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.

Another Reason Art Is Bad for Fascism

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

Ever wondered why fascists hate free speech? Brains trumped brawn when this German art collective shined a light on dozens of violent neo-Nazis.


“Who Says Art Is Useless? A German Art Collective Outs 25 Neo-Nazis in an Online Sting Operation”
by Henri Neuendorf
Artnet News
December 8, 2018

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A left-wing German art collective is using its creativity for a cause. The group’s members announced on Wednesday that they had identified dozens of neo-Nazis by luring them into an elaborate digital trap.

In August, far-right groups gathered in the east German city of Chemnitz for a multi-day rally that quickly turned violent. Fascist extremists chased and harassed immigrants, vandalized property, made Nazi salutes (which is illegal in Germany), and clashed with riot police. But most of the demonstrators who caused the unrest managed to evade arrest and prosecution.

In response, the leftist artist and activist group Center for Political Beauty (ZPS) made it their mission to bring as many neo-Nazi rioters to justice as possible. After the unrest, the activists began collecting footage and images of rioters and cross-referenced it with publicly available social media profiles.

The group built a website with information and pictures of more than 1,500 of the estimated 7,000 Chemnitz demonstrators and sent out a newsletter urging the public to come forward with further information. But the public appeal turned out to be a trick. Programmers working with ZPS deliberately designed the site so visitors could only see 20 profiles at a time, encouraging the fascists to use the search function to find out if they themselves had been named. 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.

This Rascal’s Obituary is a Collaborative Literary Masterpiece

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Parody, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

As a fitting tribute to the prank-loving Rick Stein on the occasion of his death, his daughter Alex Walsh took some creative liberties in his honor. Then things got really ridiculous, swelling into a funny and moving tribute to the power of a life irreverently lived.


“A daughter’s hilarious obituary unravels her father’s mysterious life. You have to read to the end to get it.”
by Allison Klein
October 11, 2018
The Washington Post

The obituary that ran last week in Delaware Online is a mystery, the tale of a globe-trotting Renaissance man who disappeared in a single-engine plane over the Atlantic Ocean after learning he had cancer.

It was written by Alex Walsh about her father, Rick Stein, 71, a man who she said had an endless appetite for comedy. The huge response on social media has been comfort to the mourning family, she said, as people who never knew her father have been sending condolences by the dozens.

“All of this is bittersweet,” Walsh, 45, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

The obituary begins:

“Rick Stein, 71, of Wilmington was reported missing and presumed dead on September 27, 2018 when investigators say the single-engine plane he was piloting, The Northrop, suddenly lost communication with air traffic control and disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Rehoboth Beach. Philadelphia police confirm Stein had been a patient at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where he was being treated for a rare form of cancer. Hospital spokesman Walter Heisenberg says doctors from Stein’s surgical team went to visit him on rounds when they discovered his room was empty. Security footage shows Stein leaving the building at approximately 3:30 Thursday afternoon, but then the video feed mysteriously cuts off.

“Authorities say they believe Stein took an Uber to the Philadelphia airport where they assume he somehow gained access to the aircraft. ‘The sea was angry that day,’ said NTSB lead investigator Greg Fields in a news conference. ‘We have no idea where Mr. Stein may be, but any hope for a rescue is unlikely.”’ Read more…

Barney Rosset Documentary Seeks Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Things Come In Ridiculous Packages

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Filed under: Parody, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire

Not sure you’ll choose the perfect holiday gifts for your loved ones? It hardly matters when you use one of these goofy satirical packages.


“Hilarious Prank Gift Boxes Printed With Items of Questionable Taste That Hide the Real Gift Inside”
by Lori Dorn
Laughing Squid
December 4, 2018

Prank-O, a Minneapolis-based comedy company, has a hilarious line of fake gift boxes known as Prank Packs. These gift boxes are printed with items of questionable taste while hiding the real presents inside. Such absurd items include a Plant Urinal, a “Crib Dribbler”, “My First Fire”, “Bathe and Brew”, “Tech Neck”, “Tweet Printer” and “Sizzl Bacon Scented Dryer Sheets”, just to name a few. Read more.

Improv Everywhere: The Giant Boom Box

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Illusion and Magic, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts

Note from Editor Joey Skaggs: This brings back fond memories of my 1978 Disco Radio, a 4 foot by 2 foot by 8 foot wide radio on wheels, built by my New York SVA students for a class project. It was a commentary on the proliferation of loud disco radios blaring music throughout the streets of New York at that time. Students dressed in costumes, each with their own disco radio, wheeled the giant radio into Washington Square Park where they played music matching their costumed characters, all at the same time.

Charlie Todd’s wonderfully sweet Giant Boombox event, sponsored by Target, looks a lot less noisy!


