Artefacts
September 13, 2018 4:39 AM   Subscribe

Around one year ago, a journalist I know came across a standard pro-Trump trolling/bot account on Twitter. These are sometimes called “MAGA-head” accounts or similar, and they have bio descriptions that are flavoured with a distinctive soup of patriotism. This account was named @GuntherEaglemann, and Gunther was putatively “Fighting the good fight! #BackTheBlue and Support our Troops, USMC, Conservative | Helping the confused Left turn Right – one at a time”. His location was listed as Texas, USA, and he had 2335 followers. The journalist knew that Gunther Eaglemann did not exist because the picture of “Gunther” was a picture of himself. Once challenged, the account disappeared.

Richard Cooke on bots, algorithms,and the permeation of information.
posted by the duck by the oboe (60 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is an interesting topic, but I feel like Cooke is out of his depth here - he's essentially coining a term to talk about mimesis in social media, but doesn't really engage with anyone else's ideas about it, despite even using the word memetic in the article. As such it doesn't come across as particularly substantive.

"Five or six years ago, around the time most people seemed to be spending almost all of their time on the internet" is also . . . not a great opening, and really colors the tone of the piece.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:07 AM on September 13 [12 favorites]


Can we just take a moment to appreciate the hilarity of "Gunther Eaglemann"? It's brilliant--it's got that nod to the Germanic, but with the eagle in there for patriotism--oh, and with 'gun' hidden in it, of course. I bet they've got a random generator that comes up with Patriot Names, Manly Flagg and so on. I'm reminded of the bit from Hitchhiker's Guide where it's explained that 'because he'd skimped a bit on his preparatory research he had chosen the name ''Ford Prefect'' as being nicely inconspicuous.'
posted by Sing Or Swim at 5:12 AM on September 13 [91 favorites]


More and more lately I miss the days when the Internet wasn't a cesspool of trolls and assholes. They were always there, don't get me wrong, but now I feel outnumbered by them. We can have almost anything in the world shipped to us in two days and can stream most any popular media at the press of a button, but the overall generalized sense of the online world acting in good faith has been lost.

Pop-up ads, convoluted terms & conditions, malware, 4chan, social media, and the pivot to video have all been leading to this terrible moment in online history. Give assholes a new medium and they'll find a way to spread their bile and pain.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:21 AM on September 13 [45 favorites]


I bet they've got a random generator that comes up with Patriot Names, Manly Flagg and so on.

Slab Bulkhead! Fridge Largemeat! Punt Speedchunk! Butch Deadlift! Bold Bigflank! Splint Chesthair! Flint Ironstag!
posted by Foosnark at 5:21 AM on September 13 [92 favorites]


Blast Hardcheese!
posted by leotrotsky at 5:28 AM on September 13 [56 favorites]


"My name is Johnny Bluejeans and my number one interest is being on target with guns and also having of the pickup truck, GO COWBOYS"
posted by mike_honcho at 5:29 AM on September 13 [55 favorites]


Big McLargehuge!
posted by Navelgazer at 5:41 AM on September 13 [24 favorites]



Slab Bulkhead! Fridge Largemeat! Punt Speedchunk! Butch Deadlift! Bold Bigflank! Splint Chesthair! Flint Ironstag!

I've gotten FB friend requests from them all! (Profile pics invariably of white guys draped in camo holding enormous guns in one hand and a rose/teddy bear in the other)
posted by biddeford at 5:54 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Big McLargehuge!

There's a lot of great sock puppet names in this thread, if anybody's looking.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:54 AM on September 13 [11 favorites]


"My name is Johnny Bluejeans and my number one interest is being on target with guns and also having of the pickup truck, GO COWBOYS"


"My name is Barry Bluejeans and my number one interest is regaining my memory and also the voidfish, TAZ FOREVER!"
posted by papercake at 5:59 AM on September 13 [22 favorites]


I did a search on "nemesis in social media" after reading aspersioncast's comment, and came across this essay on Peter Theil's interest in social networks as a tool for dispersing the latent violence of the hordes (us, that is.) Trolls have always been a feature, not a bug, it seems. And if they need to be mechanically created when a network seems too cozy, then so be it.
posted by biddeford at 6:04 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]




нет ли в России социальных сетей?
posted by sammyo at 6:22 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


I agree with aspersioncast. It doesn't sound like any experts or literature were consulted. I'm not sure he quite knows what a bot is in this context and has an exaggerated impression of AI. I feel like 'artefact' is handwavy and vague, like he's conflating several things that already have definitions, but ended up in the same schema in Cooke's mind by virtue of timing or location.

