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

Always Check Your Sources Before You Get Outraged

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

“Ghostwriter” global disinformation campaign takes aim at NATO


Hackers post fake stories on real news sites ‘to discredit Nato’, BBC News, July 30, 2020

Hackers have broken into real news websites and posted fake stories stirring up anti-Nato sentiment, a cyber-security firm has warned.

The disinformation campaign, nicknamed “ghostwriter”, has been ongoing since 2017, according to FireEye researchers.

It is designed to “chip away” at support for Nato in Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland, they said.

While the false stories are “aligned with Russian security interests”, it is not known who is behind the attack.

The disinformation campaign uses “falsified news articles, quotes, correspondence and other documents designed to appear as coming from military officials and political figures in the target countries,” FireEye said.

In some cases, false news stories were posted on real news websites without permission.

The attackers apparently gained access to the CMS of the target website and replaced old articles with their own content, or posted entirely new false articles.

They would try to spread the fake stories on social media before they were taken down.

In one example from last year, a Lithuanian news site published a fake article claiming that German soldiers had desecrated a Jewish cemetery.

In another, a fake message was posted to the Polish War Studies Academy website, claiming to be from the organisation’s commander. It called for troops to fight against “the American occupation”. Read the rest of the story here.

John Lewis, RIP

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, First Amendment Issues, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

From @rebecca.solnit: “John Lewis, bigger than Robert E. Lee, Richmond, VA, last night.”

Mal Sharpe, Urban Prankster, RIP

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Podcasts, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

Mal Sharpe, comedic pioneer and a very funny man, has left us. In 2007 the Art of the Prank blog published access to 20 of his early Imposter Podcasts, which are recordings of his street sketches (more like comedic ambushes) with his comedy partner Jim Coyle, who passed away in 1993. These recordings had been re-purposed and released by Jesse Thorn of the Maximum Fun site, where all 100 episodes reside:

In the early 1960s, James P. Coyle and Mal Sharpe roamed the streets of San Francisco, microphone in hand, roping strangers into bizarre schemes and surreal stunts. These original recordings are from the Sharpe family archive, which is tended by Mal’s daughter, Jennifer Sharpe.

We extend condolences to the family. Here’s his obit from The New York Times:


Mal Sharpe, Groundbreaker in Street-Level Pranking, Dies at 83
by Neil Genzlinger
The New York Times
March 19, 2020

Long before late-night talk show hosts began doing it, he conducted absurd interviews with gullible passersby with his comedic partner, Jim Coyle.

Two strangers approach a man named George on the streets of San Francisco.

“George,” one of them says, “would you yourself participate in a program of inter-protoplasm flow?”

George doesn’t hesitate. “If I needed it, I guess I would,” he says.

One of the strangers, earnestly impressing on George the seriousness of that commitment, elaborates: (more…)

Buck Henry RIP

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Filed under: Parody, Political Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

Buck Henry passed away January 8, 2020 at age 89. He was a prolific screenwriter (“The Graduate”, “What’s Up Doc?”, “Catch-22”), show creator (“Get Smart” with Mel Brooks), director (“Heaven Can Wait” with Warren Beatty), actor (he appeared in more than 40 films and TV shows), SNL Host (10 times), and hoaxer…

From his Wikipedia page:

From 1959 to 1962, as part of an elaborate hoax by comedian Alan Abel, he made public appearances as G. Clifford Prout, the quietly outraged president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals,[8] who presented his point of view on talk shows.[9] The character of Prout, who wished to clothe all animals in order to prevent their ‘indecency’, was often presented as an eccentric but was otherwise taken seriously by the broadcasters who interviewed him.

A great satirical wit, Buck Henry will be missed.
New York Times Obituary
New York Post Obituary

image: worldofwonder.net/

Global No Pants Subway Ride 2020

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, The History of Pranks

From Charlie Todd of Improv Everywhere:

As in years past, there are No Pants Subway Rides happening in dozens of cities around the world on January 12, the same day as our annual event in New York. Check our website for a list of participating cities with links to Facebook events.