Improv Everywhere’s Giant Boombox

We placed a 10-foot tall boombox on Pier 17 in Manhattan and waited for unsuspecting people to plug it in. Real New Yorkers worked together to carry the 160-foot long cord across the pier to an oversized outlet.

Once the boombox was plugged in, everyone was surprised by a massive holiday dance party with 100 acrobatic dancers, thousands of Christmas lights placed on two historic ships, and 10 hidden snow machines.

For more photos and a look behind the scenes at how this event came together, visit https://improveverywhere.com/2018/12/17/the-giant-boombox/.

Sponsored by Target

Sweet Stinky Revenge on Package Thieves

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Filed under: Creative Activism, How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals, Pranksters

How to thwart thieves one package at a time. Don’t miss the video!
h/t Naomi


NASA engineer comes up with epic revenge package to catch Amazon delivery thieves complete with a glitter bomb, fart spray, GPS and cameras to catch their reactions
by Jessica Finn
Daily Mail
December 18, 2018

Mark Rober, a NASA engineer, had a package stolen from his porch by an alleged thief and the police told him it wasn’t worth investigating. He came up with an idea to create an epic revenge bait package made to look like an Apple HomePod delivered from Amazon. Inside is a high-tech contraption complete with a glitter bomb, a fart spray, and hidden cell phones to record the thief’s reaction and utilize the GPS. Rober tested the package and caught people stealing it with hilarious results.

Watch the video:

Give A Holiday Gift Guaranteed To Bring Smiles (And Get A Special $5 Holiday Discount)!

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Instructionals, Pranksters, Satire, The Prank as Art, What Makes a Good Prank?, Why Do a Prank?

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“If you don’t know who Joey Skaggs is, know this: he is a f*cking national treasure! One of the best pranksters in history. We see him provide comical and sometimes biting commentary on our society in Art of the Prank, all carried out with deadpan precision.”
– Fandor

“For those who still believe in Santa Claus this film is a must-see!”
– Joey Skaggs


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

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. Read more…

Glory Holes in New Zealand… Who’s Got the Balls?

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Publicity Stunts, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Letting it all hang out…
h/t Erin


New Zealand launches balls checking booth for testicular cancer
BBC
November 15, 2018

If you’re too shy to face a doctor, the Testimatic is just the thing for you. TESTICULAR CANCER NZ

Ever thought of getting a health check but worried about having to, well, drop your pants? Meet the Testimatic.

That’s a booth to allow New Zealand men to have their testicles checked without having to face a doctor.

Testicular cancer is the number one cancer in young men in Western nations and the booth is being rolled out with fanfare at a big expo in Auckland.

How does it work? Into the booth, down with the pants and a doctor will check you anonymously through a little hole.

The booth is set up at this weekend’s Big Boys Toys expo, a huge exhibition catering to all things men stereotypically are supposed to be into.

So that’s stuff like cars, gadgets, action sports, barbeque or construction machinery.

Read the rest of this article here.

BP or not BP?

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

Ethical curating vs. patronage by “benevolent guardians and gatekeepers”


Anti-BP Protesters Sip Oily Champagne in Satirical Performance at the British Museum
by Jasmine Weber
Hyperallergic
November 6, 2018

Performers dressed as BP employees sipped oil-contaminated champagne, and protesters displayed facts about BP’s exploitation of Iraqi resources.

Faux BP employees chat nonchalantly before anti-oil protesters (all images by Kristian Buus and courtesy of BP or not BP?)

On November 6, activist theatre group BP or not BP? gathered at the British Museum, just outside of the I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria exhibition, which opens November 8. The protest actors dressed as corporate BP employees and were accompanied by additional protesters. The action occurred in parallel to the exhibition’s private viewing for journalists.

The British Museum’s latest exhibition of ancient Assyrian objects from Iraq provided the perfect platform for BP or not BP?’s 33rd performance within the museum, where they chanted slogans like, “British Museum, we’ll keep coming back, no BP logos on your stolen artifacts!” (Just last week, the sale of an Assyrian relief at Christie’s raised similar concerns about the pillaging of Iraqi artifacts.) Read more…

“Trump’s Kool-Aid Tasting” Goes to the White House

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

With the mid-term election looming, Joey Skaggs decided it was time to draw more attention to the need for Americans to vote. So Skaggs and volunteers wearing Trump masks and holding signs underscoring Trump’s positions took Skaggs’ mobile Kool-Aid Tasting Stand from where it was on exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Political Art in Washington DC, to the White House.

  • This was a faux pro-Trump parade illustrating and satirizing what Trump represents to the American people.

    More details and photos here:
    https://joeyskaggs.com/works/trumps-kool-aid-tasting