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

r/Place: Recollections of a Pop-up Online Subculture

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art, The World of the Prank

r/Place, an incredible 2017 reddit experiment with a simple premise and strict parameters, stands out for the spirit of challenge and community it ignited. It brought the best of collaborative street art into the heart of the digital realm, it earned its place in the annals of internet culture, and it’s worth revisiting and remembering. Here’s how it went down, through the eyes of one very engaged participant.

(If you’re unfamiliar with reddit, here’s a pretty good primer.)


“The story of r/Place. As told by a foot soldier for r/Mexico.”
By Arturo Gutierrez
ART + Marketing
April 3, 2017

I’m sure other historians can tell you who was the first. Others much more knowledgeable than me who can pinpoint where exactly in the vast Canvas did the cursors of hundreds aimed themselves into a singular area, and willed order out of the chaos. But I’m not the one to tell.

Instead, what I saw as a bystander that April 1st was the emergence of life, color, and memes of all sizes and kinds growing almost by magic. And as the hours passed, as I laid a pixel here, waited, and laid another pixel there, the whole Canvas evolved and grew between each of my visits. It was an amazing sight to behold. An inspiring feat of human ingenuity, humor, and improvised politics in slow motion.

Yes, that’s right. For even in these early hours, even before the dedicated subreddits, the forums, Discord channels and massive bot armies of the later days, a silent, wordless body of politics was being established right before our eyes. Read more.

Canadaland Podcast Interview with Joey Skaggs

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Podcasts, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

From Jesse Brown, host of Canadaland Podcast:

The greatest media prankster alive talks to Jesse for our April Fools episode.

In Review: April Fools’ Day 2019 Branding, Marketing, and Media Stunts

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Parody, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Satire, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks, Spin, The World of the Prank

Before April Fools’ Day 2019 even began, the tech giant Microsoft announced that it would not be indulging in any branded foolishness this year. And that sort of set the tone for the day.

From the rise of the internet and social media through the election of Donald Trump, distinguishing truth from fiction in the online landscape has become less about comedy and more about horror. Even the cutest and cleverest April Fools’ publicity stunts are not as well received as they may have been in the past. The overall online mood is darker, more skittish, and more reflective. Still, there’s still some levity to be found in the chaos and desperation.

A few editorials addressed the cynicism and fatigue around April Fools’ Day from high-level perspectives.

Of the branded pranks that did go down, the most interesting had satirical or meta-comedic elements.

Others were just plain, dumb, silly, marginally self-aware fun. Here are the best of the rest:

And there was even some good news!

As with any holiday, the best way to spend April Fools’ Day is probably not on the internet, but engaged in revelry and camaraderie IRL, fighting the forces of oppression and no-fun-ness in the company of loved ones and loved ones you haven’t met yet. So naturally the best news of the day was the annual April Fools’ Day Parade – see the highlights [HERE].

New Doc About the Church of the SubGenius Screens at SXSW

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Filed under: Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks, The History of Pranks, Urban Legends

One reviewer’s opinion…


SXSW Film Review: ‘J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius’
This diverting enough documentary focuses on the parodic religious “cult” that reached peak hipster awareness in the 1980s.
by Dennis Harvey
Variety
March 21, 2019

Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some of that era’s more interesting work in various media while providing a pre-Burning Man, pre-internet “secret club” to cerebral misfits of all stripes.

Sandy K. Boone’s documentary is likely to be lost on the not-previously converted, as what seemed the height of snark in the Reagan Era hasn’t dated all that well — nor is its appeal apparent as excerpted and recalled here. But those who remember the gospel of “slack” will make this diverting-enough documentary an in-demand work at genre festivals, as a streaming item and in other forums.