Cities participating in the global No Pants Subway Ride so far: Berlin, Boston, Calgary, Chicago, Dallas, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Melbourne, Montreal, New York, Phoenix, Porto, San Francisco, Seattle, Tokyo, Toronto, Washington DC

Sacha Baron Cohen Brilliantly Calls Out Social Media For Spreading Hate

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Filed under: Political Challenges, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

On November 21, 2019, in accepting the Anti Defamation League’s (ADL) International Leadership Award, Sacha Baron Cohen shamed social media networks that, under the guise of freedom of speech, allow hate and lies to propagate world wide with dire consequences. Highly worth watching.


Sacha Baron Cohen gave the greatest speech on why social networks need to be kept in check
by Catalin Cimpanu
ZDNet
November 22, 2019

Actor says six US billionaires more focused on their share prices shouldn’t be allowed to dictate what is acceptable online.

Watch the video:

For an actor who made a career by playing silly characters, actor Sacha Baron Cohen gave yesterday one of the most eloquent and convincing speeches ever given in support of cracking down on large social media networks to prevent the spread of lies and hate speech that these platforms allow.

While accepting his award, Cohen touched on the role companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have played in spreading lies and hate speech online, calling the sites “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”

Read the full transcript here.

Trump Dump

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Parody, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

Donald Trump and family inspire artists and activists all over the world. Here are a couple of the latest examples:


Berliners Tried to Send Trump a Piece of the Berlin Wall to Suggest Walls Don’t Work
A German nonprofit inscribed a message to the United States President, sending it to Washington on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

image from Quartz

Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler, known as The Good Liars: “We changed the cover of Don Jr’s book to make it a little more honest and put them up in Barnes and Noble. You’re welcome, Junior!”

Homo Velamine Interviews Joey Skaggs “Maestro of the Farce” [Spanish and English]

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Hoax Etiquette, Instructionals, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Pranksters, The Future of Pranks, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art, What Makes a Good Prank?

Spanish Art and Activism Collective Homo Velamine Interviews Joey Skaggs [Spanish and English]


Joey Skaggs: “A fool is a fool, no matter what their political leaning is”
by Demófila Martínez and Luis Platypus
Homo Velamine
October 31, 2019

Joey Skaggs. PHOTO: Sam Ortiz for Observer

Homo Velamine: The increase of fake news in the media in recent years makes us feel that the limits between fact and fiction are more unclear than ever. In the documentary Art of the Prank (2015), you let the viewer peek into the creative process behind one of your hoaxes. The trickiest part seems to be deciding how far you can take it, without crossing the limits of plausibility and creating something that is impossible to believe. After all these years, does it still surprise you how far this limit can actually be pushed? Which of your performances would you say has pushed this limit the farthest and still has been successful?

Joey Skaggs: Pushing the limits of plausibility is the fun part for me. I create the problem and I create the solution. I take a gamble that what I’m doing is so ridiculous that no one’s going to believe it. I want it to be totally absurd because if the news media does fall for it, it will be even funnier and more effective in revealing their gullibility and/or hypocrisy. (more…)

AI in the Courtroom: Joey Skaggs’ Solomon Project Revisited

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

In 1995, Joey Skaggs launched his Solomon Project hoax. Solomon (so he said) was a distributed program running on a set of super computers that would deliberate on the facts and evidence of a case and deliver a definitive verdict, eliminating the need for juries and radically reducing the role of judges. CNN fell for the Solomon Project hook, line and sinker. Reality may finally be catching up with Skaggs. h/t Felipe


Robot judges ‘will pass sentence with no human bias’ in AI courts
by Michael Moran
Daily Star
October 19, 2019

Increasing use of AI in legal system points the way to an all-robot courtroom

It’s likely that most people locked in our jails believe that with a better lawyer, a more lenient judge or a more understanding jury things might have been very different for them.