On one hand this is someone who is catching up out loud.
On the other hand, yes, please do catch up.
posted by Horkus at 6:24 AM on September 13 [30 favorites]


Clean Phil.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:36 AM on September 13


John Yaya
John Smallberries
John Bigboutie
posted by Meatbomb at 6:38 AM on September 13 [31 favorites]


this is someone who is catching up out loud

Thank you for putting that phenomenon so perfectly into words. I feel like I want to make an acronym of it. SWICUOL? Nah. Maybe SCUOL. Too SCUOL to be cool.
posted by rory at 6:43 AM on September 13 [17 favorites]


More and more lately I miss the days when the Internet wasn't a cesspool of trolls and assholes. They were always there, don't get me wrong, but now I feel outnumbered by them. We can have almost anything in the world shipped to us in two days and can stream most any popular media at the press of a button, but the overall generalized sense of the online world acting in good faith has been lost.

The disclaimer "they were always there but now I feel outnumbered" is where y'all white men always.show.you're.white.men.

Trolls and assholes were always there, and always outnumbered everyone except y'all white men.

It's not some random happenstance thang that successful troll-bots come across AS WHITE MEN.

the overall generalized sense of the online world acting in good faith has been lost.

As a woman, I wish I knew what that even meant, being able to assume the entire online world(!!!!) behaves in good faith. Never experienced it.
posted by fraula at 6:46 AM on September 13 [54 favorites]


Trolls and assholes were always there, and always outnumbered everyone except y'all white men.

I dunno, in my experience as an asian woman, I actually related to the comment "they were always there but now I feel outnumbered". My memories of early internet exploration was chatrooms, blogs, and Metafilter. Even the chatrooms, at least the ones I frequented (one was a Leonardo Dicaprio fan room lol), were friendly and welcoming. I must have been extremely lucky, I somehow stumbled into the nice internet corners.

But I feel like I am now exposed to a lot more assholery through Twitter, Facebook, etc both as a target and as a bystander (and quit both of them).
posted by like_neon at 7:02 AM on September 13 [31 favorites]


I bet they've got a random generator that comes up with Patriot Names, Manly Flagg and so on.

On a forum I help moderate, we, of course, get a never-ending stream of bots trying to register accounts. One regular stream seems to always feature user names that incorporate variations on the word “google.” Googleaty, Googappity, etc. Apparently, there’s a spam shop out there that believes alluding to Google will foil the filters. It’s actually kind of fun seeing the endless variations on this one theme.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:03 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Yup, catching up out loud.

Not to keep shitting all over this article, but jeez.

"Gunther Eagleman" is amazing. But Richard Cooke's invented analogs, "Darryl Archideld or Bobson Dugnutt" demonstrate that he is in fact quite tone-deaf to the actual components that make the name "somehow more American than real America."

not sure he quite knows what a bot is in this context and has an exaggerated impression of AI

Right? Or what an algorithm is.

"Who built the robot? Nobody knows."
THIS IS NOT A ROBOT RICHARD.

"The effect of super-computers controlling human meta-desire is still unknown, and under-appreciated."
This is Juggalo-level. Is there a name for this type of logical morass?

“Yesterday on facebook I saw a lady call a man she knows in real life a ‘bot’ because he criticized Rachel Maddow”, posted the account @subtlerbutler. (That lady might be onto something.)

Huh?
posted by aspersioncast at 7:13 AM on September 13 [12 favorites]


Bobson Dugnutt
posted by CheapB at 7:24 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Darryl Archideld and Bobson Dugnutt are both players in Fighting Baseball.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:27 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Oh he didn't even come up with those names, but doesn't cite their origin? I can't tell if that's more damning or not. Is Richard Cook an "artefact" too?
posted by aspersioncast at 7:28 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


“Yesterday on facebook I saw a lady call a man she knows in real life a ‘bot’ because he criticized Rachel Maddow”, posted the account @subtlerbutler. (That lady might be onto something.)

Huh?

I read that as “clearly he’s not a bot, because she knows he’s a human, but we become what we pretend to be, in some sense, so she’s more right than she knows.” It’s just a tiny “I’m smarter than her, and maybe you, too, moment.”
posted by greermahoney at 7:53 AM on September 13


Artefact is such a bad word to use for what he is trying to convey. Also, that first line alone is such a weird disconnect it casts everything else under suspicion. 5-6 years it would have been weird to say everyone was just getting online 5-6 years ago. It almost makes me picture the author as Andy Rooney, sitting in some lawyer's office while he rants about how ballpoint pens are one of the worst inventions of mankind.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:01 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


The disclaimer "they were always there but now I feel outnumbered" is where y'all white men always.show.you're.white.men.