In reaction to the disruptive 1960s being “flipped on its head” in the “too-square-again” present day, two Lone Star State fans of nerd-brainiac rock god Captain Beefheart started creating anonymous quasi-cult screeds for their own entertainment in 1979. Dubbing themselves Reverend Ian Stang and Dr. Philo Drummond, they rebelled against their staid Heartland backgrounds, embraced the tenor of extremist religious literature, and ridiculed the American Dream with a mock religion whose deity was J.R. “Bob” Dobbs — a clip art image of 1950s sitcom dad-like hyper-normality whose lore was deliberately contradictory and absurdist.

Read the rest of this article here.

LinkNYC Mister Softee Prankster Comes Clean

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Payphone performance artist/activist drops a dime on himself…


My Summer of Softee Prank
by Mark Thomas.

In this year of 2019, I use payphones regularly. As such, I feel fortunate to live in New York City, where thousands of old-fashioned landline payphones still line the streets.

A few years ago, when news came that the City decided to replace every single outdoor payphone with LinkNYC Internet kiosks, preëmptively pronouncing this unproven replacement the “payphone of the future”, I felt a bit of an affront. How could a decision reaching so deeply into the social fabric of New York be made? Was public input ever solicited regarding this decision that all payphones must be replaced by an unproven, unneeded alternative?

I gave LinkNYC a chance but soon came to loath not only the program but, in almost all respects, the so-called “Smart City” itself. Born of unearned municipal privilege, the arrogant ineptitude of the LinkNYC rollout at times made me cringe.

To express my sentiments about LinkNYC, I subverted their intended purpose. I regarded these kiosks as unwanted, unneeded irritants and turned the machines themselves into irritants, using them as a broadcast platform, blasting ridiculously loud noises and music out of the kiosks’ loudspeakers.

This became a social media engineering project for me for most of 2018. (more…)

Speaking Truth to Power in DC

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

Street theater is flourishing in the era of Trump.


DC’s many prankster activists turn anger into street theater
by Ashraf Khalil
AP
February 18, 2019

Mike Green and Adam Eidinger with Radical Matriarchy

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the nation’s capital, it can be hard for protesters to stand out. A group of 50 people — or even 500 — holding signs and shouting hardly merits a second glance in this city of protests.

That’s why Washington activists have to get creative. There’s an ethos of performative prankster-style protest wired into the District of Columbia’s history, dating back decades.

This confrontational street-theater school is flourishing with the Trump administration as its nemesis. Each month brings new acts of political theater — some confrontational, some deliberately absurdist.

“It can take a serious issue into more of a playful place,” said Robin Bell, who regularly projects disparaging messages onto the outside of the Trump International Hotel. “Oftentimes we visualize the absurdity of the situation.”

In January, a group of activists associated with political pranksters The Yes Men passed out dozens of fake Washington Posts, with detailed articles depicting President Donald Trump resigning and fleeing the White House. For about a month last fall, a Robert Mueller investigation-themed ice cream truck roamed Washington, passing out free scoops with names like IndictMint Chip and Rocky Rod Rosenstein.

While some protests are designed to get attention, others hide in plain sight like Easter eggs for the observant. Within sight of the White House, a realistic-looking street sign declares the street Khashoggi Way, after Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi journalist killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. About 10 of these signs have been scattered around Washington.

Read the rest of this article here.

Joey Skaggs Remembers His 1994 National Enquirer Hoax

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Illusion and Magic, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Pranksters, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Note to Jeff Bezos: Take a page from me and screw the National Enquirer!


In 1994, after The New York Times Magazine published John Tierney’s article, Falling For It, about my Dog Meat Soup hoax, the National Enquirer called and said they were doing a profile about me. They wanted an exclusive photo shoot. Not liking or respecting this publication, I declined. They said they were going to do the story with or without any assistance from me. So, I sent an impostor to two different photo shoots.

They published this story:

Page Six of the New York Post exposed the hoax:



Full details of the National Enquirer hoax are here
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John Dingell RIP

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Challenges, Satire

Former Representative John Dingell, the longest serving member of Congress, passed away on February 7, 2019 at age 92. He dictated his last words to America to his wife Rep. Debbie Dingell on the day he died. He had a humble, profound sense of honor and justice, and a satirical sense of humor. His words are worth reading.


