As mentioned a few posts ago, there has been further fakery afoot in the wild wonky world of wiki wars.
Jytdog, the infamous Wikipedia editor, was found to have an imposter on Twitter, an impersonation account.
This ‘faker’ pinged me along with a number of Wikipedia and Wikimedia based accounts, promoting their presence as if a show.
Seeing the account, I became suspicious, for good reason.
I’ve been fortunate to encounter another notorious Wikipedia editor, Goblin Face, the person behind an unaccountable high number of fake accounts, impersonations, lies, treacheries, and sock puppets across Wikipedia and dozens of other wikis and forums. I thought it was him stalking me again.
It wasn’t Goblin Face, I was wrong.
I also assumed the intentions behind the account were likely sinister, a “troll”, and I gave the “real Jytdog” on Wikipedia a solid heads up by creating another “sock puppet” on Wikipedia to alert him.
I was wrong again.
“Jytdog the impersonator” on Twitter, contacted me since that post. Nothing actually sinister there at all.
That account is staged as in the theatrical sense. The impersonation was meant to mock the real Jytdog on Wikipedia for being a ‘paid editor’ and not a genuine Wikipedia contributor.
A few days later someone else emailed me assuring me that he was the “real” Jytdog, thanking me for exposing the imposter.
How do I know if the “Jytdog” who emailed me was the real one or just another imposter pretending to be the real one?
And even if he is the “real” one, is the actual Jytdog a “real editor” at all, or is he just “paid” to play the role of one on Wikipedia?
A theater of sock puppets.
Editing or social media accounts are very much like masks, attached with a script, lines performed by an actor as if on a stage.
We only assume, perhaps – that they are who they say, or who we think, they are. Our assumptions most times might even be close to true, but they are also just easily swayed by persuasion, deception, or our own delusion, something that is I suspect practiced more on the internet than we imagine.
This area of vulnerability that anonymity on the web brings can be unnerving, no doubt. There is even a case to make that it is likely to be globally disruptive, with the issue of fake news and political trolling.
But it also contains another element, something that we can, and probably should appreciate.
We miss the obvious theatrical elements embedded into the medium
Even the charge “Sock!” has a true theatrical root, puppet.
Like actors on a stage, each sock puppet “mask” we encounter online, each user is a layer we comfortably project our own assumptions on. Psychologically it becomes like a magical theater, and the magic becomes real for the sock puppet when we confuse these masks for who we assume they are.
The magic theater of the internet exists in between where the true unknown clashes with our assumptions and our trust of others.
Internet users like Goblin Face/AtlantidPyramidologist, for example – are aware of this theatrical dimension in communication on wikis and forums.
Operating in this dimension, between the stage and the audience, Goblin Face, or anyone can easily put on numerous masks, or tossing off that mask to put on another, a “Dan Skeptic” or even a mask that impersonates another user.
A writer of a drama, creatively weaving and manipulating the narrative on the stage and altering the script for all of the other actors involved, and no one would ever know it.
My apologies in advance if Wikipedia, We Have a Problem spoiled Goblin Face’s show for you. He did have lots of people fooled. I’m not romanticizing The Smith sockpuppet armies activities, I’m just highlighting a missing creative element we often do not account for on the web, theater.
The internet is a stage, and we are the audience and the actor.
Now, everyone has a mask online. There has even been bona fide scientific research done on which mask is best to pick.
When we encounter an anonymous web user with a mask, are we more likely to project our own personality, makeup, and psychology on the user, confusing their mask for an image of ourselves we project on the stage?
A script for an actor with a mask on a stage. This is who edits the web.
Much of this site has been personal experience, an online diary of sorts recording each event of targeting I received as a response to publishing this case study, testing my own limits of patience and sanity at times trying to make sense of what was happening to me. But there is also an element of strong appreciation of the very human element of the media landscape my journey through wiki wars has taken me on.
I admit I absolutely love and appreciate all of the textures, ironies, and characters I’ve encountered, even the worst of the “trolls”.
While Oliver Smith has stalked, slandered, threatened and harassed me for three years, I truly don’t have any malice towards him. He actually is wickedly clever, creative actually. He has written, staged and performed countless dramas around the web.
Oliver Smith to me is nothing more than a closet play-write. An auteur, even, of a grand drama. Perhaps he somehow took a wrong turn into more fringe academic subjects, taking himself and his obsessions far too seriously, and failed to see the creative advantage of what he was doing. Confusing his creativity that became blinded by his own sense of revenge, mistaking his theater for the world it wishes to portray.
A war of fakery.
We are easily fooled online. So easily. Deception, manipulation, or in many cases simply our own delusion.
Interconnected by a few conflicts and exchanges on social media, none of us engaged in this wiki war know each other at all. Yet each of us somehow is sure the people we encounter online are who we think they are by what they write, by the online trails they leave, and by what others have written about them.
Nor am I surprised that the best defense against a trolling offense are more clever, creative ways of sophisticated trolling. What else would the pure theater of the internet give us?
No doubt though my appreciation lay with my more creative side, I come from more of a theatrical background. My original interest in internet discussion forums started in 2001, as I saw it as a new medium for theater as a screenwriter at the time. A few years later, I designed and created early viral marketing campaigns, using the internet as a stage for online performance art.
My mother herself was a star on Broadway, my father an actor in B movies cherished by Quentin Tarantino. Because I come from theater, so much about me is actually and truly fake too.
Even my last name, Viharo, is fake. It is a stage name invented by my father, who took his mother’s first name, Virginia, and married it with his father’s name, Harold.
Did you know I was Spanish? I could tell you about my marvellous childhood in Spain, rolling through Barcelona countrysides, but that too would be fake.
Even my passport would deceive you.
I was born on a movie set, as an American citizen. The movie in question was a set in Spain, staged to fool the audience to look like a Mexican landscape. My father’s job was pretending to be a Mexican revolutionary in the movie ‘Villa Rides”, a mostly fabricated story loosely based on historical events of the Mexican Revolutionary War, along with Yul Brunner, Charles Bronson, and Robert Mitchum, a bunch of sock puppets who pretended to be grossly misinterpreted or faked historical figures.
The majority of my life has been living in Hollywood, whose main industry is the production and development of fakery.
“A real magician is just an actor, merely playing the part of a magician.”
If you’re feeling stressed, worried, or freaked out by the age of online trolls and sock puppets, Orson Welles’ F for Fake is masterpiece of trickery, lies, fraud, deception, impersonations, and sleight of hand that will likely make you appreciate the more human, creative, and even magical elements to the shitposting we have to deal with on a daily basis on the web.
I believe the solution to online trolls and harassment online may lay in adopting into web architecture our inherent creativity for theater and using it to resolve this complexity around what is “real” on the web.
(Update, this post was written in 2017, and now in 2018, “Intelligencer” just released a detailed article about the “fakery” of the web, titled “How much of the web is fake? It turns out a lot of it actually.” )
To be able to do that, we have to be able to account not just for what is ‘true’ on the internet, but the far more complex layers of what isn’t real.
There is no better primer to this complexity of creativity, art, deception, and trickery than F for Fake. Orson would have had fun with the internet.
Previous to the internet, I would have had to direct you to an indie video rental store in your neck of the woods. Thanks to the speed the internet offers, I’m able to distribute this film here in my blog post. So worth it.
Don’t miss it, it’s quite good!