they had “to take back the culture”. And, arguably, they have, though American culture is only the start of it. In 2014, Bannon launched Breitbart London, telling the New York Times it was specifically timed ahead of the UK’s forthcoming election. It was, he said, the latest front “in our current cultural and political war”. France and Germany are next. (more…)

How to Diversify Your Biased News Portfolio

by
Filed under: Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Ever get the feeling you’re being pandered to? You don’t know the half of it. Here’s a company that hedges all bets in order to assure they get your ad dollars.


“This Is How Your Hyperpartisan Political News Gets Made”
by Craig Silverman
Buzzfeed News
February 27, 2017

The websites Liberal Society and Conservative 101 appear to be total opposites. The former publishes headlines such as “WOW, Sanders Just Brutally EVISCERATED Trump On Live TV. Trump Is Fuming.” Its conservative counterpart has stories like “Nancy Pelosi Just Had Mental Breakdown On Stage And Made Craziest Statement Of Her Career.”

So it was a surprise last Wednesday when they published stories that were almost exactly the same, save for a few notable word changes.

After CNN reported White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was “sidelined from television appearances,” both sites whipped up a post — and outrage — for their respective audiences. The resulting stories read like bizarro-world versions of each other — two articles with nearly identical words and tweets optimized for opposing filter bubbles. The similarity of the articles also provided a key clue BuzzFeed News followed to reveal a more striking truth: These for-the-cause sites that appeal to hardcore partisans are in fact owned by the same Florida company.

Liberal Society and Conservative 101 are among the growing number of so-called hyperpartisan websites and associated Facebook pages that have sprung up in recent years, and that attracted significant traffic during the US election. A previous BuzzFeed News analysis of content published by conservative and liberal hyperpartisan sites found they reap massive engagement on Facebook with aggressively partisan stories and memes that frequently demonize the other side’s point of view, often at the expense of facts. Read more.


Teaching People to Become Bullshit Detectors

posted by
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

by
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.


Fake Newsmaker Cameron Harris: Lying for Profit

posted by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation

Cameron Harris, a man without shame, fesses up to how he lied, cheated and stole when he created and published fake news that helped sway the national election. He had no reason to do it other than greed and he has no remorse.


From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece, by Scott Shane, The New York Times, January 18, 2017

Cameron Harris

Has a Trump Inauguration COINTELPRO been Trumped?

posted by
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

No Santa? What’s Left to Believe In?

posted by
Filed under: The Big One

Rome theater fires orchestral director for denying Santa
AP
Dec. 31, 2016

MILAN (AP) — Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Or else.

An orchestral director lost his job at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome after telling an audience filled with children that the man in the red suit who delivers gifts to good girls and boys does not, in fact, exist.

The news agency ANSA said Saturday that Giacomo Loprieno lashed out at the young audience for failing to applaud following a performance of “Frozen” on Thursday.

The theater underlined the severity of the offense with a Facebook posting of the production’s new orchestral director alongside Santa Claus.

On social media, the firing has been both applauded for protecting children’s fantasies, and derided for punishing someone telling the truth.

Pizzagate: Cheesy Hand-tossed Lies

by
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

_92730809_pizzagate3

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

posted by
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)

posted by
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.