Propaganda and Disinformation

Blog Posts

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.

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:

Political Prank Topples the Austrian Government. Joey Skaggs Swears He Didn’t Do It! [English and German]

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Joey Skaggs visited Vienna, Austria, in June. Coincidentally, a surreptitiously filmed video had just been released showing the far-right Freedom Party’s leader and then vice chancellor of the Austrian government, Heinz-Christian Strache, scheming to overthrow the rest of the government.

In the video, Strache, thinking he’s talking to the niece of a wealthy Russian oligarch with connections in high places, offers her a controlling share in a national newspaper and sweetheart construction contracts in return for hefty (and illegal) campaign donations. Turns out she wasn’t who she said she was and the video shows him to be an ambitious, scheming fool.

The video caused a loss of confidence in the entire Austrian government and resulted in its total collapse. In essence, the Austrian government had just been toppled by a prank. What timing. Joey swears he had nothing to do with this!

Joey’s presentation at FH-Wien University in Vienna prompted interviews with FM4, Austria’s national radio network, and NJOY 91.3, the FH-Wien University radio station. It was a great opportunity for him to talk about the power of the political prank, President Trump’s fixation with “fake news”, and the unsettling potential of deepfakes, which he had predicted in a 1986 interview in Pranks! (RE/Search No. 11). Check out page 41.

The FM4 radio interview with Felix Diewald is no longer available, however its web page (in German) is terrific.

The NJOY 91.3 radio interview with Michel Mehle is fun and edifying. It starts out in German and switches to English at 2:11.

Michael Cohen, Idle Worship

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Filed under: Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

When vanity gets the best of you…


11 Tweets From The Fake Fan Account ‘Stud’ Michael Cohen Paid To Fawn Over Him
by Lee Moran
HuffPost
January 18, 2019

Michael Cohen reportedly hired an IT company to create a fake Twitter account and post fawning tweets about him.

And that’s exactly what the @WomenForCohen feed did.

It repeatedly called Cohen — a former fixer and lawyer to President Donald Trump who was in December sentenced to three years in prison for crimes involving lying to Congress and campaign finance ? a “sex symbol,” “stud” and “pit bull.”

Its bio reads: “Women who love and support Michael Cohen. Strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented, and ready to make a difference!”

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Cohen failed to pay John Gauger, the owner of RedFinch Solutions LLC and whose female friend operated the account until December 2016, most of the $50,000 fee they had agreed to run the Twitter account and for the rigging of online polls in Trump’s favor.

Check out 11 of the feed’s most flattering (fake) tweets

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.

Shooting Fish in a Barrel for Profit

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

This pathetic story oozes with irony.
h/t Felipe & Eli


‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America
by Eli Saslow
Washington Post
November 17, 2018

Christopher Blair, 46, sits at his desk at home in Maine and checks his Facebook page, America’s Last Line of Defense. He launched the political-satire portal with other liberal bloggers during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

NORTH WATERBORO, Maine — The only light in the house came from the glow of three computer monitors, and Christopher Blair, 46, sat down at a keyboard and started to type. His wife had left for work and his children were on their way to school, but waiting online was his other community, an unreality where nothing was exactly as it seemed. He logged onto his website and began to invent his first news story of the day.

“BREAKING,” he wrote, pecking out each letter with his index fingers as he considered the possibilities. Maybe he would announce that Hillary Clinton had died during a secret overseas mission to smuggle more refugees into America. Maybe he would award President Trump the Nobel Peace Prize for his courage in denying climate change.

A new message popped onto Blair’s screen from a friend who helped with his website. “What viral insanity should we spread this morning?” the friend asked. (more…)

Academic Journalism?

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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…)

Google Maps, the Fraud Frontier

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation

It’s the wild, wild west. Why has Google Maps, “plagued by fake reviews, ghost listings, lead generation schemes and impersonators,” barely begun to fight back?


These online volunteers fight fake reviews, ghost listings and other scams on Google Maps — and say the problem’s getting worse
by Jillian D’Onfro
CNBC
April 13, 2018

Tom Waddington was hanging out at a friend’s house when he got an unexpected notification from Google Maps.

Waddington is part of a group of Google Maps advocates who are trying to improve the service, so he lets Google track his location and frequently adds photos or edits to Maps listings.

So the notification itself was routine, but the message was strange: Maps wanted him to contribute information about the Urgent Care center nearby. He was in a residential neighborhood.

He opened the app and, sure enough, one of the houses next door was listed as a clinic. A telemedicine company that also made house calls had falsely claimed that physical address to try to increase business. The scammers hoped potential patients would search Maps for Urgent Care centers nearby, then call its number to schedule a house call or virtual appointment.

These growth-hacking scams can have consequences: Waddington found someone who claimed to have taken his child to one of these non-existent clinics. Read the rest here.

Behold Instagram’s Digital Conmen

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation

Money, money, money… money.

“Oyefeso is one of the most high-profile figures of an internet subculture that reveres Jordan Belfort and has taken his Wolf of Wall Street persona to social media. Posing as ultra-wealthy kids and posting internet memes taken from the movie, its followers aggressively sign up young people to what looks like an international pyramid scheme that has helped to generate billions of pounds for large companies selling highly risky financial trading products.” -Symeon Brown


Fake it till you make it: meet the wolves of Instagram
by Symeon Brown
The Guardian
April 19, 2018

Their hero is Jordan Belfort, their social media feeds display super-rich lifestyles. But what are these self-styled traders really selling?

The original Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, was a rogue trader convicted of fraudulently selling worthless penny stocks to naive investors. His biopic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the ostentatious, money-obsessed huckster, was a box-office hit in 2013. Although it may have been intended as a cautionary tale, to thousands of young millennials from humble backgrounds, Belfort’s story became a blueprint for how to escape an unremarkable life on low pay.

Within months of the Wolf of Wall Street’s UK premiere in January 2014, a stocky 21-year-old named Elijah Oyefeso from a south London housing estate, began broadcasting on social media how much money he was making as a stock-market whizzkid. His thousands of young followers were desperate to do the same. As Oyefeso’s online fame grew, he caught the attention of TV producers. In January 2016, Oyefeso was featured in the Channel 4 show Rich Kids Go Shopping, in which he bought expensive jumpers to give to homeless people and showed viewers how easy it was to make stock trades online.

Even before Oyefeso’s appearance on mainstream TV, his story had already gone viral. British tabloids, including the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard and the Mirror, as well as a host of online magazines targeted at young men, all ran pieces about his success. The Mail headline described him as a university dropout who supposedly used his student loan to start trading financial products online and “now claims he earns £30,000 on a BAD month – by working just ONE HOUR a day”.

It’s an image of self-made wealth and ridiculous luxury, and one that Oyefeso has intensively cultivated online. The videos on his almost comedic YouTube channel, which have hundreds of thousands of views, feature him buying £250,000 cars and boarding private jets as nonchalantly as others his age might hail an Uber. His Instagram, which regularly shows him posing next to a blue and silver Rolls-Royce, describes him as the founder of DCT, his trading firm. DCT stands for “Dreams Come True”.

“I’m never going to work for someone,” Oyefeso says in one of his videos, in a somewhat cartoonish, nasal voice, while he drives his Rolls dressed in a bathrobe. “Look what I’ve built: a foundation. A brand.” Read more