Questionable content, possibly linked

Series: Hyperreality

Examining the blending of fact & fiction in online, augmented, and hyperreal environments.

“Hoax” Press Releases & The Hyperreal, Part 10

I looked at various levels of press releases in early parts of this series, ranging from cheap Fiverr distribution buys (usually guest posts that claim to rank in Google News), to some of the cheaper syndication sites like PRUnderground.

While experimenting with inciting incidents, and hoping to be able to piggyback off other viral cultural content out at the same time, I sent a sample release to a low to mid-range PR distro site, asking if they would run it (so I didn’t have to waste my money if no).

I’m including a partial excerpt of the reply I received here (but excluding the source name), because it is both educational & reflective of an “old media” mindset about press releases and their purpose/function. Since it was a business communication about their service, I post it under the assumption there is a lower expectation of privacy associated with it than there would be with a personal private communication.

…we don’t allow any ‘hoax’ content of any kind, only actual factual news, since a press release needs to be news coming from you, not fake article about you, or commentary on other things not related to your actual service/book/project.

The ‘found atlantis’ on Google maps is an old old thing that comes around again and again, so generally not really relevant to anything legitimate. Remember a release is going to legit media, not the public and it’s not a blog post for click-bait.

I will leave off any additional commentary I might have here for the time being.

Books & The Hyperreal, Part 11

This will be a short entry, but a potentially important one.

While authors in the US have to buy ISBN numbers to publish books (or get one via a company they publish through, like Amazon, etc.) in Canada, Canadian authors get ISBNs distributed to them for free through an agency called Collections Canada.

What’s interesting here is that not only can you get an ISBN (or many) for free from the government, enabling you to publish books & other media “officially” (whatever that means now, I’m not sure), but that you can do so without even having your mailing address verified.

Yes, you have to enter an address and presumably it has to be located within Canada (I didn’t test if you can enter ones from outside), but at no point are you sent a piece of mail at the address to prove you live/work there. So, in practice, the system is wide open to abuse. Perhaps the risk is deemed relatively low in relation to the cost of having to send out mailers with verification codes, but it’s there nonetheless.

So basically, once you have your book published with you free ISBN and your unverified and potentially false & untraceable address, you can then also pretty much publish whatever you want on self-publishing sites, and then sell them “officially” through global distribution. Provided nobody reports the content to the printer, and that it doesn’t obviously break whatever their content guidelines are, we live in an age where ANYONE CAN SAY ANYTHING IN A BOOK.

Perhaps we already lived in that age, but at one time the barriers to entry were much higher, even for self-publishing or “vanity” presses as they were once more commonly called. There were much higher costs involved (Lulu.com for example lets you get set-up for free, and only takes a cut on sales), and for conventional publishing, there were editors, proof-readers, and people who would at least to some degree vet or approve content so that it at least fit within their brand or business.

Now it is just a hyperreal free-for-all.

So once you’ve published your book that can literally say anything, including counter-factual or hyperreal assertions, you can then use that as a reference during your more mutable online campaigns. People can even go and check the reference, and get a copy for themselves to examine.

Of course, the shorter path through the woods in all of this is just to invent arcane or difficult to find alleged “sources” and scatter references to them throughout your hyperrealist campaign. Most people won’t check your sources anyway and will just take it on faith that they exist, or it won’t matter to them in a hyperrealist sense whether they exist or not.

Timestamps & The Hyperreal, Part 12

This is an add-on to Time & The Hyperreal (part 6B), which was very half-baked.

One way that OSINT investigators use to establish timelines in social media is via official timestamps on content as it was published onto social media networks.

Now, in the world of the hyperreal, normal people don’t think like OSINT investigators, so such concerns are largely irrelevant to the hyperreal artist. It should be considered instead as just another value to be manipulated.

Spreading networked/transmedia content out across platforms & in time is always a good idea though, since it will make the content look more authentic if its distribution is not all clustered on one day or site.

That said, there are other simple ways to play havoc with time-stamps.

One great one is actually WordPress. As part of the publishing process, I can put any time-stamp onto it that I want, whether its in the past or the future. I can also even pay someone to guest post my content on other sites (via Fiverr, etc) and have them manipulate the time-stamps as well.

A skilled OSINT investigator might be able to catch you up by doing a date-range search for your content within the alleged time-stamp period. But not finding the content doesn’t necessarily equal proof that it did not indeed exist at that time. It may just have not been indexed, or its URL could have changed for various reasons.

