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Activists Tanked CBS’s “The Activist”

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Filed under: Co-option (If You Can't Beat 'Em...), Creative Activism, Hype, Political Challenges, Spin

Reality TV got caught trying to be real. CBS was casting for a new reality TV show called The Activist where social issue crusaders would be pitted against each other. h/t Naomi

POSTSCRIPT: The loud outcry against this pathetically bad idea resulted in a complete reconfiguring of the show.


Inside ‘The Activist’ Meltdowns as the Entire Shitshow Spiraled Out of Control, by Cheyenne Roundtree. The Daily Beast, September 15, 2021

The backlash against “The Activist” continues, with an open letter and response from host Julianne Hough. The Daily Beast spoke with two activists who were approached by the show.

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway

It took just a few hours for CBS’s new reality competition The Activist to be globally panned. A Frankenstein mashup of a Hunger Games-style dystopian world mixed with hints of Survivor and The Apprentice, the show places six activists into teams and pairs them with a “high-profile public figure” to duke it out in challenges to promote their various causes. At the end of the five-episode series, they will have the chance to pitch their cause at the G20 Summit in Rome. Whoever secures the most funding wins the show.

Instead of world leaders or any sort of mission-driven experts being tapped to host the show, Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough will serve as co-hosts and offer up advice to the contestants.

The Daily Beast reviewed the six contestants’ social media accounts—including TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram profiles—which were all created in August. One posted, “Help me win by commenting and liking my posts through the next few missions!” Another contestant thanked his followers for donating to his GoFundMe, which went towards covering the unpaid time off he took as an elementary teacher in order to compete on the show.

Needless to say, the announcement of a show that pits serious causes against one another and then relies on superficial social media metrics to determine which campaign is more successful—in the middle of global pandemic—did not go over well.

Read the rest here.

Apparently, Reality is a Spectrum

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Parody, Prank News, Pranksters, Spin

Fictional ‘influencers’ with millions of followers are taking over TikTok, by Andrew Court, New York Post, October 12, 2021

“Sydney,” “Tia” and “Ollie.”

Some social media influencers appear to lead lives that seem too good to be true — and now it turns out that that’s actually the case.

Over the past eight months, entertainment startup FourFront has created 22 fictional “TikTok influencers,” hiring writers to craft their scripts and real-life actors to play them.

Each day, the actors upload new videos to the respective TikTok accounts, detailing their characters’ latest fictional exploits for hundreds of thousands of followers.

Collectively, the characters have amassed a whopping 281 million video views, Insider reports, with FourFront creating a new frontier in scripted storytelling on the social media app.

Read the rest of the story here.

Rudy Giuliani Gets Caught with his Hand in the Cookie Jar

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Spin, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

A scene in Sacha Baron Cohen’s news movie “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” exposes Rudy Giuliani, ex-Mayor of New York and Donald Trump’s personal attorney, in a compromising position. He makes a play for a sexy young journalist who is interviewing him and gets caught on film appearing to put his hand down his pants. Rudy says he was just tucking in his shirt.

You decide. Watch the footage of the scene here:

And here’s Sacha Baron Cohen’s response in character as Borat defending Rudy.

Read more at The Guardian: Rudy Giuliani faces questions after compromising scene in new Borat film

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.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall–Who is the Fakest of Them All?

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Filed under: Illusion and Magic, Media Pranks, Parody, Publicity Stunts, Spin

Is that social media influencer you’re following real?


These Influencers Aren’t Flesh and Blood, Yet Millions Follow Them
by Tiffany Hsu
The New York Times
June 17, 2019

Balmain commissioned the former fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson to create a “virtual army” of digital models, including, from left, Margot, Shudu and Zhi. Credit Balmain.

The kiss between Bella Hadid and Miquela Sousa, part of a Calvin Klein commercial last month, struck many viewers as unrealistic, even offensive.

Ms. Hadid, a supermodel, identifies as heterosexual, and the ad sparked complaints that Calvin Klein was deceiving customers with a sham lesbian encounter. The fashion company apologized for “queerbaiting” after the 30-second spot appeared online.

