[News] The Internet Was a Mistake

A thread for updates on the various ways the internet is destroying everything and the undying hellsites of social media. Let's all laugh at the abyss.

FWIW, there was a follow-up study to the one I listed above, published in 2019, and it was equally gloomy.

On one task, students evaluated a grainy video claiming to show ballot stuffing in the 2016 Democratic primaries (the video was actually shot in Russia). Fifty-two percent believed it constituted “strong evidence” of voter fraud in the U.S. Among more than 3,000 responses, only three students tracked down the source of the video, even though a quick search turns up a variety of articles exposing the ruse.

Asked to evaluate Slate’s home page, where some tiles are news stories and other ads (set off by the words “Sponsored Content”), two-thirds of students couldn’t tell the difference.

Students displayed a troubling tendency to accept websites at face value. Ninety-six percent failed to consider why ties between a climate change website and the fossil fuel industry might lessen that website’s credibility. Instead of investigating who was behind the site, students focused on superficial markers of credibility: the site’s aesthetics, its top-level domain, or how it portrayed itself on the About page.

Nearly all students floundered. Ninety percent received no credit on four of six tasks.

And when I was teaching at the community college, I learned that many of my students didn’t know how many states there are in the US. I’m more concerned about lack of very basic knowledge than thinking skills. (Both are very important, but when students get a bonus question wrong on a test....There are —— states in the United States of America....and some ARGUE with me about the answer, I don’t have much hope.)

They argue? How do they insist that you're wrong about there being fifty states, and that they're right?

That CALCULUS student told me that they were taught there were more states in high school.
I hope she wasn’t accurate, but I’ve also heard dreadful things about some teachers...and seen some really bad stuff too.

In the beginning algebra courses, about half the students would get the states question wrong. The higher level students typically had a higher percentage correct, but don’t underestimate the ignorance of people.
Internet was around at this time, but it wasn’t as prevalent and students didn’t all carry cell phones yet.

Maybe they had a teacher who talked about the non-state territories the US occupies and weren’t paying close attention?

The Information Apocalypse Is Already Here, And Reality Is Losing

Two years ago, a video of former president Barack Obama calling President Donald Trump a “total and complete dipsh*t” was uploaded to YouTube.

As the shock of his comments sunk in, the video revealed the speaker was in fact Oscar-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele. The Obama deepfake, a sort of Manhattan Project for fake news, was intended to demonstrate just how easy it is to disseminate convincing disinformation by manipulating video and audio — and how much easier it would become as technology advances.

“It may sound basic," said Peele-as-Obama in the video, "but how we move forward in the age of information is going to be the difference between whether we survive or whether we become some kind of f*cked-up dystopia.”

The video, which was produced in partnership with BuzzFeed as a public service announcement, distilled a growing number of dire predictions and warnings that technological advances would soon fracture our shared sense of reality beyond repair. Writing in the Atlantic, journalist Franklin Foer said manipulated video would someday “destroy faith in our strongest remaining tether to the idea of common reality.”

He wrote: “We’ll shortly live in a world where our eyes routinely deceive us. Put differently, we’re not so far from the collapse of reality.”

We’re now living in a version of that dystopian future, where people are struggling to distinguish fact from fiction and are resistant to information from credible sources. But it’s not the result of new technology or sophisticated synthetic media. As it turns out, the tools needed to unmoor people from our shared reality already exist and are less technological than societal: a global pandemic that unleashes fear, uncertainty, and an economic catastrophe among a deeply polarized public; motivated and well-organized fringe and conspiracy groups eager to seize the moment to reach the mainstream; and seemingly authoritative sources and institutions that stoke that disagreement and fail to communicate effectively with the public.

In the end, the information apocalypse arrived a couple of weeks ago, ushered in not by some new reality-bending technology but by a disgraced scientist in a slick 26-minute video.

TikTok Teens Are Obsessed With Pizzagate


While YouTube has tried to root out the conspiracy theory about a Democratic child sex dungeon in a Washington pizzeria by attaching a warning to those searching for the topic on its site, there’s a surprising place where Pizzagate is booming. Nearly four years after it began, the conspiracy theory is popping up all over the place on the short-form video app and Gen Z hangout spot TikTok.

