Media Literacy

Blog Posts

Joey Skaggs Remembers His 1994 National Enquirer Hoax

by
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
.

Confessions of a Rock and Roll Poser

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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.'”

Academic Journalism?

posted by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Three academic scholars prove once again that you can’t trust academic journalism, especially when it comes to “grievance studies”. From Vinay Menon in The Star: “They are self-described liberals. They are merely exposing what many others have claimed in recent years, namely that radicals are polluting certain disciplines from the inside. These “social justice warriors,” the argument goes, are sacrificing objective truth for social constructivism. They are blowing up enlightenment values and the scientific method to advance agendas in the culture wars.”

h/t Peter, Linda, Susanne


Universities get schooled on ‘breastaurants’ and ‘fat bodybuilding’
by Vinay Menon
The Star
October 5, 2018

Oh, the humanities.

Fake news grabbed academia by the tweedy lapels this week, after three scholars confessed to a brazen hoax. Over the last year, Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay wrote bogus papers, which they submitted to peer-reviewed journals in various fields they now lump together as “grievance studies.”

James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian (Mike Nayna)

In one “study,” published in a journal of “feminist geography,” they analyzed “rape culture” in three Portland dog parks: “How do human companions manage, contribute, and respond to violence in dogs?”

In another, using a contrived thesis inspired by Frankenstein and Lacanian psychoanalysis, they argued artificial intelligence is a threat to humanity due to the underlying “masculinist and imperialist” programming.

They advocated for introducing a new category — “fat bodybuilding” — to the muscle-biased sport. They called for “queer astrology” to be included in astronomy. They offered a “feminist rewrite” of a chapter from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. They searched for postmodern answers to ridiculous queries such as: why do straight men enjoy eating at “breastaurants” such as Hooters? (more…)

John Wilcock, RIP

by
Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy

Lost another friend from long ago…

Update: Nice link from Rich Gedney of an article by Michael O’Connell in It’s All Journalism about John Wilcock (includes a 2017 audio interview):
It’s All Journalism: Underground Press Pioneer John Wilcock, 91, Dies


John Wilcock, Pioneer of the Underground Press, Dies at 91
by Robert D. McFadden
The New York Times
September 13, 2018

John Wilcock, a British journalist and travel writer who played a major role in the emergence of the alternative press at The Village Voice, The East Village Other and the Underground Press Syndicate, died on Thursday at a care facility in Ojai, Calif. He was 91.

He died after several strokes, said his biographer, Ethan Persoff.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, a freewheeling age of psychedelic drugs and antiwar protests, Mr. Wilcock led two lives. He was both the author of many “$5 a day” travel books and a driving force behind underground publications that, spurning traditional journalism, attacked political, social and cultural norms with bawdy language and comic-book imagery, all of it financed by sexually explicit advertising.

In a 1973 profile, The New York Times called Mr. Wilcock “an influential man nobody knows,” an “oracle of the nitty-gritty of inexpensive, traditional tourism” and “an apostle and chronicler of the radical underground” — although, the article noted, he looked “a bit too scruffy for a best-selling travel writer and far too straight for an underground celebrity.”

Mr. Wilcock had worked for news organizations in Britain, Canada and the United States, including The Times, and was the first news editor of The Village Voice before he helped found The East Village Other in 1965. The paper was named for Carl Jung’s definition of “the other” as “one who is outside society.”

The Other, known as EVO to its devotees, was one of the nation’s first underground newspapers. Published biweekly in New York until it folded in 1972, it had a circulation of 60,000 at its peak.

Read the rest of the article here.

Culture Jamming Godfather Gets a Fitting Tribute

by
Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, First Amendment Issues, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

In 1981, Don Joyce launched Over the Edge, a weekly program on KPFA in Berkeley comprised of cut-up tapes and surrealist social commentary. By the time he passed in 2015, he had been a core member of the legendary avant-garde rock band Negativland, engaged in numerous high-profile intellectual property controversies (including tangles with Pepsi and U2), helped popularize the plunderphonics movement (which intersected with hip-hop and helped define internet culture), and coined the phrase “culture jamming.”

