Blog Posts

Always Check Your Sources Before You Get Outraged

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

“Ghostwriter” global disinformation campaign takes aim at NATO


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Anal Ventriloquism Strikes Again

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman are wannabe conspiracy theorists in search of click-bait.


Serial Hoaxers Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman Swear They’ll Solve Epstein’s Death
by Will Sommer
The Daily Beast
August 12, 2019

The men behind smears of Mueller and Buttigieg offer $100,000 for info about the wealthy sex offender’s demise in jail. They don’t exactly have an inspiring track record.

John Middlebrook/AP

Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide Saturday morning in a Manhattan jail cell has spawned conspiracy theories he was murdered and sent feds scrambling to figure out how the wealthy sex offender could have died in their custody.

Now two attention-hungry men whose collaborations tend to fail spectacularly say they want to crack the case by offering a $100,000 reward for information.

Epstein’s body was discovered around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where he was being held while facing federal sex-trafficking charges. While no official cause of death ruling has been made, the New York City medical examiner has said she is confident Epstein killed himself. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating “serious irregularities” at MCC, such as the reported failure of guards to check on Epstein every 30 minutes. (Epstein had been taken off of suicide watch days before his death.)

On Monday, lobbyist Jack Burkman and conservative operative Jacob Wohl—the hapless serial hoaxers behind several earlier failed schemes—announced that they were going to “enter the fray” and investigate Epstein’s death. (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.

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.

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.

Disinformation at the Speed of Light

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation, You Decide

At a time of unspeakable tragedy, Russian propagandists and right wing conspiracy theorists work together to neutralize a rational, well-spoken high school student pleading for safe schools.


How the Florida school shooting conspiracies sprouted and spread
by Paul P. Murphy and Gianluca Mezzofiore
CNN
February 22, 2018

(CNN)Conspiracy theories after mass shootings follow a familiar thread and the Florida school shooting is no exception.

They originate in the dark corners of the internet — often from the 4chan “politically incorrect” board (abbreviated as /pol/) — and migrate onto social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook from conservative pages, alt-right personalities, nationalist blogs and far-right pundits.

What drives hoaxes and conspiracy theorists is unclear. But their faith in the conspiracies they spread seems to be unwavering.

Less than an hour after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, Twitter accounts were claiming that eyewitnesses were “crisis actors.” The term refers to people who are paid to play disaster victims in emergency drills. More recently, though, the phrase has been co-opted by conspiracy theorists who claim mass shootings are events staged to achieve a political goal.

A CNN investigation into 4chan’s /pol/ archive counted at least 121 times that school shooting survivor David Hogg was mentioned on the board. Read the rest of this article here.

Fake News Is the New Real News

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

Fake news (aka propaganda) has always been with us, just not in the hands of so many little people. Now it appears the genie’s out of the bottle and all the King’s horses and all the King’s men might not be able to put it back in…


“Fake news is here forever, study says”
by Fox News Staff
The New York Post
October 6, 2017

Fake information will pervade mature economies in the next few years, a new study has noted.

By 2022, most people in mature economies will consume more false information than true information, according to the study from research firm Gartner.

This trend will be fueled, in part, by "confirmation bias," that "leads all people to seek out, select and value information that parallels what they believe and expect to be proven true," the study's authors, Magnus Revang and Whit Andrews, found.

And even improved artificial intelligence (AI), which companies like Facebook and Google are working on, won't be able to stop it, a separate study by Gartner found. "Counterfeit reality" or fake content, will "outpace AI's ability to detect it."

Generating false information will always cost less than the cost of detecting it. "False information will consequently outpace true information where there is economic or political interest to purvey it," Revang and Andrews wrote. Read more.

Who Do You Believe? Me Or Your Lying Eyes?

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Why fact-checking can’t stop Trump lies, by Vox’s Brian Resnick

Watch the video

Fake Newsmaker Cameron Harris: Lying for Profit

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation

Cameron Harris, a man without shame, fesses up to how he lied, cheated and stole when he created and published fake news that helped sway the national election. He had no reason to do it other than greed and he has no remorse.


From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece, by Scott Shane, The New York Times, January 18, 2017

Cameron Harris

Joey Skaggs on Fake News (and he should know)

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

A master of fake news speaks. Published earlier today in Huffington Post, Joey muses on media literacy and the need for vigilant skepticism.