Pizzagate has become massive on TikTok, reaching plenty of young people right as the reality around them—thanks to the pandemic, police violence and related unrest, and a new Netflix documentary highlighting Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes—seems more and more unhinged. The #Pizzagate hashtag has earned more than 69 million views on the platform, while related hashtags have earned several millions more.

I thought about putting this in the men's feminism thread, but since it hasn't been used in almost four months this'll work too:

CNN: Fedmyster removed from OnlineTV after allegations of sexual harrassment and unwanted touching

The news of his removal from the house he shares with several other gamers emerged a week after more than 100 people, most of them women, came forward with allegations that fellow gamers in the industry had sexually harassed, abused, or discriminated against them. The industry has gained notoriety in recent years for rampant online harassment and misogyny.

"Recent years"? Like the past 25, when people started gaming together on the Internet? I mean, even Starcraft is 22 years old now.

The Conspiracy Singularity Has Arrived

A few months ago, at a time when it was still safe to have strange experiences in unusual places, I was handed a mysterious document. “ALLIANCES AND TRAITORS WITHIN THE TRUTH & UFO COMMUNITIES,” it read.

The document was a single, bright red sheet of paper, crowded with close-set black type. Different kinds of lines and arrows connected in wild formulations, linking George Soros with the Illuminati, various stars of the UFO community with their alleged handlers, the CIA with Alex Jones. The Pleidians—a race of tall, blue-eyed Nordic alien beings—connected with both Tesla and the president in ways I couldn’t quite parse.

This paper was created and handed to me by Dylan Louis Monroe, a player in the QAnon world and the creator of the Deep State Mapping Project, a one-man operation where Monroe creates dense visual maps of the supposed alliances he sees between various major players and world events. Monroe was at the New Age expo Conscious Life selling Q-branded t-shirts and promoting a YouTube show, I was there reporting, and both of us were thinking about the strange alliances and friendships that had begun to surface in various conspiracy communities.

“BE CAREFUL WHO YOU FOLLOW,” the document warned, in bold, at the bottom, just above a large black Q.

In the months that followed our chance meeting, the world buckled under the weight of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the alliances got stranger still. Conspiracy communities that have previously only brushed past each other like schools of fish borne along on different currents are suddenly, abruptly, swimming in the same direction.

Take Larry Cook, whose evolving belief system has been playing out in a remarkable way on Facebook. Cook is the man behind the largest anti-vaccine group on the platform, Stop Mandatory Vaccination, which, along with his personal Facebook page, serves as a central clearinghouse for anti-vaccine misinformation.

QAnon Has Gone Global

Shortly after Jarmo Ekman starts livestreaming his get-together, an older woman walks into view wearing something you wouldn't expect to see at a small Finnish hotel: a MAGA hat. She blows a kiss to the camera and shows off her hat like a model.

“What a beautiful hat,” Ekman says. “As you see there are a lot of Trump fans here, of course, as it is a Q meeting.”

It’s July 11 and around 50 people are meeting at a hotel in Dragsfjärd, a small community two hours west of Helsinki, for a weekend QAnon festival. While walking through the crowd, Ekman stops to speak to a man wearing a nametag made of duct tape with Bono written on it.

“This is the first Q weekend festival ever in this world,” says Bono. On his shirt are the words “QAnon Army Finland.”

“Armies” like this can be found in Germany, France, and the U.K., as well as in Canada, Japan, and Iran. All of them support QAnon, a vast conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is waging a war against the “Deep State” made up of elite families, politicians, and celebrities, which also just happens to connected a massive child sex trafficking ring and is currently using COVID-19 to entrench its power.

It’s a conspiracy that’s been able to reach new heights during the pandemic as people around the world desperately search for community and any way to make sense of the chaos. The QAnon community is welcoming to anyone as long as they believe in at least one of the many tendrils that branch out from the theory’s heart—that the world is extremely screwed because of bogeymen behind the scenes, and only those smart enough to see through the veil can fight them. While the actual details of the conspiracy are hyper-focused on the U.S., the broad strokes can be applied to almost anywhere, which helps to explain the rapid growth of QAnon across borders.

Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Concordia University who studies QAnon and similar far-right movements, recently did a data sweep of QAnon groups on social media. Based on his most recent analysis (which was taken before the Twitter crackdown last week), QAnon has had a 71 percent increase in Twitter content and a 651 percent increase on Facebook since March.

Maybe minor cases of COVID-19 cause schizophrenia?

