“Bots, trolls/sock puppets, political activists…”

“Political discourse on social media is seen by many as polarized, vitriolic and permeated by falsehoods and misinformation. Political operators have exploited all of these aspects of the discourse for strategic purposes, most famously during the Russian social media influence campaign during the 2016 Presidential election in the United States and current, similar efforts targeting the U.S. elections in 2018 and 2020. The results of the social media study presented in this paper presents evidence that political influence through manipulation of social media discussions is no longer exclusive to political debate but can now also be found in pop culture. Specifically, this study examines a collection of tweets relating to a much-publicized fan dispute over the Star Wars franchise film Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

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“The study finds evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments. The likely objective of these measures is increasing media coverage of the fandom conflict, thereby adding to and further propagating a narrative of widespread discord and dysfunction in American society. Persuading voters of this narrative remains a strategic goal for the U.S. alt-right movement, as well as the Russian Federation. The results of the study show that among those who address The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson directly on Twitter to express their dissatisfaction, more than half are bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality. A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls. The paper concludes that while it is only a minority of Twitter accounts that tweet negatively about The Last Jedi, organized attempts at politicizing the pop culture discourse on social media for strategic purposes are significant enough that users should be made aware of these measures, so they can act accordingly.”

Text: Morten Bay, Weaponizing the haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation. Research Gate,

Image: Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, The Origins of Socialist Realism, from the series Nostalgic Socialist Realism, 1982–3

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In A Room of Liars

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“Donald Trump scolded media big shots during an off-the-record Trump Tower sitdown on Monday, sources told The Post.

“It was like a f–ing firing squad,” one source said of the encounter.

“Trump started with [CNN chief] Jeff Zucker and said ‘I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed,’ ” the source said.

The meeting was a total disaster. The TV execs and anchors went in there thinking they would be discussing the access they would get to the Trump administration, but instead they got a Trump-style dressing down,” the source added.

A second source confirmed the fireworks.

“The meeting took place in a big board room and there were about 30 or 40 people, including the big news anchors from all the networks,” the other source said.

“Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong.’ He addressed everyone in the room calling the media dishonest, deceitful liars. He called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars,” the source said.

Text: New York Post

 

Pic: The Plot To Assassinate Hitler, A Board Game.

Events Appear Random, Hard to Reconcile

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“The belief that an event, a situation, or a set of people is controlled by unknown or secret forces, which usually have unsavory intentions. The conspiracies are supposedly intended to seize or hold political power, keep shocking information from the public, protect parties guilty of a crime, or overthrow social institutions. Conspiracies may be controlled by unidentified figures or by known institutions such as the CIA, the FBI, or the U.S. government; they may refer to known religious groups, such as Jews or Catholics, or they may assume an unprecedented new cabal; they may be attributed to aliens, communists, racial or ethnic minorities, or to a stranger. What all conspiracy theories have in common is the idea that common people have gained secret knowledge that a powerful elite is trying to keep hidden and that uncovering the conspiracy will help explain things that were previously hard to understand.

“Conspiracy theories develop for several reasons. They are a way of making sense of information that is difficult to organize or comprehend. When logic and rationality do not provide a good story to explain something, conspiracy, attached to a series of seeming coincidences, can do the job. Events that appear random and hard to reconcile with known causes can be brought under control if a conspiracy is used to explain them. The effects of actions by large institutions, such as governments or corporations, are difficult to explain because of their complexity; conspiracy can account for their actions in a comprehensive way. Conspiracies are hard to disprove because any opposition to a conspiracy theory can be seen as another part of the conspiracy and as an element of a cover-up.

“Conspiracy theories are popular ways to talk about the unknowable. Big, disturbing events, such as the attacks of 9/11 or the John F. Kennedy assassination, spawn conspiracies because they seem too random or unexpected. The 9/11 conspiracy theorists were not satisfied with the explanation that Al Qaeda operatives were responsible and have developed a series of theories that blame the U.S. government. The Kennedy assassination has nurtured decades of conspiracy theories, in part because the government’s official explanation (in the Warren Commission Report) contained inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Theories such as the crashing of an alien spaceship in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, and the subsequent transport of alien bodies to “Area 51” in the Nevada desert, have become acceptable ways of talking about encounters with the unknown. For more information, see Becker (1994) and Shermer (1997).”

Text: Conspiracy TheoryLarry E. Sullivan, The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

Image: Ant Farm & TR Uthco, The Eternal Frame, 1975.“The Eternal Frame was a project by Ant Farm and T.R. Uthco, 1975, that resulted in a 24 minute video work about the JFK assassination. At the center of this work was a re-enactment of the tragedy produced and performed for the camera, but unexpectedly many bystanders showed up to watch and were interviewed.”

Control Threats

“People’s desire to make sense of the social world is closely coupled with the extent to which they experience control over their environment. Various complementary theoretical perspectives, on meaning-making (Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006; Park, 2010; Van den Bos, 2009), paranoia (Kramer, 1998), and compensatory control (Kay, Whitson, Gaucher, & Galinsky, 2009; Rutjens, van Harreveld, & van der Pligt, 2013), assume that threats to control increase people’s mental efforts to make sense of the social world, imbuing the world with meaning, purpose, and order. These insights may explain why conspiracy theories seem to gain momentum particularly following impactful societal events that are likely experienced as control threats by citizens (e.g., a terrorist strike, a war, or a natural disaster; see Pipes, 1997; Robins & Post, 1997; Shermer, 2011). Indeed, research reveals that people are more likely to attribute impactful, harmful societal events (e.g., a politician is assas- sinated) to conspiracies than societal events that are less impactful or harmful (e.g., someone tries to assassinate a politician but fails; see McCauley & Jacques, 1979), a finding that is attributable to people’s sense-making motiva- tion (Van Prooijen & Van Dijk, 2014).

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“In a similar vein, various operationalizations of control threats have been found to predict conspiracy beliefs. For in- stance, an external locus of control—that is, a dispositional tendency to believe that one’s outcomes are controlled by external forces—is correlated with interpersonal mistrust and paranoia (Mirowsky & Ross, 1983) and belief in conspiracy theories (Hamsher, Geller, & Rotter, 1968).

“Furthermore, a seminal study by Whitson and Galinsky (2008) reveals that experimentally induced control threats increases the extent to which participants perceive patterns, such as images in random noise, patterns in stock market information, and conspiracies. Complementary findings indicate that control threats elicit responses that are widely associated with conspiracy belief, such as attributing increased power to one’s enemies (Sullivan, Landau, & Rothschild, 2010), and scapegoating (Rothschild, Landau, Sullivan, & Keefer, 2012). Furthermore, constructs that are closely associated with control threats, such as death anxiety (Newheiser, Farias, & Tausch, 2011), uncertainty (Van Prooijen & Jostmann, 2013), and attitudinal ambivalence (van Harreveld, Rutjens, Schneider, Nohlen, & Keskinis, 2014), have been found to similarly influence conspiracy beliefs. In the following, we discuss how the present contribution is designed to expand on these insights.”

Text: The Influence of Control on Belief in Conspiracy Theories: Conceptual and Applied Extensions, Jan-Willem Van Prooijen and Michelle Accker, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 29: 753–761 (2015).

Image: Adolph Gottlieb, Green Dream, 1969, Serigraph, 24.13 x 19.13 inches

Alone In The Berghof

“If you were given the power to travel through time and Set Right What Once Went Wrong, what would you do to prevent the atrocities of the past? Well, for many, the answer is obvious: kill Adolf Hitler. This would prevent World War II, the Holocaust, and their myriad side-effects… right?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

“First of all, it often proves near-impossible to kill the man in the first place — like most dictators he’s protected by various bodyguards and security forces. After all, the guy survived about 42 real life assassination attempts. Trying to circumvent these by targeting him before his rise to power begins will usually turn out to be ludicrously difficult as well. Locating a lone, disillusioned war veteran wandering around post-WWI Europe is perhaps the ultimate needle-in-a-haystack search. And secondly, even if you do manage to kill him, something even worse will appear in his place; an even smarter and crueler Führer who wins the war for the Axis, or an individual killed in battle instead grows up to terrorize the world, assuming Josef Stalin doesn’t take advantage of the fact that Germany isn’t invading Russia in this new timeline and its the Soviet Union that starts World War II this time. If someone actually does stop Hitler, they’ll almost always have to undo it to prevent this…”

Examples:

– In Stephen Fry’s 1997 novel Making History, Hitler’s parents are prevented from conceiving, but his absence allows the taller, more handsome, cleverer Rudolf Gloder to ride the tide of frustration that gave birth to the Nazi party, and the results of his reign are worse for the world than Hitler’s. Gloder has negotiated a stop to the war with Germany still in control of most of its conquests, and has reined in the anti-Semitism to the point that it hasn’t inspired total war from his adversaries.

– A passing mention of this is made in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. The plot involves an agency that can travel through time and across parallel universes. One of their early attempts at improving the world involved assassinating (humanely, they simply ensured that his parents were using birth control on the day of his conception) a Hitler-like dictator. His brutal reign doesn’t happen, but what was originally a small-scale nuclear war turned into a global one, since the Hitler-analogue had kept the alternate America out of the war. They rid the world of the evil dictatorship, sure, but they also rid it of all life other than cockroaches. Unusually for this trope, they didn’t take their failure as a sign that there are things they shouldn’t be messing with; instead, they decided they needed better projections about what would happen should they make a change.

The Iron Dream is a rather unusual example set in an Alternate History where Hitler emigrated to the US after World War I to become a Sci-Fi/fantasy author. In this world, the Soviet Union conquers all of Eurasia and Africa. But this is all background material— Norman Spinrad instead uses Hitler’s book-within-the-book The Lord of the Swastika to point out the Unfortunate Implications of Golden Age militaristic SF.

– Connie Willis’s time-travelling historians can’t go back to any event which is over a certain threshold of “significance” to world history. “The net” (the name for their time machine) won’t open for them, or if it will, results are unpredictable. In-universe, someone did once try to go to Germany to kill Hitler in the early days of the net and ended up in South America. Similarly, you can’t go to Waterloo or Lincoln’s assassination. Since historians can be in the past for extended periods and travel freely once there, it’s never explained why you can’t go to a different location a bit earlier and travel to the site of the event you’re interested in (perhaps the net somehow knows what you’re up to?) but then it’s never really explained why it’s lethal to exist in the same time period twice, either.)

Text: Hitler’s Time Travel Exemption Act, TV Tropes.com

Image: Extract from Operation Foxley briefing, UK National Archives Education Kit.

Room 237

Room 237: In King’s novel, the haunted room is numbered 217. In the movie, it’s 237. Why? “Because the average distance from the Earth to the Moon is 237,000 miles.” It’s actually 238,857 miles, but close enough, right? Weidner proposes that the haunted room represents the filming of the faked moon landing itself. “It’s just like pictures in a book, Danny. It isn’t real.”

The Twins: You probably remember the creepy twins from the film, the slain children of the previous Overlook caretaker. In King’s novel, however, there was only one slain child. Weidner insists that Kubrick’s alteration is a nod to NASA’s previous Gemini (Get it? twins!) program. Given the genuinely creepy nature of this scene, you might not have noticed that Danny is in fact wearing an “Apollo 11” sweater. It’s easy to get caught up on that last little factoid. View it here.

The Bears: The film features a large number of stuffed bears and, in one disturbing scene, Danny witnesses a man cavorting in a hotel room with a stranger in a horrifying bear suit. (Sheer nightmare juice!) Follow the conspiracy argument and all these bears, naturally, represent the looming Soviet threat.

The Typewriter: In one scene, the film reveals that Jack has been typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again. In one of Weidner’s more, um, far-fetched moments, he proposes that “all” should actually be read “A11” for Apollo 11.

The Dead Guy: In King’s novel, Danny sends a psychic distress signal to the hotel’s elderly black chef Dick Haloran — and Haloran lives to escape the Overlook with the child and his mother. In the movie, however, the Overlook uses Jack to kill Haloran pretty much the second he arrives on the scene to save everyone. The reason for this alteration? Weidner insists that Kubrick wanted to tell the world that he had naively tried to tip someone off about his role in the moon landing hoax — and his doing so resulted in their murder. Worried for his own life and that of his wife, Kubrick had to reveal the secret both widely and clandestinely to protect himself…”

Faked Moon Landings and Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’