But Ms. Hadid, at least, is human. Everything about Ms. Sousa, better known as Lil Miquela, is manufactured: the straight-cut bangs, the Brazilian-Spanish heritage, the bevy of beautiful friends.

Lil Miquela, who has 1.6 million Instagram followers, is a computer-generated character. Introduced in 2016 by a Los Angeles company backed by Silicon Valley money, she belongs to a growing cadre of social media marketers known as virtual influencers.

Each month, more than 80,000 people stream Lil Miquela’s songs on Spotify. She has worked with the Italian fashion label Prada, given interviews from Coachella and flaunted a tattoo designed by an artist who inked Miley Cyrus.

Until last year, when her creators orchestrated a publicity stunt to reveal her provenance, many of her fans assumed she was a flesh-and-blood 19-year-old. But Lil Miquela is made of pixels, and she was designed to attract follows and likes. (more…)

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:

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].

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

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.

Music to Whose Ears?

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Hype, Illusion and Magic, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Spin

A mystery tour with fake websites, fake audiences, fake interviews, fake music label, fake management, fake video production company and at least one really good musician.

As Jered Threatin (if that’s his real name) says… “What is Fake News? I turned an empty room into an international headline. If you are reading this, you are part of the illusion.”


The Story of Threatin, a Most Puzzling Hoax Even for 2018
by Jonah Engel Bromwich
The New York Times
November 16, 2018

A rock band went on tour in the U.K. and nobody came. Then it got weird.

In April, Jered Threatin began to hold auditions for a backing band. He chose three musicians and told them they would embark on an all-expenses paid European tour with his band, Threatin.

The first stop was The Underworld in London. Someone representing Threatin had paid £780 (roughly $1,010) to book it for the night of Nov. 1 and told Patrice Lovelace, an in-house promoter at the club, that the band had sold 291 tickets for the show.

But when the band went on, there were only three people in the audience.

“It was only on show day when no customer list for the 291 customers was produced that we realized we’d been duped,” Ms. Lovelace said. “The show went ahead with only the supports, staff and crew in attendance. The bar made almost zero money, and it was all extremely bizarre. And empty, obviously.”

The next few gigs were similarly barren. After a show at The Exchange in Bristol on Nov. 5, for which a promoter claimed to have sold 182 tickets, staff at the venue decided to investigate the band. After all, someone had paid more than $500 to book the venue.

Nearly everything associated with Threatin, it would turn out, was an illusion. Iwan Best, a venue manager at The Exchange, said they found that each of the websites associated with Threatin — the band’s “label” Superlative Music Recordings; its management company, Aligned Artist Management; and the video production company that directed the band’s video — were all registered to the same GoDaddy account. (The pages were built under a parent site seemingly associated with Superlative Music, the fake label.)

Watch the “Living is Dying” music video

(more…)

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

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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.

Tracing the Roots of Wishful Thinking

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, The History of Pranks

As the year-end recaps gather on the horizon, many will attempt to make sense of Donald Trump’s ascent to the Presidency. Kurt Andersen’s book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire provides a fascinating road-map.

The Atlantic posted a long excerpt. This is from Delancey Place about the roots of our inbred susceptibility to advertising.


“Are Americans More Willing to Believe in Advertising?”
Delancey Place
December 4, 2017

From the earliest days, and continuing for decades and even centuries, promoters of the New World enticed colonizers with the promise of riches, causing the historian Daniel Boorstin to suggest that ‘American civilization [has] been shaped by the fact that there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe in advertising’:

“Although [Sir Walter] Raleigh never visited North America himself, he believed that in addition to its gold deposits, his realm might somehow be the biblical Garden of Eden. … A large fraction of the first settlers dispatched by Raleigh became sick and died. He dispatched a second expedi­tion of gold-hunters. It also failed, and all those colonists died. But Sir Walter continued believing the dream of gold.