John Dingell’s Greatest Hits: Lawmaker Had An A+ Trolling Game On Twitter
by Ed Mazza
February 8, 2019

The retired lawmaker mastered the art of throwing shade, particularly at President Trump.

Former Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is being remembered for his many achievements during his 59 years in Congress.

Dingell, who died on Thursday at the age of 92, played a role in passing some of the nation’s most important legislation, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. But he’ll also be remembered for something else entirely: His solid Twitter game.

Dingell was known for his comedic takes on the news, cracks about himself and — more than anything else over the past couple of years — his constant trolling of President Donald Trump:

I fully support @realDonaldTrump’s interest in space travel to Mars, and I wish him the absolute best in his travels.
— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) December 11, 2017

Crooks like Trump will steal a hot stove and come back for the smoke. There’s no bar too low. https://t.co/6BjnNwbZp7
— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) January 25, 2019

(more…)

Confessions of a Rock and Roll Poser

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Last autumn, Jered “Threatin” Eames staged the most alienating, least explicable rock tour stunt since the Sex Pistols hit the deep south. He recently broke his silence.


“The Great Heavy Metal Hoax”
by David Kushner
Rolling Stone
December 14, 2018

In November, managers of rock clubs across the United Kingdom began sharing the same weird tale. A pop-metal performer, Threatin, had rented their clubs for his 10-city European tour. Club owners had never heard of the act when a booking agent approached them promising packed houses. Threatin had fervent followers, effusive likes, rows of adoring comments under his YouTube concert videos, which showed him windmilling before a sea of fans. Websites for the record label, managers and a public-relations company who represented Threatin added to his legitimacy. Threatin’s Facebook page teemed with hundreds of fans who had RSVP’d for his European jaunt, which was supporting his album, Breaking the World.

But despite all the hype, almost no one came to the shows. It was just Threatin and his three-piece band onstage, and his wife, Kelsey, filming him from the empty floor. And yet Threatin didn’t seem to care — he just ripped through a set as if there was a full house. When confronted by confused club owners, Threatin just shrugged, blaming the lack of audience on bad promotion. “It was clear that something weird was happening,” says Jonathan “Minty” Minto, who was bartending the night Threatin played at the Exchange, a Bristol club, “but we didn’t realize how weird.” Intrigued, Minto and his friends started poking around Threatin’s Facebook page, only to find that most of the fans lived in Brazil. “The more we clicked,” says Minto, “the more apparent it became that every single attendee was bogus.”

It all turned out to be fake: The websites, the record label, the PR company, the management company, all traced back to the same GoDaddy account. The throngs of fans in Threatin’s concert videos were stock footage. The promised RSVPs never appeared. When word spread of Threatin’s apparent deception, club owners were perplexed: Why would someone go to such lengths just to play to empty rooms? Read more.

The Political Prank That Ensnared the Wall Street Journal

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

Laura Loomer is a far-right media provocateur known for shambolic publicity stunts. Her toxic racial rhetoric has resulted in her removal from a number of social media platforms, and she hasn’t taken it well. Anxious to stay in the public eye, she was recently tricked into a bizarre caper that oddly also sucked in the Wall Street Journal. This comedy of errors encapsulates much of what is so ridiculous about the current media landscape. See if you can keep up.


“Did the Wall Street Journal Fall for a Prank Directed at Laura Loomer?”
by Jared Holt
Right Wing Watch
January 15, 2019

EXCERPT FROM THE FULL ARTICLE: “She didn’t verify who I am once. Never did she make an attempt,” Gillen said. “Everything I gave her as ‘info,’ she took as gospel. She hasn’t batted an eye or questioned anything that I said, ever.”