I favorited that comment because it felt super relevant. I am a Hispanic woman. My sense is that the Internet was a lot friendlier in the early and mid 90s, regardless of who you were behind the screen. I didn’t feel outnumbered by trolls at all. The Internet - and maybe the world- got much meaner as I grew up and I don’t like it at all.
posted by corb at 8:20 AM on September 13 [18 favorites]


Bushrod Johnson.
posted by Splunge at 8:28 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


> But I feel like I am now exposed to a lot more assholery through Twitter, Facebook, etc both as a target and as a bystander (and quit both of them).

Trolling on twitter gets attention, trolling on Metafilter or the Leo fan forum will get you banned. Trolling on twitter also gets page views and therefore money, which means that there is an extremely powerful disincentive to not moderate. Twitter (and to a lesser extent FB) literally make money off of heated internet arguments.
posted by cirgue at 8:51 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


Rage Freecarry
posted by philip-random at 8:58 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


(Jackhammer Noise)
posted by mannequito at 9:03 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


I'm getting so many names for my MLP slashfic featuring Bulk Bicep, the most sensitive of the ponies.
posted by aramaic at 9:14 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I can't imagine the USENet groups I was on twenty years ago existing today. We had some trolls and some spam, but the thought of a public group existing to support each other with breastfeeding? Good lord, it would burst into flames immediately if it started now.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:23 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


fraula: you opened my eyes.

I've been carrying around a kind of implicit belief that the gamers I met in and around highschool ('90-'93) were all enlightened and progressive, but that was never put to the test by anything more than token PoC, women or LGBTQ people. I can't know how many of those people would have felt "outnumbered" and reacted with animus. We were insulated by being mostly white and male.

Similarly, there is a kind of collective memory about what happened to the internet in '93, it's called "the September that never ended". According to the story the hoi polloi suddenly were among us, bringing their racism and sexism and ruining the civility of the internet.

But academia, and computer science in particular, being what it is, it's more like suddenly there were women, PoC and LGBTQ people visible where there hadn't been before. The idea that these people brought the racism and sexism with them is... not an accurate take.

I never had the opportunity to challenge those beliefs, thank you.
posted by Horkus at 9:31 AM on September 13 [14 favorites]


I am so jaded all the silly names sound like comic book superheroes' alternate human personas. Some aren't quite over the top enough.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:37 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Can I just say: Devo, 13th Floor Elevators?
posted by rustipi at 9:43 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Bob! Johnson! am I doing this right?
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:47 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Yeas twenty years ago everyone who could get online was pretty much invested in staying in their lane. Using the tech to get up. Not much to argue about except maybe the Armenian Genocide. Now it’s just a facet of everyday life for everyone and there is a much larger online diversity of thought. So everyone invested in lane keeping is now a minority and feels threatened.

It may be the eternal September but the students are taking over the school and the old white male faculty is not taking it well.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:58 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Duke Cannon literally sells bourbon-flavored soap at hardware stores in a fucking ammo box, thereby winning this game.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:13 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Y'all are slipping because no one has referred to the names assigned to the character Dave Ryder by our friends on MST3K. Any self-respecting algorithm would consult this list first (at least in my world).
posted by Ber at 10:18 AM on September 13


Aren't these the same people who lose their shit over "stolen valor?"
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:25 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


he's essentially coining a term to talk about mimesis in social media, but doesn't really engage with anyone else's ideas about it

I agree. I'm sure if Cooke had engaged a little more with actual non-bots on the internet, he would have realized that he didn't discover the phenomenon, and perhaps would have discovered a better term than "artefact," one that was already in use and with cultural currency, perhaps one that appropriately enough originated to describe technological defects, and maybe one that had already found its way into a position adjacent to mainstreams of popular culture after having percolated up through strata of subcultural media, to describe such a glitch.
posted by univac at 10:25 AM on September 13


To what extent is this an extension of gaslighting?
posted by rustipi at 10:31 AM on September 13


MetaFilter: Is there a name for this type of logical morass?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:35 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


no one has referred to the names assigned to the character Dave Ryder

Look up, Thick McScrollfast
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:44 AM on September 13 [13 favorites]


Sleve McDichael
posted by aspersioncast at 11:29 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Twitter and Facebook have problems with policies re: banning and the like, but just the ease of discoverability now, I'm not sure I like it. I use Twitter extremely rarely and Facebook never. I am finding most of the online time that I enjoy being sociable in now takes place on private Discord servers and feels very much like the communities I found--which by and large were pretty diverse--in the mid-90s. But... as long as everybody else is still on Twitter, I still have to deal with the fact that people I didn't trust not to believe racist email forwards in 2001 are now even more exposed than they were when they first got online. I didn't have to worry about the impact of the trolls on coworkers and family members and neighbors, in 1996, so even abuse directed at me personally seemed less scary.

