Readability

Organized Chaos

by baldilocks

Yes­ter­day was April Fools’ Day and it was fun to watch on var­i­ous online plat­forms as known friends and asso­ciates plas­tered var­i­ous out­ra­geous state­ments on their accounts. Much of it was polit­i­cal in nature and, because most of my asso­ciates are con­ser­v­a­tive, a lot of it involved switch­ing to the Demo­c­rat Party and endors­ing Hillary Clin­ton or Bernie Sanders. My stan­dard response to every bla­tant April Fools’ joke was, “not today.”

One friend said that he would not believe any­thing that any­one posted yes­ter­day. A wise, energy-​saving attitude.Liar

Lately, I’ve been think­ing that the above atti­tude might be a way of nav­i­gat­ing dur­ing the other 3645 days. Per­haps one should dis­be­lieve every­thing one reads, but view memes/​ideas/​phenomena/​personae with the eyes of a skep­tic. I sup­pose this idea should have been a con­stant men­tal shield from as far back as CBS’s Rather­gate, but one doesn’t want to believe that every­thing is Bravo Sierra.

I cer­tainly don’t want to. How­ever, I’m almost forced to believe that too much of what enters into our minds is fab­ri­cated. Con­sider this piece from the New York Times, dated July 21, 2015:

St. Mary Parish is home to many pro­cess­ing plants for chem­i­cals and nat­ural gas, and keep­ing track of dan­ger­ous acci­dents at those plants is Arthur’s job [Duval Arthur, direc­tor of the Office of Home­land Secu­rity and Emer­gency Pre­pared­ness for St. Mary Parish, Louisiana]. But he hadn’t heard of any chem­i­cal release that morn­ing [Sep­tem­ber 11, 2014]. In fact, he hadn’t even heard of Colum­bia Chem­i­cal. St. Mary Parish had a Columbian Chem­i­cals plant, which made car­bon black, a petro­leum prod­uct used in rub­ber and plas­tics. But he’d heard noth­ing from them that morn­ing, either. Soon, two other res­i­dents called and reported the same text mes­sage. Arthur was wor­ried: Had one of his employ­ees sent out an alert with­out telling him?

If Arthur had checked Twit­ter, he might have become much more wor­ried. Hun­dreds of Twit­ter accounts were doc­u­ment­ing a dis­as­ter right down the road. “A pow­er­ful explo­sion heard from miles away hap­pened at a chem­i­cal plant in Cen­ter­ville, Louisiana #Columbian­Chem­i­cals,” a man named Jon Mer­ritt tweeted. The #Columbian­Chem­i­cals hash­tag was full of eye­wit­ness accounts of the hor­ror in Cen­ter­ville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulf­ing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of sur­veil­lance footage from a local gas sta­tion, cap­tur­ing the flash of the explo­sion. Oth­ers shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.

[…]

In St. Mary Parish, Duval Arthur quickly made a few calls and found that none of his employ­ees had sent the alert. He called Columbian Chem­i­cals, which reported no prob­lems at the plant. Roughly two hours after the first text mes­sage was sent, the com­pany put out a news release, explain­ing that reports of an explo­sion were false. When I called Arthur a few months later, he dis­missed the inci­dent as a taste­less prank, timed to the anniver­sary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Per­son­ally I think it’s just a real sad, sick sense of humor,” he told me. “It was just some­one who just liked scar­ing the day­lights out of peo­ple.” Author­i­ties, he said, had tried to trace the num­bers that the text mes­sages had come from, but with no luck. (The F.B.I. told me the inves­ti­ga­tion was still open.)

The Columbian Chem­i­cals hoax was not some sim­ple prank by a bored sadist. It was a highly coor­di­nated dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign, involv­ing dozens of fake accounts that posted hun­dreds of tweets for hours, tar­get­ing a list of fig­ures pre­cisely cho­sen to gen­er­ate max­i­mum atten­tion. The per­pe­tra­tors didn’t just doc­tor screen­shots from CNN; they also cre­ated fully func­tional clones of the web­sites of Louisiana TV sta­tions and news­pa­pers. The YouTube video of the man watch­ing TV had been tailor-​made for the project. A Wikipedia page was even cre­ated for the Columbian Chem­i­cals dis­as­ter, which cited [a] fake YouTube video. As the vir­tual assault unfolded, it was com­ple­mented by text mes­sages to actual res­i­dents in St. Mary Parish. It must have taken a team of pro­gram­mers and con­tent pro­duc­ers to pull off.

It’s a very long lay­out of a Russian-​based agency ded­i­cated to trolling.

Of Course, we all know what the pur­pose of trolling is: to get under the skin of non-​trolls, usu­ally political/​social/​religious ene­mies. But one of the most impor­tantly things that pur­pose­ful trolling does is to skew the con­ver­sa­tion and, there­fore, any rea­son­able view of any mat­ter under dis­cus­sion. Indi­vid­ual trolls can do this, if one “feeds” it – that is engage it in conversation.

