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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sock Puppets


Is anyone watching Homeland this season? I think they made a smart choice in pivoting from stereotypes of Middle Eastern terrorists to a more nuanced exploration of global intelligence networks. I suppose, given the times, no one will be particularly surprised that in the current storyline, American agents are deeply complicit in the espionage, and may even be behind the terrorist act at the center of the season—and that's not really giving anything away.  Carrie (Clare Danes) has left the CIA, now works for a legal nonprofit, and is raising her daughter in Brooklyn, and Peter Quinn (played by the fantastic Rupert Friend) is back in action, though badly injured in brain and body during the finale of last season. I think his performance this season is Emmy worthy.

But this is not a review. What I really want to talk about is the ninth episode titled "Sock Puppets," in which one of Carrie's associates discovered a huge clandestine operation of hundreds of tech professionals, each one creating and deploying scores of fake online identities, known as sock puppets, which then flood social media feeds with misinformation and propaganda talking points given out each day. In this way they create a loud false narrative about how the American public feels about issues in the news, and hijack the national conversation with ginned up outrage.

I watched the episode with my mouth hanging open, finally understanding all the obviously fraudulent twitter accounts of black women praising Donald Trump. Black women is a demographic I know well, and I could always tell which accounts were inauthentic, yet they had whole histories behind them, years of tweets, and now I understand how they are created, and how so much of the noise out there is manufactured trolling, well paid tech people spinning alt-right fictions in secret to push an ugly political agenda.

Trump and company are known for using sock puppets, but I didn't really grasp how that worked until I saw that episode. Yes, the Homeland series is itself fiction, but that episode was based on something real, and was intended, I believe, to offer us a glimpse inside how all this fake messaging works. All that to say, we are living in murky times. Look for the gold.





17 comments:

  1. On NPR today they were discussing these "bot" accounts which spread misinformation. It's so staggering.
    I think I'm giving up on even caring any more. It's all just too, too much.

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    1. Dear Mary, you change the world every day by watering your beautiful corner of it with such love. It's your form of revolution and it rocks. Hugs.

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  2. Scarier than the threat of imminent nukes when I was a child. All those fallout drills weren't nearly as terrifying as this stuff.
    Xoxo
    Barbara

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    1. Barbara, you're so right. I think this is more terrifying because before we were confronting a possible threat from "outside." Now the terror is coming from inside our own house. Thanks for being here, dear friend.

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  3. There was an interview on NPR (our lifeline) a few months ago, of one of the partners of Bannon at Breitbart. (since resigned) He said that Bannon's method of reaching as many people as possible through social media was to just make up something as outrageous as possible and post it, then tell those radical followers to post and so on, until there were millions and millions of responses to any of the awful things they said....he only wanted the exposure, didn't care about results or consequences. I think he's the scariest person in America! The original creator of "fake news".

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    1. Liv, Bannon is a scary, legitimately evil presence who has the ear of a president with no thoughts of his own. Talk about worst case scenarios. There's actually a character on Homeland this season who might be inspired by Bannon's conscience free approach to propaganda/ fake news. I'm always glad to see you here.

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  4. Thank you. I've heard about this, as we all have, but I was a little hazy on how it actually worked -- how people could so easily fall for it. Something in your writing just brought it all home. And I agree with Barbara. This is much scarier than the old threat of nukes when we -- well, apparently some of us :) -- were kids. Mary

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    1. Mary, at least back then the drill was driven by the idea of citizen protection. Who's trying to protect us now? Not 45 and his dastardly crew. No, they are actively inflicting harm and chaos through spreading malignant falsehoods, so yes, it's terrifying. Thanks for your comment here.

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  5. Yes!! This is one of my favorite Homeland seasons to date, and Rupert Friend is tremendous this season.

    Social media is a breeding ground for noise and baiting, and it's so heavily populated.

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    1. Candice, I love Rupert Friend! He's such a great actor and a bit swoon worthy too.

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  6. I watched it. Agree with you but my jaw didn't drop. I wish it had. Instead I found myself in this most uncomfortable zone of yeah, I knew it all along cynicism. We all know about social media spying on us, about our private information - which we so willingly put out there - being used and abused but what do we care. So finding out about sock puppets is doing what? Getting us on the streets? Should this be real (it IS real) will we all protest? Of course not. We have been bought a long time ago.

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    1. Sabine, I do think that helping to make people aware this is happening is doing something. I think the Homeland creators contributed to our awareness with that episode. Now we know more surely that we are being intentionally misinformed and manipulated. Our behavior and responses will change as a result. It might be incremental sometimes, but multiply the informed and we become a crashing wave. Resistance takes many forms. That scene in Homeland was an act of resistance, possibly a very deliberate one on the part of the writers. We do what we can where we are. Sometimes that might mean being as loving as we can to everyone we encounter in the course of a day. I guess I'm choosing to believe energy and intent amplify the power of our resistance. It could be true. Love to you, dear Sabine.

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  7. With the new, lax rules allowing no privacy for Internet searches, I'm wondering about how to curtail; my usage and perhaps only search from public computers and whether to simply delete the blog and FB and go dark.

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    1. e, internet privacy just seems like such an obvious thing to support. i don't get it.

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  8. I hadn't heard that term -- "sock puppets." Interesting. I must admit I gave up on Homeland a season or so back. Maybe I should try it again!

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    1. Steve, apparently, this sock puppet scheme is also know as "active measures," a term coined by the Russians, as indeed the whole internet misinformation juggernaut was first deployed by same.

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  9. I don't watch it but now I'm going to. The New Yorker recently had a huge article about how the Russians have been taking these active measures for years, since the 80s at least, but the internet has allowed them to find true success.

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