A new documentary takes a thoughtful and haunting look at this bold, brilliant, and stubborn creative force.


An Affectionate and Honest Filmic Portrait of Negativland’s Don Joyce
By Paul Riismandel
Radio Survivor
April 8, 2018

Musician, DJ and radio artist Don Joyce passed away nearly three years ago, on July 22, 2015. He left behind a voluminous archive of his KPFA radio program “Over the Edge,” which took off in new, chaotic and creative directions when he welcomed the participation of the experimental band Negativland in 1981, then joining the group.

The documentary “How Radio Isn’t Done” (DVD) sheds light on Joyce and his life, work and his process for recontextualizing the never-ending flow of media messages that flood everyday life. Director Ryan Worsley paints an affectionate, but honest portrait of a man who poured tremendous quantities of inspiration, energy and effort into his community radio program, leaving the impression that it was something he just had to do. Read more.

Sinclair Broadcasting Screams “Fake News” But They Are Fake News!

posted by
Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Gene Policinski, President & COO of the Newseum Institute, opines on the Sinclair Publishing hostage scenario revealed by Deadspin in a video of news anchors all over the country spouting chillingly identical propaganda.


Policinski: Next time, just put your name to the message
Gene Policinski
Indise the First Amendment
April 7, 2018

Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent promotional message on the state of today’s news — delivered to its TV audiences nationwide — is as protected by the First Amendment as it was an oafish attempt to hide corporate messaging under the veneer of local news reporting.

In other words, it was commentary from a conservative company that has a First Amendment right to express its views, but it was also a shoddy tactic that undermined the very thing Sinclair’s leadership claimed to support: good journalism.

Deadspin — an online sports news site — put together a now widely shared video of news anchors from 45 Sinclair-owned American stations, all reading in synchrony from the same script. The video’s echo-chamber effect laid bare what many have described as an “Orwellian” attempt to deliver a persuasive message using trusted voices in local journalism.

Watch the video:
Sinclair’s Soldiers in Trump’s War on Media Video, by Deadspin

The mash-up of TV anchors, delivering the script with varying degrees of sincerity, prompted dire warnings from left-leaning cable news commentators about media consolidation and ulterior political motives.

President Trump tweeted a defense of Sinclair, using the controversy to take yet another swipe at the same mainstream news outlets he frequently attacks: “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased.”

Trump has it wrong — critics took aim at the method, not the message.

Let’s parse the actual effort… Read the rest of this article here.

TV News Pranks Lead to Litigation

by
Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters

It’s 2018, and TV news is apparently more relevant and dangerous than ever. Learn more about our old pals Chop and Steele with the Vice News team.


“Meet the Comedy Duo Who Got Sued for Pranking the News”
By Oliver Noble and Brandon Lisy
Vice News
March 22, 2018

When they infiltrated three morning news programs by passing themselves off as a hilariously unathletic strongman duo, Brooklyn comedians Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett were not the first people to prank TV News.

Left-leaning activists The Yes Men famously infiltrated BBC, and right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe unsuccessfully attempted to plant a false story in the Washington Post. But Prueher and Pickett, who run the Found Footage Festival, have no overt political agenda and are happy to simply interrupt news programming with the absurd or profane.

Out of embarrassment or pragmatism, media companies generally avoid legal retaliation after getting pranked. Yet when Prueher and Pickett pranked Gray Television, the company sued, kicking off a battle over free speech, comedy, and how easy it can be get past TV bookers. Read more.

April Fools’ Day 2018: Stunt Roundup

by
Filed under: All About Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy, Parody, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Satire, The History of Pranks, The World of the Prank

The smirking array of pranks, stunts, and fake marketing drives has become a predictable April Fool’s Day rite. Our finest brands and capital-C Creative Teams use this opportunity to trot out wacky ideas and to attempt to out-clever each other in a quest for attention.

You can set your sundial by it, but that’s no reason, in itself, to complain. Plenty of brand-based April Fool’s japes are entertaining, and a few pack genuinely subversive elements.

