Wikipedia We Have a Problem has always focused on behaviors in collaborative, online consensus building. This case study began exploring “heated” consensus building on Wikipedia in late 2013, and through the journey I’ve found myself in the uncomfortable position of having to expose a few “troll farms” working on the web, not just out of any sense of “internet justice”, but specifically as a defensive measure, as I’ve become a target for these same troll farms, seeking to discredit my reputation online.
So when I caught NSNBC’s reporter Ben Collins tweet the other day, I couldn’t help but relate.
This is what happens when you search Tom Hanks on YouTube today.
Last week, Qanon folks decided he was a pedophile. If you were to search YouTube today, you’d believe it. pic.twitter.com/OQfL97YOWz
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) July 30, 2018
Follow the White Rabbit, Indeed.
QAnon is a pretty disturbing alternate reality game making mainstream headways right now. From my direct experience with online culture and persuasion campaigns, from political to marketing campaigns going all the way back to 2002, I saw all the hallmarks of a creative and sophisticated persuasion operation, or as we used to call it back in 2007, viral marketing.
Back in 2016 I blogged about the coming “wiki wars” that could almost be predicted to occur on Wikipedia and other collaborative platforms as a result of the 2016 election.
We made it TO WIKIPEDIA ANONS !
— #WINNING #MAGA #WWG1WGA (@denise39deer) August 2, 2018
We see these wiki wars play out with the QAnon narrative. The narrative of “what is QAnon” takes on three entirely different contexts when you see how these are edited on Wikipedia’s QAnon page, RationalWiki’s, and InfoGalatic, the alt-right encyclopedia.
“Enjoy the Show”
In 2016, I also explored how the internet, especially social networks, create a natural stage where theater and creativity are the preferred weapon of choice for any type of trolling or persuasion campaign in S is for SockPuppet.
Trolls emerge from psychologies, not ideologies.
Far left or far right or center political ideologies all agendas have extreme personality or psychological types that are likely to abuse information and interact anti-socially with other users on the web. A troll farm is a troll farm.
Since I was involved with my wiki war research and blog before, during and after “GamerGate”, I’ve followed with great interest this subculture of “skeptics”.
It is quite eye-opening following the internet cultural trail, and especially how it relates to our current QAnon reality, where internet theater interacts with the highest office in the world, the presidency.
WikiWars are subtle, yet influential online events
Internet cultures collect themselves on various MediaWiki platforms around the web, and often the disputes that begin on one MediaWiki, such as Wikipedia, gets amplified and broadcast throughout other MediaWiki platforms, like RationalWiki, and the new InfoGalactic.
Each platform becomes dominated by editors with political or social agendas, either overtly or subtly.
Wikipedia is the grand-prize.
However, Wikipedia’s rules, even though they are often gamed, provide the hardest “cut off” for editors operating an agenda. So wiki wars beginning on Wikipedia quickly spread through Conservapedia, RationalWiki, Encyclopedia Dramatica, etc. Each platform leverages the Google Page Ranking to elevate their narrative to the top of Google search.
Wikis naturally attract “teams”.
Wiki’s are ideal since they require anonymity. But because their social participation is small in comparison to say Facebook, 4Chan, or Reddit, wikis don’t get the attention at all when there is abuse or harassment.
This isn’t wise, because while the crowd on a Wiki is small in comparison, it’s influence for one article far outweighs the influence of any Facebook or 4Chan post.
Prior to GamerGate, skeptic culture was a primarily white male phenomenon. A collection of agro hyper rationalists all shouting “I’m right!” against the rest of the world.
But then a schism happened in this very large internet culture
“Skeptic” internet culture on Wikipedia experienced a division during gamergate. This was an interesting schism because it appears to be the first casualty of the political divide between left and right wings of politics. What made it more interesting was how it played out on Wikipedia and then go on to become what is now the “alt-right”.
MediaWiki’s have NO tools to handle consensus building in heated environments, and because they have no tools, these environments create a festering of tensions that escalate, quickly.