“In 1606 the new English king, James, despite Raleigh’s colonization di­sasters, gave a franchise to two new private enterprises, the Virginia Com­pany of London and the Virginia Company of Plymouth, to start colonies. The southern one, under the auspices of London, they named Jamestown after the monarch. Their royal charter was clear about the main mission: ‘to dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold … And to HAVE and enjoy the Gold.’ As Tocqueville wrote in his history two centuries later, ‘It was … gold-seekers who were sent to Virginia. No noble thought or conception above gain presided over the foundation of the new settlements.’ Two­-thirds of those first hundred gold-seekers promptly died. But the captain of the expedition returned to England claiming to have found ‘gold showing mountains.’ … In fact, Jamestown ore they dug and refined and shipped to England turned out to be iron pyrite, fool’s gold….” Read more.

Noted Twitter Conservatives Exposed as Russian Ops

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Spin

It’s been a year since the 2016 US presidential election. As part of the larger story of Russian interference on behalf of President Donald Trump, the fever swamp of conservative digital media is starting to look a lot more mysterious. The story of “Jenna Abrams,” exposed in The Daily Beast, is fascinating by itself, and it appears to be the rim of the rabbit hole.


“Two popular conservative Twitter personalities were just outed as Russian trolls”
By Rob Tornoe
Philly.com
November 3, 2017

Jenna Abrams was a popular figure in right-wing social media circles. Boasting nearly 70,000 followers, Abrams was featured in numerous news articles during the 2016 election, spotlighted by outlets as varied as USA Today, the Washington Post, the BBC, and Yahoo! Sports. Her tweet about CNN airing porn during Anthony Bourdain's show (it didn't) was reported by numerous outlets.

According to information released by House Democrats earlier this week, Abrams was one of more than 2,750 fake Twitter accounts created by employees at the Internet Research Agency, a "troll farm" funded by the Russian government based in St. Petersburg. In addition to the Abrams account, several other popular conservative social media personalities - @LauraBaeley, SouthLoneStar, Ten_GOP - were all revealed to be troll accounts. All have been deactivated on Twitter.

According to the Daily Beast, the agency developed a following around the Abrams account by offering humorous, seemingly non-political takes on pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian. The agency also furnished the fake account, which dates back to 2014, with a personal website, a Gmail account and even a GoFundMe page.

Once the Abrams account began to develop a following, the tone of its tweets shifted from pokes and prods at celebrities to divisive views on hot topics like immigration and segregation. Read more.

Carl Sagan’s Crash Course in Critical Thinking

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, The History of Pranks

This could hardly be more timely, so we’re revisiting Maria Popova’s Brainpickings review of “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” a chapter from Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, in which the legendary scientist distills his years of professional skepticism into a primer for recognizing and calling BS in everyday life. H/t Dino.


“The Baloney Detection Kit: Carl Sagan's Rules for Bullshit-Busting and Critical Thinking”
By Maria Popova
BrainPickings
January 3, 2014

Sagan reflects on the many types of deception to which we're susceptible - from psychics to religious zealotry to paid product endorsements by scientists, which he held in especially low regard, noting that they "betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers" and "introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity." (Cue in PBS's Joe Hanson on how to read science news.) But rather than preaching from the ivory tower of self-righteousness, Sagan approaches the subject from the most vulnerable of places - having just lost both of his parents, he reflects on the all too human allure of promises of supernatural reunions in the afterlife, reminding us that falling for such fictions doesn't make us stupid or bad people, but simply means that we need to equip ourselves with the right tools against them.

Through their training, scientists are equipped with what Sagan calls a "baloney detection kit" - a set of cognitive tools and techniques that fortify the mind against penetration by falsehoods:

The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you're so inclined, if you don't want to buy baloney even when it's reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there's a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

But the kit, Sagan argues, isn't merely a tool of science - rather, it contains invaluable tools of healthy skepticism that apply just as elegantly, and just as necessarily, to everyday life. By adopting the kit, we can all shield ourselves against clueless guile and deliberate manipulation. Sagan shares nine of these tools. Read more.