S is for Sock Puppet.

As mentioned a few posts ago, there has been further fakery afoot in the wild wonky world of wiki wars.

Treachery.

Jytdog, the notorious 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 the notorious Goblin Face from Wikipedia, my assumption 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 after hearing from the “fake” Jytdog, someone else emailed me assuring me he is 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? Can’t say for sure. I can’t even tell if the real Jytdog on Wikipedia is the real Jytdog.

Is he a real editor, or just “paid” to play the role of one on Wikipedia?

A theater of sock puppets.

Editing or social media accounts are 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 might even 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.

Theater.

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 Oliver Smith, for example – are aware of this theatrical dimension in communication on wikis and forums.

Operating in this dimension, between the stage and the audience, Oliver Smith and anyone can easily put on numerous masks, becoming the “Goblin Face” to everyone he encounters. 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 Oliver’s show for you. He did have lots of people fooled. I’m not romanticizing Oliver’s 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 you’re on it.

Previous to the internet, I can still remember we all communicated in a remarkable different way than all of us are used to in 2017.

Wasn’t most if not all communication prior to the internet direct? One on one? Group pow wow? Face to face? Team huddle? Phone call?

Amazing how vague the memory is now.

I also remember communication was slow. We had direct one on one conversations, just not speed. We like to go fast, so we all rushed to adopt it while tossing out probably tens of thousands of years of slow, one on one, direct chat. Without even asking for it, we entered a new world where a stage was given to us just to share what we had for breakfast, or, fake it, for everyone to notice.

We started to communicate, negotiate, flirt, and argue in a new way. We were thrown onto a stage, more like an actor with a script than a chat over coffee with a friend. Context changed. Now we had to be more careful. New technologies for communication meant new ways we could all misunderstand each other.

“Tone” was removed from communication with the new medium. How could anyone tell what anyone meant if they couldn’t hear their tone?  We adjusted to that. Body language? Gone. No problem. We had speed. We swapped body language for the mask of the sock puppet, and  we traded the tone of the voice for the script, lines read on a stage.

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, make up, 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, as I’ve been a target in a pretty harsh way for harassment, 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.

I’m really not surprised that a band of trolls could tip the election of Donald Trump, affectionately referred often as “America’s first fake president.”

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?

My Mask

No doubt though my appreciation lay with my more creative side, I come from more of a theatrical background. 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.

Viola’, Robert Viharo was  born on screen, and I inherited his stage name when I was born in Madrid, Spain.

Did you know I was Spanish? I could tell you about my marvelous child hood 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 shit posting 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.

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!

 

 

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