Human error, they will say, is to blame for them being banged up.

But can the human element be removed? Law firms are already using computer algorithms to perform background research other tasks traditionally performed by human staff. And that’s just the beginning.

As computer researchers get closer to creating true Artificial Intelligence, it’s predicted to eliminate most paralegal and legal research positions within the next decade.

The next step inevitably involves artificial intelligences aiding, or even completely replacing lawyers. And if we have robot lawyers, why not automated judges and juries too? Why not a fully solid-state legal system?

Read the rest of this article here »

No Surprise, But U.S. Foreign Policy’s Gone Rogue

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Senator Lindsey Graham was caught by Russian pranksters a few months ago saying the exact opposite of what he just said publicly against Turkey’s aggressions in Syria yesterday. How much more convoluted can our foreign policy get?


Lindsey Graham dishes on Trump in hoax calls with Russians
By Natasha Bertrand
Politico
10/10/2019

Graham thought he was speaking with Turkey’s minister of defense. Instead, it was a pair of Russian pranksters.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has in the last year become something of a congressional point man for President Donald Trump’s negotiations with Turkey, leading discussions on everything from Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile system over the summer to their more recent incursion into northern Syria.

So when he received a call from a man he thought was Turkey’s minister of defense earlier in August, it didn’t strike him as unusual. “Thank you so much for calling me, Mr. Minister,” Graham said. “I want to make this a win-win, if we can.”

But it wasn’t the Turkish defense minister at all. Instead, it was Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, Russian pranksters with suspected ties to the country’s intelligence services who go by “Lexus and Vovan.” The duo have become notorious in recent years for their cold calls to unwitting, high-profile Western politicians, including Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, leading some to suspect that they’ve had help from the Kremlin, according to The Guardian. (A Schiff spokesman said at the time that the House Intelligence Committee “informed appropriate law enforcement and security personnel of the conversation.”)

Hear a snippet of the call:

Read the whole story here.

To Trump You’re a Moving Target

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

Want to be “micro-targeted” by the Trump campaign? Just make a donation and they’ll handle the rest.


Trump campaign says it can track your phone
by Matt Binder
Mashable
September 26, 2019

President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign website recently added language that gives it permission to use “beacons” to track the location of mobile devices.

And if you don’t like it? It’s now harder to sue the Trump campaign for privacy violations.

The location tracking addendum was added to the campaign’s privacy policy under the “Information You Choose to Provide to Us” section. The change was first noticed in July by Campaign Monitor, an online tool that tracks significant changes made to 2020 presidential campaign websites.

“We may also collect other information based on your location and your Device’s proximity to ‘beacons’ and other similar proximity systems, including, for example, the strength of the signal between the beacon and your Device and the duration that your Device is near the beacon,” reads the portion added to the Trump campaign’s website privacy policy.

Rest the whole article here.

New York Subway Poster Promotes the Real Rudy Giuliani

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

How the mighty have fallen. h/t Nancy


NYC subway riders greeted by ad hyping ‘crazy’ Rudy Giuliani’s law offices: ‘Will work when drunk!’
by Michael Elsen-Roonet and Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News
October 1, 2019

Rudy Giuliani is off the rails, according to a cheeky ad that popped up in the New York City subway Tuesday.

The satirical ad, which was spotted on at least one A train Tuesday afternoon, touts the ex-New York mayor-turned-Trump attorney’s “crazy” legal services, including “back-channel deals” and “cable news appearances.”

The blue-banner ad also features a mug of Giuliani with his tongue partially out of his mouth, along with a phone number and a link to “CrazyRudyLaw.com.”

“At least I’m assuming its fake! lol,” a straphanger who discovered the “Crazy Rudy” ad told the Daily News. Read the whole article here.

