Hello friends, I hope you ratioed someone on Twitter this week.
This week was sort of okay I guess? 🤷♀️. Because:
- Alex Jones is finally getting what he deserves — bankruptcy, I guess? I interviewed misinformation expert Clement Briens about Alex Jones’ potent lies.
- Shocking: Clearview AI’s blunt technosolutionism has devastating and unexpected results for Ukraine war
- Even more shocking: a crypto exchange circulates a swastika emoji without realising — probably because they’ve never seen an NFT of a swastika so have no frame of reference?
🤖 There’s always space for AI in war, don’t worry
Let’s start with something morbid, just to get it out of the way: Ukrainian soldiers are using facial recognition technology provided (for free!) by Clearview AI to scan and identify dead Russian soldiers, and then inform their families that they have died. In some cases, they are sending photos of corpses just to make sure the Russian families — who didn’t ask for this war either — absolutely understand that their loved one is in fact dead. A quote from the linked article:
“The country’s IT Army, a volunteer force of hackers and activists that takes its direction from the Ukrainian government, says it has used those identifications to inform the families of the deaths of 582 Russians, including by sending them photos of the abandoned corpses.”
Pay special attention to the bolded text: these are people who are doing a government’s bidding for free, because they think it’s good and righteous. I’d argue that they are not a ‘force of hackers’ — they’re a group of people who have decided to participate in gruesome psychological warfare.
This wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for Clearview AI, of course. They think they are helping the war effort by providing technology for free, when really they should just stay out of it altogether. The CEO claims that their reason for providing this technology (and training on how to use it) was to combat false claims made by Russia that certain captured soldiers frauds.
I’m so glad Clearview swooped in. Who knew the solution to ‘pretend soldiers’ was ‘inflict irreversible trauma onto Russian families’. There’s just so little I understand about how war works I guess.
🤫 Ahhhh the power of LIES
If you’ve had a bad week, look on the bright side: people have sued Alex Jones and it’s finally working — he’s having to file for bankruptcy. For me, this isn’t actually enough. Someone like Alex Jones honestly deserves to rot in a dark hole somewhere and be repeatedly be lied to about his release date, which would never come.
👉 Why he’s being sued: in 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary school in the US was subject to the worst school shooting in the history of US school shootings. But according to Alex Jones, it simply never happened — it was all a hoax to stop you from buying guns! Result: his extremely gullible and frothy-mouthed fans started abusing bereaved parents, asking them to stop lying about their children’s deaths, and to stop attempting to violate their right to own guns. The abuse went on for years both online and offline — including threatening letters and accusations on the street.
Well... that’s a lot of power emanating from a tiny little man. Alex Jones lives on the precipice of reality — a place where he can ignore the truth enough to be shocking, but still earn loads of money from inciting violence and spreading hate. Thankfully, that money is slowly being taken away from him now.
What I struggle to understand here is the logics of conspiracy theories and how a crusty waste of skin like Alex Jones managed to get so many people to listen to him. This is why I spoke to Clement Briens, a very smart man who knows a lot more about how misinformation works than I do. Here’s how our little interview went:
GI: How does someone like Alex Jones inspire people to take real-world action, like with the Sandy Hook case?
CB: Alex Jones has been an ‘influencer’ of sorts in the American alt-right for a long time — including involvement in ‘offline’ activism as well — and InfoWars' popularity rose with Trump's endorsement in the run-up to the 2016 elections. This means his audience weren't just fringe groups any more, but had gained a much wider audience in the US far-right, with Trump citing InfoWars as a source in various tweets for example.
GI: What is motivating all his die-hard fans? Are they just striving for a sense of community, or do they consider their actions to be a form of activism?
CB: The answer lies probably somewhere in the middle. Conspiracy theorists consider their quest for the discovery of a certain ‘truth’ to be activism, with many believing that they are being silenced or ignored by mainstream media. QAnon is only the latest group (flat-earthers, 9/11 truthers) to demonstrate that these conspiracy theories are able to garner a large enough audience to graduate from internet myths to offline demonstrations.
GI: What makes campaigns like this so potent? E.g. how in a million years could it be more plausible that this was a government hoax rather than just an actual shooting?
CB: I guess that conspiracy theories like the ones peddled by Jones provide marginalised Americans with a lot of things: the feeling of knowing ‘the truth’, having something or someone to blame for most events, but also the feeling of being attached to a wider community of equally marginalised Americans. Jones to them represents an outlet in the face of censorship from ‘the mainstream media’. It's no wonder that his show has attracted such attention — which he has definitely capitalised off of via merchandise sales.
GI: Ah yes merch — this is what it all boils down to in the end. You mentioned that he (or I guess his team) were pretty smart about tailoring merch to the InfoWars demographic
CB: Yep, he was selling stuff like branded survival kits because he knew that a large portion of his fans were probably preparing to live in nuclear bunkers or some such.
Clement Briens has just started Misinfosec, a project that aims to regroup cybersecurity and disinformation researchers, academics, and professionals to think about how to use infosec methods, frameworks, and tools to fight misinformation. Hence: misinfosec. Follow the project on Twitter to receive updates or even get involved!
🍨 Let’s end with some random sillies...
Maybe you’ve not been paying attention to the whole Libs of TikTok thing, so let me enlighten you: it’s just an argument between people who doesn’t fully understand what doxing is.
Amazon is taking it’s next giant leap into replacing public postal services by introducing Buy with Prime, which allows third-party retailers use Amazon Prime’s logistics infrastructure to fulfil package orders made on their own websites.
Binance, a crypo exchange (e.g. shit bank), has created a custom emoji that looks like a swastika because I guess their design team is so ensconced in web3 muck that they are completely unhinged from reality.