Now, I can't opt out of it impacting me even if I don't go any of the places the awful people show up.
posted by Sequence at 12:13 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


GoblinHoney: "Artefact is such a bad word to use for what he is trying to convey."

He really seems to just be talking about Baudrillardian simulacra, which is only something that I'm partially acquainted with, but hyperreality is a good word for all of this certainly.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:43 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


Yeah, he's either pretending to have never heard of Baudrillard or just being intellectually lazy.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:10 PM on September 13


As a woman, I wish I knew what that even meant, being able to assume the entire online world(!!!!) behaves in good faith. Never experienced it.

This. In 1984, I was the only senior girl in my high school’s computer club. There we were, exploring BBS! Meeting people around the world! We were setting up our user ID, and I stepped out of the room for some reason. When I came back, the boys had set up our ID as “Huge Nipps”. Our faculty advisor was mad. But laughing at the shenanigans.

And this is why I never seriously looked into a tech field.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 1:18 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


I also feel like the internet was nicer back in the day, but on the other hand the "nobody knows you're a dog" cartoon was drawn in 1993. Deception has been part of it for a while now.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:31 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


It is barely commented on, for example, that humanity is now engaged in a machine-directed, mildly eugenic breeding program courtesy of online dating (already, two forms of relationships – those featuring significant height discrepancies, and those featuring childhood sweethearts – are now far less common than they used to be).
I never even thought about this before. Does Tinder have an algorithm? If you swipe consistently on blondes does it start mainly showing you blondes? Or what online dating is he speaking of that is “machine-directed”?
Recently, what appear to be bot accounts have adorned themselves with even more unnatural symbolism, especially emojis of flags, #MAGA hashtags and Bible verses. Here is an example:
Southern Belle ⚜Cajun*Irish🍀 🇺🇸US Military🇺🇸& LEOs 💙🇺🇸🇺🇸 "Happy girls are the prettiest!" #MAGA 🇺🇸 Philippians 4:13 ✝️
It is impossible to say whether this is a bot account, though, because conservatives appear to be modelling their online presences on bots. This seems to be especially true of older conservatives. It is not the disinformation that is memetic, it is this formulaic eyesore “style”, which some users seem to be mimicking wholesale, either as an act of solidarity, or as a piece of trolling, or because they have a fluid and uncertain political position driven by emotion, which then takes shape as a learnt behaviour. Online audiences are not just experiencing artefacts, but making themselves into artefacts voluntarily.
I don’t know how true this is, since there was already a “white conservative” aesthetic that was around before bots came about to copy it. I had friends whose MySpace profiles basically looked like this in 2006, just without the hashtag.

This is simply a “meme complex”, in which the bots have taken the conservative aesthetic, appropriated it in order to identify with that particular in-group, who then copy those bots as well, thus continuing the aesthetic roundabout.

What it seems like Richard Cooke is trying to figure out here is the hyper-reality of our present time, in which our real world is so ridiculous as to feel unreal. He cites Harambe as an “artefact”, because the killing of a gorilla wasn’t simply the killing of a gorilla, but was a symbol of a weird culture war that we’re apparently experiencing in multiple different dimensions, and in which the symbols change fluidly across multiple discourses.
The shooting of the gorilla Harambe was not an artefact, but it became one, when a bizarre, meaningless event acted as a projection screen for off-piste and angry discussions about racism, zoo design, parenting and media discourse, all of which had nothing to do with an ape being assassinated.
The former-NBA star Dennis Rodman being sent to North Korea to “assist” in the peninsula peace talks, his fare paid for by a cannabis-backed cryptocurrency. That’s an artefact.
The Trump administration is an artefact.
Everything that we are experiencing right now is a strange hyper-real dissolution of our society, which throughout time has slowly been becoming more meta- and hyper-real. The Dennis Rodman example hits me personally, because in my favorite cartoon, “Mission Hill”, there’s an episode where Dennis Rodman is actually in talks to stave off an amorphous crisis that is presented in the plot. You can watch that episode here on YouTube. One other thing about this episode that I love is how much it shows the breakdown of society when there is a “crisis” or some sort of “event”. A while ago, when Paul Manafort was charged and Michael Cohen reached a plea deal, all in the midst of a couple of minutes of each other on a Tuesday, I felt like my brain was going haywire. It felt like the world was ending. I sat on Metafilter all day vacuuming up as much information as possible, in a sort of manic binge (this actually caused a hypomanic episode with me). I didn’t do anything that day, I was driven crazy by information and the speed at which that information was being presented. I’ve seen other people in the politics threads mention similar feelings, about the world suddenly speeding up when those things happen, and a sense of confusion about what is happening. When other people start mentioning those feelings, I know that it is not just me, and that through this website I am connected to people in some sort of bizarre unconscious consciousness, since we are all experiencing the symptoms together. It reminds me of being on LSD with close friends.