I'm really not belittling anyone with mental illness. All the stuff I'm reading here seems very similar to the actions of a schizophrenic person. Paranoia, firm belief in conspiracy by government or other authority, extreme reaction to criticism, disorganized writing that doesn't make logical sense, hostility towards harmless people or things, disorganized speaking... The only other feature of schizophrenia I haven't really heard about with hardcore Q's is hallucination.

I'm also not trying to diagnose anyone. I'm not a doctor. I have known schizophrenic people, though, and it's a very frustrating illness.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of the "content" creators in QAnon are schizophrenic. But I think most of the followers are just powerless people grasping for an explanation of a world in chaos, and bitter that they have not reaped the promises of their privilege, while liberals and minorities, supported by the Deep State, keep taking what is rightfully theirs.

Not sure who said it on Twitter but they explained QAnon as the result of the dissonance between believing Trump would help you and him not. The fact that everything is worse than when you voted for him, must mean he is doing something more important.

Narrator: He wasn’t.

JLS wrote:

I wouldn't be surprised if some of the "content" creators in QAnon are schizophrenic. But I think most of the followers are just powerless people grasping for an explanation of a world in chaos

I'd stick with this, broadly. Not only does QAnon provide simple solutions to a seemingly out-of-control world, but it also allows its adherents to feel as is they are the "special ones" who are clued into the True Knowledge while everyone else is ignorant. And that sh*t is so powerful, it's why like 75% of all clickbait ads all say "X trick that THEY don't want you to know!"

Pretty certain I’ve mentioned them in another thread recently, but I’m going to shoutout the QAnon Anonymous podcast. The hosts can be a little edgelordy at times but they’ve done a great job of digging into QAnon and untangling all the weird branches and media personalities involved.
The unfortunately named Mike Rothschild is also a great source for QAnon and general conspiracy investigation. (Apparently getting accused of things because of his name is what got him interested in conspiracies in the first place.)

Prederick wrote:
JLS wrote:

I wouldn't be surprised if some of the "content" creators in QAnon are schizophrenic. But I think most of the followers are just powerless people grasping for an explanation of a world in chaos

I'd stick with this, broadly. Not only does QAnon provide simple solutions to a seemingly out-of-control world, but it also allows its adherents to feel as is they are the "special ones" who are clued into the True Knowledge while everyone else is ignorant. And that sh*t is so powerful, it's why like 75% of all clickbait ads all say "X trick that THEY don't want you to know!"

So it's like every other "religion."


In The Future of Violence, Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum discuss a disturbing hypothetical scenario. A lone actor in Nigeria, “home to a great deal of spamming and online fraud activity,” tricks women and teenage girls into downloading malware that enables him to monitor and record their activity, for the purposes of blackmail. The real story involved a California man who the FBI eventually caught and sent to prison for six years, but if he had been elsewhere in the world he might have gotten away with it. Many countries, as Wittes and Blum note, “have neither the will nor the means to monitor cybercrime, prosecute offenders, or extradite suspects to the United States.”

Technology is, in other words, enabling criminals to target anyone anywhere and, due to democratization, increasingly at scale. Emerging bio-, nano-, and cyber-technologies are becoming more and more accessible. The political scientist Daniel Deudney has a word for what can result: “omniviolence.” The ratio of killers to killed, or “K/K ratio,” is falling. For example, computer scientist Stuart Russell has vividly described how a small group of malicious agents might engage in omniviolence: “A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one-or two-gram shaped charge,” he says. “You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: ‘Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.’ A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target.” Manufacturers will be producing millions of these drones, available for purchase just as with guns now, Russell points out, “except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch.” In this scenario, the K/K ratio could be perhaps 3/1,000,000, assuming a 10-percent accuracy and only a single one-gram shaped charge per drone.

That’s completely—and horrifyingly—unprecedented. The terrorist or psychopath of the future, however, will have not just the Internet or drones—called “slaughterbots” in this video from the Future of Life Institute—but also synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and advanced AI systems at their disposal. These tools make wreaking havoc across international borders trivial, which raises the question: Will emerging technologies make the state system obsolete? It’s hard to see why not. What justifies the existence of the state, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued, is a “social contract.” People give up certain freedoms in exchange for state-provided security, whereby the state acts as a neutral “referee” that can intervene when people get into disputes, punish people who steal and murder, and enforce contracts signed by parties with competing interests.