Fake News: The Relentless Pursuit of Mind Control
by Joey Skaggs
Huffington Post
November 29, 2016

Jojo, King of the New York Gypsies (a.k.a. Joey Skaggs), protesting to rename the Gypsy Moth in 1982


Jojo, King of the New York Gypsies (a.k.a. Joey Skaggs), protesting to rename the Gypsy Moth in 1982

The news media is all a-flutter with headlines about the rise and proliferation of fake news media: “Did Russia Install Donald Trump As the Next U.S. President?” “It”™s About To Get Worse!” “Living in a Media Bubble” “Can American Democracy Survive?” Excuse me? Wait a minute”¦

Propaganda and disinformation have been an integral part of our daily dose of information forever. In essence, everywhere you look, whether it”™s the allegedly trustworthy mainstream media or the not-so-trustworthy social media alt-right or left-trending news stories, someone is always peddling influence.

It wasn”™t just the Russians who supposedly engaged in influencing election results by hacking emails and proliferating fake news that damaged the Democrats”™ pursuit of the White House. Americans can”™t play the innocent victims here. We”™re all using the same propaganda techniques. Now, because of warp-speed Internet and social media delivery systems, we have a perpetual game of Propaganda Pong, and the onslaught is much more ruthless and, at the same time, highly profitable financially.

That”™s what life is like these days. You”™re either the provider or the recipient””or more likely both””of propaganda and disinformation.

Read the whole article here.


Wanted: Media Gate Keeper

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Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

Has the media lost it’s mooring? And, if so, how will it right itself?


Donald Trump and the Rise of Alt-Reality Media
by Charles Sykes
Politico
November 25, 2016

You think the truth took a hit last year? It’s about to get worse. A lot worse.

alt-right_mediaEarlier this year, I argued that the conservative movement did not merely have a Donald Trump problem””it had a media problem. As Trump slouched toward the nomination he was backed by a conservative media that had successfully created an alternative reality bubble around his candidacy. When Trump claimed that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey had celebrated the attacks on 9/11, for instance, callers to my show lined up to provide supporting evidence the only source of which was an echo chamber of partisan bloggers; listeners chimed in with evidence they had seen on Facebook linking Ted Cruz”™ father to the JFK assassination. Of course, we know the origin of that “evidence” was the National Enquirer. Crowd-sourcing has its limits.

As a #NeverTrumper, I had hoped that the election would prompt a moment of reckoning and introspection, not merely about conservative values but also the role of the conservative media. As someone who has spent much of his career promoting conservative values on my radio show, I was depending on it.

Clearly, that is not going to happen now. In fact, it”™s going to get a lot worse. Read the whole article here.

Reheating the Cold War: Blame it on the Ruskies

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

“They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who along with two other researchers has tracked Russian propaganda since 2014. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”


Russian propaganda effort helped spread “˜fake news”™ during election, experts say
by Craig Timberg
The Washington Post
November 24, 2016

Putin TV

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia”™s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery “” including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts “” echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. Read the rest of the article here.

Meet Trump Booster and Digital Chimera Steven Smith (R-GA)

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Gullibility goes way up during election years.


“The Internet’s Favorite Congessman Is a Joke”
by Molly Taft
Medium
October 24, 2016

aotpssmithRep. Steven Smith of Georgia”™s 15th District was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump and has been a vocal advocate for the candidate on Twitter. Two things, though: Georgia doesn”™t have a 15th District and there”™s no such congressman named Steven Smith. Meet the man behind the myth.

Two days after the third presidential debate, the right-wing internet is buzzing. The past week has been chock full of news fueling the rumors of an unfair election: The Podesta email dumps over the previous weekend were quickly followed by a video investigation into alleged bird-dogging at Trump rallies by DNC operatives, followed then by a report from the Center for Public Integrity titled “Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash.” The Trump campaign”™s new anti-corruption hashtag, #DrainTheSwamp, has caught on, and Representative Steven Smith, GA-15, wants to do his part to rally the base.

Using a photo editing app, Smith creates a collage of images familiar to conservative followers: a cartoon of Hillary Clinton being propped up by the mainstream media; an unflattering photo of the candidate mid-sneer; Clinton atop a pile of money. “It”™s a #RiggedSystem,” Smith adds as a caption. “But we can beat it at the ballot box. #DrainTheSwamp.” Pro-Trump and anti-media content, which Smith tweets out on average over 60 times per day to over 20,000 followers, has energized his Twitter feed in recent months: @RepStevenSmith is already at 11.3 million impressions in the past 28 days alone. Read more.