2014, GamerGate = skeptic vs skeptic
The GamerGate controversy was the match that lit the cultural fire, and now that fire had “proof” of a mainstream media blockout, primarily because on Wikipedia, “mainstream” media sources are what many sourcing battles are all about. Because MediaWiki’s have no tools to give admins to resolve these problems, those who are genuinely protecting Wikipedia are left to “game” whatever Wikipedia rules have to bring order to the chaos.
The more left to the progressive end of online skeptic activism camped out on Wikipedia and RationalWiki, and the remaining another half of the culture was blocked and booted out. They quickly found new homes.
The distrust of Wikipedia as a “mainstream media” channel began to get amplified throughout Brietbart, where this culture likely adopted many new adherents, viewpoints, and of course influencer pettlers. From here we see the emergence of InfoGalactic with the adoption of this community by Brietbart news.
Steve Bannon, former CEO of Breitbart, was always keen to have the right be more “creative”, adopting many cultural achievements that were cultivated in the underground of Berkley in the 60’s and 70’s. Breitbart flirted with this culture, and the rest is US History.
RationalWiki’s skeptic brethren on the right were creative, from that community emerged the frog god KEK meme on /pol, which evolved into a peculiar “meme magic” operation, convincing hundreds of thousands, potentially millions of users that a frog god would ensure the election of Donald Trump. The success of the election was all the proof they needed they were, once again, “right”.
When the WikiLeaks data “dump” on the DNC proved utterly boring, we saw this same internet culture inflame that information into PizzaGate, the infamous “paedophile” global operation running out of a Pizza Shop in Washington DC.
By this time, to me from my perspective, outside influence campaigns were getting obvious to spot, especially WikiLeaks themselves riling up the mob with their “spirit cooking” amplification, giving “clues” to an online army of autistic editors and sleuths to form outlandish conclusions.
I could not help but relate, noting my own “skeptic” stalker Dan Skeptic, the infamous “Smith” troll of the internet, spent years going from one forum community to the next, gathering a personal army “against me” through highly deceptive social campaigns designed to attack my reputation, getting other users to post comments or things about me that supported that narrative. Until of course, he got exposed for doing this, (as readers of Wikipedia, We Have a Problem already know.)
I’m intimately familiar with these strategies.
Fun. That is what alternate reality games are, fun.
Alternate Reality Games have been around forever, especially for viral marketing. Many films themselves take on a whole new story that only the players of the alternate reality game understand.
Anyone with a highly creative mind for storytelling can create an ARG.
I should know this too, I even helped create such a game back in 2002, when online protests against the Iraq invasion spawned the birth of “OS 0 1 2”, the master meme to “stop the war before it starts” on AOL message boards.
In 2003, the Matrix films launched their own ARG, and I remember when message boards were scouring OS 0 1 2 because they were claiming it was apart of the Matrix Alternate Reality Game promoting the Matrix movies. (Spoiler, it wasn’t, but I ate it up none the less)
The fun in creating the ARG is knowing that, even if for just a brief minute, someone in the real world can stumble upon the game, and interact with the game as if it was “real”.
The Matrix Films themselves had such a community, I remember many of them claiming that the Matrix was also “real”.
So I know what kind of fun “following the White Rabbit” can be, as any fan of the Matrix movies knows.
I was caught up in a frenzy of excitement and incredibly hard to explain to others “thrill” of this new “art form” which took theater directly into reality. As a screenwriter at the time, the potentials of this new media were more than inspiring, they were even frightening.
— God Bless Sessions ⚖️✝️🇺🇸 (@5945USARTR) August 25, 2018
What makes QAnon so disturbing, however, is not that it is an alternate reality game, but that the claim of the game – President Donald Trump and those close to his inner circle, are the instruments of the message, the designers of the alternate reality game are forces inside of the WhiteHouse, and that this ARG is used to specifically battle political enemies of Donald Trump himself, destroying the online reputations of his enemies by associating them with a global pedophile ring.