But again, normal people don’t care. They don’t operate like that. They click like & retweet, and that’s it. So you might spend a lot of effort trying to manipulate data points that don’t amount to the difference between an inciting incident & a dud.

A short path to manipulating time as a perceived value is simply to just POST THE TIME-STAMP YOU WANT IN THE PUBLISHED CONTENT. In a sense, press releases already do this. You’ll see the location, source, and supposed date of the event or of publication. So you can literally do the same thing when you post hyperreal artifacts: invent the time & date that suits your narrative best, and embed it into the body of the artifact. Done.

Won’t necessarily bear inspection if someone challenges the time-stamp, but 1) probably won’t need to, and 2) you could always say the discrepancy is because of when the content was re-published to the given platform (versus its [non-existant] source having published it at a different time-stamp).

Here’s an example artifact with an invented date published onto a no-password UGC site called write.as (archived). Interestingly, this website doesn’t even seem to publicly expose the “true” time-stamp anywhere at all on this page (perhaps its in the source code somewhere?). So the invented one will likely be all most people ever concern themselves with (if they even notice at all)

This example actually uses quite a few different techniques though, so I will have to come back to it later & expand on all of them.

Guest Posts & The Hyperreal, Part 13

Things that shouldn’t exist in this timeline, but seem to:

Or rather not working on – the article is ambiguous. The person allegedly interviewed, A.J. Nempner, suggests the company worked on the presidential election instead…

That would seem to add up with this Newschan reporting from 2017:

I’m still left wondering what to make of this though, aren’t you?

If only there were some explanation on a site like Fiverr, which lists over 1,000 opportunities to have your content posted for only a few dollars as a “guest post” on any number of websites:

You can even ask the sellers to backdate your guest post, no problem!

Depending on your budget, you can even get a newscaster style video with your script for as little as a few bucks to support your guest post:

Who knew hyperreality was so cheap & easy!

Guardians of the (Hyper)Real, Part 14

I’ve seen this behavior before, particularly on Quora, where people feel the need to vigorously correct others about perceived factual inaccuracies. It seems to drive people mad at times. As the meme goes, “Someone is wrong on the internet…

Duty Calls
Source (Fair Use)

I have ambivalent and complex feelings about this phenomenon. On the one hand, I understand it and it’s only natural. And it is good to help people gain more accurate and useful knowledge. On the other, as a weapon against the hyperreal, I suspect it does not have the powerful negating impact which its practitioners probably believe that it does.

Some recent examples observed in the wild, via Reddit thread (archived).

This person wants others to be aware that you can’t “fix your life” by going through an alien portal in Antarctica. What I want to know is, how can they be so sure? Have they ever tried?

Part of me also wonders: if someone became fixated on the notion they *could* fix their life that way, and went through all the effort to *go* to Antarctica and find out for themselves, might that very effort in fact change their lives? Assuming they could find some kind of portal, of course. Or perhaps, maybe even or especially if they ended up failing to find one! At least they will have tried. I urge the curious to go find the Portal in Antarctica & test, test, test! It won’t be the portal that changes your life – it will be you!

I’ve also seen people apparently becoming frustrated with non-standard or counter-factual assessments of reality in YouTube comments, such as on this video.

Fortunately, there is a balancing force in the universe that seems to indicate for every Guardian of the Real out there, there is an equal and opposite Guardian of the Hyperreal who will themselves react and counter in appropriate circumstances. It may not be a 1-to-1 ratio, but they seem to appear where they are needed!

A similarly frustrated response can be seen here:

What’s interesting to me in these two cases is that, of all the potential inaccuracies which might be corrected or explored in the two linked videos, in both instances, commenters jumped on the more basic ones. In doing so, they left the more convoluted aspects of the stories presented more or less completely unexamined. Perhaps they feel that in attempting to debunk the low level items, they make the rest non-credible. Maybe they are right, but my instinct at least is that they are not. It’s also entirely possible that their counter-engagement actually drives further conversation & potentially up-ranks the videos.

Another quick example from Reddit:

Okay, I won’t pretend I’ve never taken someone to task on the internet for saying something that was misleading, incomplete, or which I found to be just plain wrong. So, I totally get the impulse here. In fact, I don’t discount the probability I myself will do it again at some point as well… Perhaps I will think twice about it now though. But probably not!

Counterfactual Definiteness & The Hyperreal, Part 15

This definition of counterfactual definitness in quantum mechanics makes so much sense in terms of the hyperreal that I just wanted to bookmark it with its own post:

“…the ability to speak “meaningfully” of the definiteness of the results of measurements that have not been performed (i.e., the ability to assume the existence of objects, and properties of objects, even when they have not been measured).”