In a recorded phone call Bernard shared with us, Loomer expressed her willingness to leverage all means possible to retaliate against Twitter.

“I’m down with anything, honestly. So if whistle-blowers like yourself just want to come to me—I mean, I’m looking to escalate this as much as I can. I don’t even care. The gloves are off right now. [Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey] is banning people simply because they’re conservative. … He is taking money from all these Muslims and implementing Sharia law,” Loomer told Gillen during a phone call.

Bernard told Right Wing Watch that the goal of their stunt was to see if Loomer would go on-air at Alex Jones’ Infowars and repeat what they had told her, after which they planned to reveal the details of their joke in order to make a point about what they said were Loomer’s and Infowars’ non-existent journalistic standards and confirmation bias.

But something else happened.

“Don’t worry it will be big,” Loomer wrote to the pranksters in a December text message. “I have a big network of journalists I know.”

Read the whole story here.


In Search of Ethical Artificial Intelligence

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Spin, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

In a noble effort to assure the ethical use of AI in legal matters, the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) of the Council of Europe is catching up with Joey Skaggs’ visionary 1995 Solomon Project hoax. h/t Miso.


“Council of Europe adopts first European Ethical Charter on the use of artificial intelligence in judicial systems”
by Newsroom staff
Council of Europe
April 12, 2018

The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) of the Council of Europe has adopted the first European text setting out ethical principles relating to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in judicial systems.

The Charter provides a framework of principles that can guide policy makers, legislators and justice professionals when they grapple with the rapid development of AI in national judicial processes.

The CEPEJ’s view as set out in the Charter is that the application of AI in the field of justice can contribute to improve the efficiency and quality and must be implemented in a responsible manner which complies with the fundamental rights guaranteed in particular in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Personal Data. For the CEPEJ, it is essential to ensure that AI remains a tool in the service of the general interest and that its use respects individual rights.

The CEPEJ has identified the following core principles to be respected in the field of AI and justice:

  • Principle of respect of fundamental rights: ensuring that the design and implementation of artificial intelligence tools and services are compatible with fundamental rights;
  • Principle of non-discrimination: specifically preventing the development or intensification of any discrimination between individuals or groups of individuals;
  • Principle of quality and security: with regard to the processing of judicial decisions and data, using certified sources and intangible data with models conceived in a multi-disciplinary manner, in a secure technological environment;
  • Principle of transparency, impartiality and fairness: making data processing methods accessible and understandable, authorising external audits;
  • Principle “under user control”: precluding a prescriptive approach and ensuring that users are informed actors and in control of their choices.

For the CEPEJ, compliance with these principles must be ensured in the processing of judicial decisions and data by algorithms and in the use made of them. Read more.

Reality: Now Faker Than Ever

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

In a brilliant and dizzying end-of-year rant, Max Read takes stock of how much of our digital world is constructed from weapons-grade fraud, deception, nonsense, hokum, and miscellaneous bullshit.


“How Much of the Internet is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually”
by Max Read
New York Intelligencer
December 26, 2018

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

In the future, when I look back from the high-tech gamer jail in which President PewDiePie will have imprisoned me, I will remember 2018 as the year the internet passed the Inversion, not in some strict numerical sense, since bots already outnumber humans online more years than not, but in the perceptual sense. The internet has always played host in its dark corners to schools of catfish and embassies of Nigerian princes, but that darkness now pervades its every aspect: Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real. The “fakeness” of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience — the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not “real” but is also undeniably not “fake,” and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head. Read more.

Deep Fakes: Down the Horrifying Rabbit Hole

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, The Future of Pranks

On the topic of our tenuous collective relationship with the concept formerly known as “truth,” this examination of “deep fakes,” high-tech simulated video recordings of people you recognize doing things they’ve never actually done, may be the most frightening and portentous emerging story of 2018. And that’s saying a mouthful.