And that isn’t even the only example, because this happens all the time. The Simpsons predicting modern events is basically its own meme at this point. As our reality begins to dissolve, other ones begin cropping up. Conservatives literally live in their own reality, and believe in an entirely different set of facts about the world than anybody else, which is then backed up by “officials”, like Trump. What I mean by this is that, separate from the fact that each person experiences their own “lived experience”, which is why you have things like identity politics in the first place, there is still an objective reality. The most current example is Puerto Rico, where some 3000 people died. That’s real, that is our objective reality, but conservatives are living in a reality where that didn’t happen, and they’re able to point to Trump’s numbers as evidence for their reality, as he is the memetic engineer of that reality. He creates the false reality and the others jump into it. And look, I didn’t even “editorialize” that statement to say “where 3000 people died due to negligence”, because that isn’t the point. I stated a fact, and the conservative reality is now entirely against that fact. If the government had come out and said that those 3000 people died due to other factors, by smudging the record (which they have been doing, e.g. saying people died of “old age”), that would simply be a manipulative lie, but they’re countering the actual reality of the situation.

I actually think this article is brilliant, because Cooke is attempting to figure out what the fuck is going on, and the tone and tempo of the article, and the way it jumps around (the rhythm of his writing), is emblematic of how our reality is now, in which so many things happen at once every single day that it’s nearly impossible to get a grasp on one thing to figure out.

Our reality has dissolved into something very strange, and we are collectively experiencing a schizophrenic reaction to it. There is no “desert of the Real”, but rather a whole nother reality being propagated.
posted by gucci mane at 1:42 PM on September 13 [13 favorites]


Biff Hardcase. He's a cigar chugging, bourbon puffing ubermensch.
posted by Splunge at 3:35 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


And time traveler
posted by sammyo at 3:57 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


> Similarly, there is a kind of collective memory about what happened to the internet in '93, it's called "the September that never ended". According to the story the hoi polloi suddenly were among us, bringing their racism and sexism and ruining the civility of the internet.

I don't remember the complaint being that they brought racism and sexism, but that they brought newby behavior.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:50 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


He really seems to just be talking about Baudrillardian simulacra, which is only something that I'm partially acquainted with, but hyperreality is a good word for all of this certainly.

I think one difference is that with simulacra we're still talking about artifacts that are, if not produced by humans, at least produced for humans. But there is an increasingly prominent new class of artifact where the intended viewers are yet other machines: artifacts optimized by one algorithm to please a different algorithm, fractal dog hellscapes generated by one neural network to satisfy another, the creepy YouTube children's video whose target audience is Google's ranking algorithm itself.
posted by Pyry at 5:38 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so, ad infinitum.
And the great fleas, themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on
posted by biogeo at 5:52 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


John Yaya
John Smallberries
John Bigboutie


BIG BOOTAY! BIG BOOTAY!!!
posted by gusandrews at 8:10 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Montana Derringer-Boute
Hans CannonBroke
Jake "Proud VETERAN" VoterSupression
posted by benzenedream at 11:56 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


The question of "Was the internet nicer back in the day" was lingering on my mind yesterday. I think the trolls existed, but it was also easier to "hide" from them. The "nobody knows you're a dog" cartoon is exactly right. Maybe I was able to "pass" as a white male because of how and what I contributed to my little online communities so I didn't get harassed in the way I feel is much more prevalent these days.

These days, it's very easy for people to dig into your Twitter/Facebook/Instagram history, find out what you look like and act upon their prejudices. Whereas in these chatrooms, there was no easily accessed cached history and people could only go by what you volunteered to divulge. In the old internet days I didn't tell people I was a woman or asian if I didn't need to (I don't think I ever did??) whereas now that information is readily available, even if I don't want it to be known, thus inviting all the assholes to insert their assholeness to my digital quality of life.
posted by like_neon at 4:04 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


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