Sunday finds the virtual prank parade already in progress. The clowns have been rolling out all week, in acknowledgement of the holiday schedule, and probably as part of a phenomenon similar to Christmas Creep, in which April Fool’s Day threatens to slowly engulf more and more of the year.

There are few unique challenges against which this year’s festival of cleverness must contend. April Fool’s Day falls on a Sunday, and on the Easter holiday, widely observed in nations where influential marketers and media entities are based. It also falls against a background characterized by extreme distrust and hostility toward advertisers, Silicon Valley tech giants, and a political climate in which the US presidential administration’s most favored PR approach resembles gaslighting. Increasingly, the media treat April Fool’s brand stunts with outward cynicism and exhaustion.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica controversy that is grinding away at Facebook, tech brands face a tough room this year. Google, in particular, has always embraced cheeky self-awareness in its pranks, a winking sense of, “everyone seems to think we’re going to control the world someday – and wouldn’t it be kind of neat if we did?” This year’s battery of GOOG yuks, including a “bad joke detector” and an API for different varieties of hummus, acknowledges the inherent absurdity of Google’s algorithmic, data-driven approach to world domination. Google’s work is state-of-the-art in terms of creative skill, but it feels at least few weeks behind the times.

In the Scott Dikkers taxonomy of jokes, irony and parody are hard to make stick in 2018. Gentle absurdity, wordplay, and “madcap” humor may be an easier plan.

Coinciding with Easter Sunday may make it harder to nab eyeballs, but some brands are using it to their advantage. The Chocolate Whopper is one of many gags that draws ridiculous associations with holiday sweets. Following up the success of the emoji car horn, one of the most charming 2017 stunts, Honda returns with another winning exercise in pure silliness. One tech company simply gave a crapload of money to people who need it, which may be the most heartwarming and unorthodox 4/1 tactic on record.

In the non-commercial realm, artists and social critics are addressing the elephant in the room, head on. From anonymous Craigslist pranksters to our own head honcho Joey Skaggs and his annual April Fool’s Day parade, there’s plenty of puckish and ambitious parody directed at Trump and his inherently ridiculous milieu.

Arguably, the best thing that can come from the widespread crisis in confidence that is 2018 is a greater premium on critical thinking and the importance of placing our relentless and exhausting news cycle in its broader context.

As usual, Atlas Obscura does rigorous yet unpretentious work putting curiosities and absurdities against the backdrop of history, in an entertaining and approachable fashion. All week, it has showcased examples of old-school irreverence, from bird dung to a theoretical cactus, as a reminder that high-profile pranks have always been with us, and their spirit is always worth preserving and celebrating. (Thanks to Dr. Bob O’Keefe for the tip on this one.)

Aviv Ovadya and the Coming “Infocalypse”

by
Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, The Future of Pranks

In a far-ranging, frightening, and fascinating interview, Buzzfeed News catches up with engineer and tech prognosticator Aviv Ovadya, who anticipated the current scourge of “fake news” and says we haven’t seen anything yet.


“He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He’s Worried About An Information Apocalypse.”
By Charlie Warzel
Buzzfeed
February 11, 2018

In mid-2016, Aviv Ovadya realized there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet — so wrong that he abandoned his work and sounded an alarm. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco’s Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled “Infocalypse”

The web and the information ecosystem that had developed around it was wildly unhealthy, Ovadya argued. The incentives that governed its biggest platforms were calibrated to reward information that was often misleading and polarizing, or both. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google prioritized clicks, shares, ads, and money over quality of information, and Ovadya couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all building toward something bad — a kind of critical threshold of addictive and toxic misinformation. The presentation was largely ignored by employees from the Big Tech platforms — including a few from Facebook who would later go on to drive the company’s NewsFeed integrity effort.

“At the time, it felt like we were in a car careening out of control and it wasn’t just that everyone was saying, “we’ll be fine’ — it’s that they didn’t even see the car,” he said.

Ovadya saw early what many — including lawmakers, journalists, and Big Tech CEOs — wouldn’t grasp until months later: Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable — to propaganda, to misinformation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments — so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact.

But it’s what he sees coming next that will really scare the shit out of you. Read more.