Applied in the context of the hyperreal, it might be something like: the ability to accept certain things as given or tentatively “real” within the context of a domain or world, etc. such that you can use them as building blocks for further development or understanding. That’s a very rough take, but there’s something here for sure…

Narrative Warfare & The Hyperreal, Part 16

Have been thinking a great deal on the similarities between folklore and conspiracy theories, as being grassroots stories we tell ourselves and one another to make sense of the world. I maintain that folklore, conspiracy theories, and what we call “disinformation” etc. are all part & parcel of the same phenomenon: the hyperreal, where the blending of fact & fiction are seamless and more or less indistinguishable.

Have also been reading Corkery’s excellent 1924 classic, “Hidden Ireland,” which has lead me to fill in a lot of gaps around my knowledge of Irish history, such as the Flight of the Earls, the Plantation of Ulster, the Tudor Conquest of Ireland, the decline of the Bardic Schools, and so on. There’s a story in Irish history which was used for centuries to establish or challenge the legitimacy of rulers, that of the founding of Ireland by the quasi-mythical Milesians.

From the Wikipedia:

Professor Dáithí Ó hÓgain writes that the “account of how the sons of Míl took Ireland was a literary fabrication, but it was accepted as conventional history by poets and scholars down until the 19th century”.[3] For centuries, the legend was used in Ireland to win and secure dynastic and political legitimacy. For example, in his Two bokes of the histories of Ireland (1571), Edmund Campion tried to use the myth to establish an ancient right of the British monarch to rule Ireland. […]

Geoffrey Keating‘s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (written c.1634) used the myth to promote the legitimacy of the Stuart claim to royal authority in Ireland (related to the origin of the Lia Fáil), demonstrating that Charles I was descended, through Brian Boru, Éber and Galamh, from Noah and, ultimately, from Adam.

Whether we call this narrative warfare or just another example of the hyperreal, the end result is the same: people using stories – and changing stories – to justify their own position or to attack the position of another. It all sounds eerily familiar, and it’s clear how deeply penetrating these types of stories can be as guiding myths in cultures.

Archive Sites & The Hyperreal

One classic trick when working in the hyperreal online is to post your target content onto the social platform of your choice.

Then use archive.is, archive.org, or any similar public archive site to make an archived copy of that post.

Then delete the content from the platform you originally posted it on, and tell people on social media that it was “censored” by the platform, and link them to the archived version.

An easy but effective trick. Plus has the added bonus that if your content actually does get blocked, you have a backup of it.

No Password Sites & The Hyperreal

When running a hyperreality campaign online, I’ve found that one of the key things to do is to diversify your posting strategy. You should use not only a combination of diverse platforms & multiple user accounts on each (if possible), but you should also include different grades of platforms. That is, use both sites that require full accounts with logins and passwords, but also use sites that don’t require any credentials at all to post.

Some common ones are:

  • Write.as
  • Telegra.ph
  • Txt.fyi
  • Justpaste.it

There are many others if you do Google searches, and some have greater & less longevity both as platforms, and for the content itself. Meaning content posted may be ephemeral (short-lived) or permanent, at least as long as the platform stays up.

Generally speaking, these sites have little or no filtering or other oversight. Perhaps unless they receive a legal take-down notice or similar official complaint. While this may be good or bad depending on the content, generally speaking in terms of the hyperreal it is somewhat of a boon to creators.

The only drawback of course is that Google tends to not rank the content of such sites very highly in search results. So long as you’re aware of that, they can still be very useful tools for seeing hyperreal contents. One of the best uses I’ve found has been for cross-linking. So if you have something posted on a more mainstream site requiring an account, you can link out from that somewhat legit looking account to apparently corroborating information posted on these other shittier sites. It certainly won’t pass the sniff test of determined OSINT investigators, but most people are not concerned enough to follow links or uncover sources in the first place. So it’s really not a big deal.

This technique pairs well with false backdating, spoofed sources, cross-posting into Reddit, and making archived copies. I’ve also used it pretty extensively with text spinner variations of target content, which I’ll post about some time soon (some of these examples below used text spinners, FYI).

Here are some example posts & archived versions from various hyperreality campaigns:

Oh and if you make use of Justpaste.it, you can also generate a PDF version of any page you create, which I did here with the 84 True Facts About Ancient Quatria PDF (archive).

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