“You thought fake news was bad? Deep fakes are where truth goes to die”
by Oscar Schwartz
November 12, 2018
The Guardian

Fake videos can now be created using a machine learning technique called a “generative adversarial network”, or a GAN. A graduate student, Ian Goodfellow, invented GANs in 2014 as a way to algorithmically generate new types of data out of existing data sets. For instance, a GAN can look at thousands of photos of Barack Obama, and then produce a new photo that approximates those photos without being an exact copy of any one of them, as if it has come up with an entirely new portrait of the former president not yet taken. GANs might also be used to generate new audio from existing audio, or new text from existing text – it is a multi-use technology.

The use of this machine learning technique was mostly limited to the AI research community until late 2017, when a Reddit user who went by the moniker “Deepfakes” – a portmanteau of “deep learning” and “fake” – started posting digitally altered pornographic videos. He was building GANs using TensorFlow, Google’s free open source machine learning software, to superimpose celebrities’ faces on the bodies of women in pornographic movies.

A number of media outlets reported on the porn videos, which became known as “deep fakes”. In response, Reddit banned them for violating the site’s content policy against involuntary pornography. By this stage, however, the creator of the videos had released FakeApp, an easy-to-use platform for making forged media. The free software effectively democratized the power of GANs. Suddenly, anyone with access to the internet and pictures of a person’s face could generate their own deep fake. Read more.

The Best Defense Against a Bad Guy With a Bot

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, The World of the Prank

During the 2016 US election cycle, artificial intelligence was wildly successful at spreading lies and propaganda. These researchers suggest weaponizing better bots and aiming them in the opposite direction.


“Bots spread a lot of fakery during the 2016 election. But they can also debunk it.”
by Daniel Funke
November 20, 2018
Poynter

Aside from their role in amplifying the reach of misinformation, bots also play a critical role in getting it off the ground in the first place. According to the study, bots were likely to amplify false tweets right after they were posted, before they went viral. Then users shared them because it looked like a lot of people already had.

“People tend to put greater trust in messages that appear to originate from many people,” said co-author Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of South Florida, in the press release. “Bots prey upon this trust by making messages seem so popular that real people are tricked into spreading their messages for them.”

The study suggests Twitter curb the number of automated accounts on social media to cut down on the amplification of misinformation. The company has made some progress toward this end, suspending more than 70 million accounts in May and June alone. More recently, the company took down a bot network that pushed pro-Saudi views about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and started letting users report potential fake accounts.

Nonetheless, bots are still wrecking havoc on Twitter — and some aren’t used for spreading misinformation at all. So what should fact-checkers do to combat their role in spreading misinformation?

Tai Nalon has spent the better part of the past year trying to answer that question — and her answer is to beat the bots at their own game.

“I think artificial intelligence is the only way to tackle misinformation, and we have to build bots to tackle misinformation,” said the director of Aos Fatos, a Brazilian fact-checking project. “(Journalists) have to reach the people where they are reading the news. Now in Brazil, they are reading on social media and on WhatsApp. So why not be there and automate processes using the same tools the bad guys use?” Read more.

Barney Rosset Documentary Seeks Support

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Filed under: Creative Activism, First Amendment Issues, Legal Issues, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art, The World of the Prank

Recently, a team of seasoned and passionate documentary filmmakers launched a Kickstarter project to fund Barney’s Wall, a tribute to the iconoclastic Evergreen Review publisher, First Amendment crusader, and countercultural titan Barney Rosset.

Now, they need a bit more help to cover permissions, attorney fees, and other expenses associating with bringing such a project to fruit. (We can certainly sympathize.)

If you’d like to donate, you can do so here before January 4th, 2019.

And if you aren’t familiar with Rosset, check out his obituary. He’s an essential figure in the development of 20th Century creative rebellion, and it’s a rousing read in its own right.

“Colleagues said he had ‘a whim of steel’. ‘He does everything by impulse and then figures out afterward whether he’s made a smart move or was just kidding.'”