BP or Not BP: Be Wary of Petroleum Based Companies Bearing Gifts

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Hype, Parody, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

The art activism group BP or not BP is planning a “Trojan Horse” action for November 23 at the British Museum to protest arts organizations that take oil funding. The public is invited.


Anti-Oil Protesters Will Storm the British Museum with a Trojan Horse
by Sarah Rose Sharp
Hyperallergic.com
October 3, 2019

BP or not BP? launched a crowdfunding campaign to build a giant Trojan Horse for its largest protest yet, which will coincide with the museum’s Troy: Myth and Reality exhibition.

photo by Jorge Láscar

A press release dropped today, announcing the next slated action by activist group BP or Not BP? in its ongoing protest campaign against the British Museum’s involvement with British Petroleum (BP). The theater group is inviting public participation in its forthcoming campaign, which takes specific aim at the opening weekend of the new BP-sponsored exhibition about the ancient city of Troy. BP or not BP? intends to replicate the mythic “Siege of Troy” by staging an action at the British Museum. The group has framed this as a “mass creative takeover” and “reimagining” of the British Museum which will take place on Saturday, November 23. They invite public participation in both the protest action and a public crowdfunding campaign to raise money to build a giant Trojan Horse.

In its press release about the project, timed to coincide with the national Museums Association conference in Brighton, which starts today, Sarah Horne of BP or not BP? said: “It’s deeply ironic that BP is sponsoring an exhibition called Troy: Myth and Reality, because this sponsorship deal is essentially a Trojan Horse for BP’s real activities. Just like in the myth, BP pretends that it’s giving us a gift, when in reality it’s trying to smuggle its deadly climate-wrecking business plans past our defences.” Read the whole story here.

Fake News, Fake Fans: We’re All Faked Out

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

David Strom reports on his Web Informant blog about two interesting studies: one from researchers at Oxford about how ubiquitous global disinformation and social media manipulation has become, and the other about how many of politicians’ Twitter followers are totally fake. Donald Trump wins with 61%!


The worldwide spread of government-sponsored social media misinformation
by David Strom
Web Informant
September 27, 2019

For the past three years, researchers at Oxford University have been tracking the rise of government and political party operatives who have been using various social media tools as propaganda devices. Their goal is to shape and undermine trust with public opinion and automate dissent suppression. This year’s report is chilling and I urge you to read it yourself and see what you think. It shows how social media has infected the world’s democracies on an unprecedented scale.

One thing the Oxford researchers didn’t examine is how the practice of using fake followers of major political figures has spread. This analysis was done by SparkToro. As you can see in the above graphic, Donald Trump and Jerry Brown have half or more of their Twitter followers by bots and other automated programs. There are other political figures elsewhere that have high fake proportions too. Read the full blog post here.

Be Aware: The Age of DeepFakes is Upon Us

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Illusion and Magic, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, The Future of Pranks, The History of Pranks

This must-see “DeepFake” video transforms Bill Hader, when he was on Late Night with David Letterman, into Tom Cruise before your very eyes.

Watch the video: Bill Hader channels Tom Cruise [DeepFake], YouTube

A little bit of history: In 1987, an interview with Joey Skaggs was published in a book by RE/Search Pubs called Pranks! in which he predicts and discusses the implications of this exact technology.

AJ: “What is reality?”
JS: “Right. What is reality, and how can you know what is history?
“I’d also like to talk about technology and where we’re going. With the ability to comptuer-enerate photo images and do montage, collage and eventually holograms, we’ll have Hitler alive in South America totally fabricated. We’ll have a home movie of JFK actually screwing Marilyn Monroe, or whatever twisted historical thing we want to create. And it will be virtually impossible to detect that it’s a creation, because of the advancements in technology. We are coming to the forefront tehcnologically of a really frightening media reality. If we don’t sharpen our tools now, our integrity, we’re in for even bigger trouble.”

Read the entire RE/Search Pranks! interview here.

Excerpt: