“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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Objects In The Sky

“In 1896, newspapers throughout the United States began reporting accounts of mysterious airships flying overhead. Descriptions varied, but witnesses frequently invoked the century’s great technological achievements. Some sources reported dirigibles powered by steam engines. Others saw motorized, winged crafts with screw propellers. Many recalled a flying machine equipped with a powerful searchlight.

“As technologies of flight evolve, so do the descriptions of unidentified flying objects. The pattern has held in the 21st century as sightings of drone-like objects are reported, drawing concern from military and intelligence officials about possible security threats.

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By the 19th century […] the age of industrialization transferred its awe onto products of human ingenuity. The steamboat, the locomotive, photography, telegraphy, and the ocean liner were all hailed as “modern wonders” by news outlets and advertisers. All instilled a widespread sense of progress—and opened the door to speculation about whether objects in the sky signaled more changes.

“Yet nothing fueled the imagination more than the possibility of human flight. In the giddy atmosphere of the 19th century, the prospect of someone soon achieving it inspired newspapers to report on tinkerers and entrepreneurs boasting of their supposed successes.

“The wave of mysterious airship sightings that began in 1896 did not trigger widespread fear. The accepted explanation for these aircraft was terrestrial and quaint: Some ingenious eccentric had built a device and was testing its capabilities.

“But during the first two decades of the 20th century, things changed. As European powers expanded their militaries and nationalist movements sparked unrest, the likelihood of war prompted anxiety about invasion. The world saw Germany—home of the newly developed Zeppelin—as the likeliest aggressor. Military strategists, politicians, and newspapers in Great Britain warned of imminent attack by Zeppelins.

“The result was a series of phantom Zeppelin sightings by panicked citizens throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand in 1909, then again in 1912 and 1913. When war broke out in August 1914, it sparked a new, more intense wave of sightings. Wartime reports also came in from Canada, South Africa, and the United States. In England, rumors that German spies had established secret Zeppelin hangars on British soil led vigilantes to scour the countryside…”

Text: How UFO Reports Change With the Technology of the Times

Pic: Andy Warhol – Silver Clouds, M Woods Museum.

A Kind of Tragedy

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“It was a warship, after all. It was built, designed to glory in destruction, when it was considered appropriate. It found, as it was rightly and properly supposed to, an awful beauty in both the weaponry of war and the violence and devastation which that weaponry was capable of inflicting, and yet it knew that attractiveness stemmed from a kind of insecurity, a sort of childishness. It could see that—by some criteria—a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgment implied. To fully appreciate the beauty of the weapon was to admit to a kind of shortsightedness close to blindness, to confess to a sort of stupidity. The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others, by the consequences it produced in some outside context, by its place in the rest of the universe. By this measure the love, or just the appreciation, of weapons was a kind of tragedy.”

Text: Iain M. Banks, Excession

Pics: Images purporting to show the ‘Black Knight Satellite’ –  “an object approximately 13,000 years old, of extraterrestrial origin …orbiting Earth in near-polar orbit” – Wikipedia.

 

 

The Imposter Lives with the Patient

 

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“Mary, aged 40 years, was referred for psychiatric evaluation out of concern that a mental health diagnosis was interfering with her ability to appropriately and safely care for her child. The patient had stated on numerous occasions that her 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, had been placed in the custody of Child Protective Services and replaced by an imposter. Mary also reported that she had given birth to twins but that the hospital record only documented the birth of Sarah. On occasion, she had shown up at her daughter’s school, refusing to pick her up, screaming, “Give me my real daughter; I know what you’ve done.”

“Despite reassurance from multiple health care providers and relatives, Mary continued to express concern that her daughter was not, in fact, her own. Furthermore, she related several episodes in which her daughter was “whisked away before I could talk to her” while going about her daily business. For example, Mary related that a car driven by an unknown person, with Sarah in the passenger seat, passed by her while she was running errands but sped away once she was noticed…

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“A case has been described in which a mother believed her adult daughter had been replaced with a look-alike imposter. On delving into the patient’s history, it was found that the patient had to leave a very serious relationship with a man she loved because she was pregnant with another man’s child. The baby eventually grew into the adult daughter who the patient believed had been replaced. The patient’s resentment for having to leave her lover when she was pregnant was believed to be the psychodynamic source for the current delusion.

“With Capgras syndrome, the family member who is believed to have been replaced is most often a spouse, parent, or sibling. For unknown reasons, the “replaced” family member is rarely the child of the delusional person and even more rarely is the child younger than 20 years. Although violence aimed at any person is a significant threat, violence aimed at children is particularly worrisome. Mary’s case is unique because the increased potential for violence in her relationship with her daughter needs to be taken into consideration when assessing the patient’s ability to be a safe and effective parent.

“Although violence can be seen in all psychiatric disorders, there is a higher incidence of severe violence in patients with delusional disorders. In patients with Capgras syndrome, the violence is often directed at the imposter or, in some cases, the people the patient believes replaced the loved one with the imposter.

“Bourget and Whitehurst found several demographic features that increase the likelihood of violence in persons with Capgras syndrome. Specifically, if the imposter lives with the patient or if the delusional person is male, has a persistent and long-term delusion, or has a history of violence or substance abuse, the risk of violence is increased. The sources of violence can be frustration or fear of the imposter, but it can also be cultural.

“Silva and colleagues found that some folklore and regional legends suggest that if a child is thought to have been replaced by another person or even by a demon, battering and being physically aggressive toward the imposter might bring the “real” child back. One Swedish fairy tale recounts the story of a woman who believed her child was an imposter. In the story, she is advised to put her baby into a hot oven; when she does this, her “true” child is returned. This is a severe case that is not necessarily the norm for patients with misidentification delusions; however, it is evidence that violence in delusional persons can happen.”

Text: That’s Not My Child: A Case of Capers Syndrome, by Jeremy Matuszak, MD and Matthew Parra, MD, Psychiatric Times.

Pic: The Lovers 2, 1928 by Rene Magritte

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

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’