Imag­ine the dis­torted view that an entire orga­ni­za­tion of trolls can cre­ate – an orga­ni­za­tion whose busi­ness model is built on twist­ing views and build­ing “real­ity” out of thin air.

The Enemy is the Father of lies and his wiles are many. And I’ll bet that many of us have been fooled more times than we know of; fooled by elab­o­rate, well-​designed archi­tec­tures of lies – and I def­i­nitely do not leave main­stream infor­ma­tion dis­pen­saries out of this equa­tion, as I men­tioned already.

It makes me want to shut your com­puter off for­ever. But I won’t…not yet, anyway.

Juli­ette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was pub­lished in 2012. Her sec­ond novel will be done in 2016. Fol­low her on Twit­ter.

Please con­tribute to Juliette’s Projects JOB: Her new novel, her blog, her Inter­net to keep the lat­ter going and COF­FEE to keep her going!

Or hit Da Tech Guy’s Tip Jar in the name of Inde­pen­dent Journalism — -»»

baldilocks

by baldilocks

Yesterday was April Fools’ Day and it was fun to watch on various online platforms as known friends and associates plastered various outrageous statements on their accounts. Much of it was political in nature and, because most of my associates are conservative, a lot of it involved switching to the Democrat Party and endorsing Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. My standard response to every blatant April Fools’ joke was, “not today.”

One friend said that he would not believe anything that anyone posted yesterday. A wise, energy-saving attitude.Liar

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the above attitude might be a way of navigating during the other 364-5 days. Perhaps one should disbelieve everything one reads, but view memes/ideas/phenomena/personae with the eyes of a skeptic. I suppose this idea should have been a constant mental shield from as far back as CBS’s Rathergate, but one doesn’t want to believe that everything is Bravo Sierra.

I certainly don’t want to. However, I’m almost forced to believe that too much of what enters into our minds is fabricated. Consider this piece from the New York Times, dated July 21, 2015:

St. Mary Parish is home to many processing plants for chemicals and natural gas, and keeping track of dangerous accidents at those plants is Arthur’s job [Duval Arthur, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for St. Mary Parish, Louisiana]. But he hadn’t heard of any chemical release that morning [September 11, 2014]. In fact, he hadn’t even heard of Columbia Chemical. St. Mary Parish had a Columbian Chemicals plant, which made carbon black, a petroleum product used in rubber and plastics. But he’d heard nothing from them that morning, either. Soon, two other residents called and reported the same text message. Arthur was worried: Had one of his employees sent out an alert without telling him?

If Arthur had checked Twitter, he might have become much more worried. Hundreds of Twitter accounts were documenting a disaster right down the road. “A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted. The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.

[…]

In St. Mary Parish, Duval Arthur quickly made a few calls and found that none of his employees had sent the alert. He called Columbian Chemicals, which reported no problems at the plant. Roughly two hours after the first text message was sent, the company put out a news release, explaining that reports of an explosion were false. When I called Arthur a few months later, he dismissed the incident as a tasteless prank, timed to the anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Personally I think it’s just a real sad, sick sense of humor,” he told me. “It was just someone who just liked scaring the daylights out of people.” Authorities, he said, had tried to trace the numbers that the text messages had come from, but with no luck. (The F.B.I. told me the investigation was still open.)

The Columbian Chemicals hoax was not some simple prank by a bored sadist. It was a highly coordinated disinformation campaign, involving dozens of fake accounts that posted hundreds of tweets for hours, targeting a list of figures precisely chosen to generate maximum attention. The perpetrators didn’t just doctor screenshots from CNN; they also created fully functional clones of the websites of Louisiana TV stations and newspapers. The YouTube video of the man watching TV had been tailor-made for the project. A Wikipedia page was even created for the Columbian Chemicals disaster, which cited [a] fake YouTube video. As the virtual assault unfolded, it was complemented by text messages to actual residents in St. Mary Parish. It must have taken a team of programmers and content producers to pull off.

It’s a very long layout of a Russian-based agency dedicated to trolling.

Of Course, we all know what the purpose of trolling is: to get under the skin of non-trolls, usually political/social/religious enemies. But one of the most importantly things that purposeful trolling does is to skew the conversation and, therefore, any reasonable view of any matter under discussion. Individual trolls can do this, if one “feeds” it–that is engage it in conversation.

Imagine the distorted view that an entire organization of trolls can create–an organization whose business model is built on twisting views and building “reality” out of thin air.

The Enemy is the Father of lies and his wiles are many. And I’ll bet that many of us have been fooled more times than we know of; fooled by elaborate, well-designed architectures of lies–and I definitely do not leave mainstream information dispensaries out of this equation, as I mentioned already.

It makes me want to shut your computer off forever. But I won’t…not yet, anyway.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2012. Her second novel will be done in 2016. Follow her on Twitter.

Please contribute to Juliette’s Projects JOB:  Her new novel, her blog, her Internet to keep the latter going and COFFEE to keep her going!

Or hit Da Tech Guy’s Tip Jar in the name of Independent Journalism—->>>>

baldilocks