Back in April I joined a Facebook group for your fans. I knew the group wasn’t run by you or any official social media management service- it’s just a homegrown fan group with over 30,000 members. Although I like you just fine, and enjoy your videos- I wouldn’t join a Facebook group just to shoot the breeze with other fans. No, the reason why I joined the group was because the bots told me to. They told me that someone’s grandmother might be needing some help.
I asked to join to see if I might be of assistance. Since then I’ve been working hard (or making a pest of myself depending on how you look at it)- but I can’t say that I have really been able to make any headway, which is why I am reaching out to you. See, I think if anyone can get through to them- it’s you.
I could start at the beginning when the group Admin posted a “Welcome new members” post with my name tagged along with 40 other new members. Remember how I said that the bots told me that some grandmas might need some help?
I have a page “Exploiting the Niche” where my aim is to reach regular folks. I have a special interest in helping older people to learn about scams and manipulation, the tactics of professional players on Facebook, and good media literacy habits. I want to be the bridge between the academics and tech professionals -and the people they talk about.
When I do investigations and look at the posting history of bad actors (coordinated inauthentic behavior) there was a common connection between many of them… they were posting in The Chad Prather Fans group.
So, I thanked the Admin for adding me and began to systematically work my way down the list of 40 new members he’d tagged in his welcome. I posted screenshots and detailed, lighthearted but educational, descriptions of how I determined the accounts of more than half of the new members to be fraudulent. My comments were ignored by the Admin, the other new members and the 30,000 other “people” in the group.
Finally, one of the other new members, a handsome guy named Howard Gregory, took my side and joined in, mocking all the fake bot accounts I had outed. Not quite so desperate to have a human acknowledge my brilliant investigative skills to let my guard down… I quickly outed Howard as a Nigerian romance scammer.
Over the next couple of months I tried just about everything and have not made any progress. If anything the situation has gotten worse. I’ve shared blogs I wrote, articles other people wrote, tried mixing media, podcasts and videos, I would write long posts and short ones, be super sweet and kind, tried snarky and kurt (not my style really) I made graphics with screenshots and circles and arrows just to try to grab some attention… and when I was tired and my patience running thin- I’d just post gifs of an obnoxious blue rocking robot. I post them a lot. I mean… really… so many.
My tactic was to get a blue rocking robot into the comments first. I found that if I could get that robot in fast- the people wouldn’t engage with the post… but once they started in commenting, there is nothing I can do to get them to stop. Nothing. In fact, it seems that a large portion of the comments on the spam posts may be automated as it’s also almost impossible for me to get a commenter to engage if I call them out.
There is one comment on the spam posts that I know for sure is automated… that is the comment dropped by the bot who made the post.
That little graphic is the first mention of Pakistan in this letter. Most of the spamming in the Chad Prather Fans group is from Pakistan, but also Morocco, the Phillipines and a little from Eastern Europe.
The Pakistan network, (And you can read more about them in my blogpost “Three Pairs“) they program their autoposter to make a comment on their own post to help it surface algorithmicly. It’s interesting really- a bot working to trick an algorithm to show its own content to humans over the posts of actual humans. The comment is not designed to fool humans, only Facebook’s machine. That’s why for months the guy setting up the autoposting could just smash the keyboard “hjk” in the place where you would ordinarily assume some contextual engagement appealing to humans would need to be composed:
“I am fed up, we have to get them out!”
The sad fact is, the humans who are the pawns in this scheme are so innocent they do not see that the comment is a single letter. Or that it was made by the profile who made the post. Or that the post links to a blogspot.com URL or one of a handful of sites that is posted over and over by the same cluster of strange profiles who never comment on anyone’s posts or respond to people who comment on theirs.
Accepting this bizarre antisocial behavior as normal, and eventually beginning to mimic it- is what I call “Artificial stupidity”. Sadly we can’t adopt the term because it already has a different meaning- but you get the idea. Rather than training machines to mimic high level human behavior… what we’ve got now are people mimicking poor quality bot behavior as they respond to engagement baited posts, because they don’t understand how they are being manipulated.
I frequently will comment (example)
“Karah Levy is a BOT.”
..and the only person even to acknowledge what I am trying to say about Karah’s post will ask, “Who is Karah?”
There are a handful of people who notice the weirdness. Sometimes I’ll see someone asking the bot, “Carissa, what does it mean when you post V like that?”
A few are catching on, but it doesn’t stop them from joining in the dog-pile when another piece of tasty hate-bait content gets tossed on the table. There is one sweet lady I won’t name but must acknowledge, who has joined me in the bot hunt, and I appreciate her help so much.
The other day, Sunday July 21, 2019 -I went to the group and selected the option to see the most recent posts first. Then I scrolled back in time 24 hours, taking screenshots of every piece of planted foreign clickbait content as I went. It took me about a half hour to get through it and this is what I wound up with. I did this so I could show you just what a cesspool the Chad Prather Fans group is, and the kind of content lots of your older and vulnerable fans are being exposed to: an endless automated flow of outrage that never gets tired.
I should note that virtually all of it is stolen content. These clickbaiters don’t write. They steal. They steal old and new news, fake and true news. They steal what is proven to grab engagement, which means they continually go lower and lower to get it.
I call this “flooding”. Real posts of real people aren’t surfaced because they are pushed down so rapidly by the volume of spam. No matter how you set the group feed- for the most recent or the most popular, the authentic posts will sink. People simply will never scroll far enough to see them. There is no chance for a normal natural conversation between Americans to happen.
All of this frenzy is driven with the intention of getting some American eyeballs to land on their page, where higher priced ads from American advertisers will be served to the more expensive audience. Once again it’s computers talking to computers.
This dynamic is not intended to poison Grandma’s mindset (at least I don’t think so) to the point that her children and grandchildren will dread the approach of Thanksgiving- that’s just the unfortunate collateral damage. This is just so the package of Grandma’s American websurfing cookies can be sniffed by the ad server when she clicks that link, gets redirected through blogspot, and then lands on that monetized trashsite full of darkpattern political advertising asking her to take the poll: “Is the media unfair to Trump?” and requesting she sign up for the email list for updates. In the end Google cuts a check to the adsense account holder in Pakistan having won this little match for her attention (and her peers a thousand times over.)
What would I love for you to tell them?
- Just because a group is named Chad Prather Fans- doesn’t mean it’s yours.
- Just because a page says I Love USA or America or Trump 2020- doesn’t mean it’s American
- Just because someone posts content you agree with does not mean they are on your side. That content was chosen to appeal to you. I mean… we don’t need to warn kids not to take broccoli from strangers.
- If a person tries to tell you that a website called SUPPORTFORTRUMP.COM is bogus trash from Pakistan… and you support Trump- it does not mean that the other person is a “Socialist Demonrat.”
- Most websites are in the business of publishing for profit.
- Websites make money serving ads among other things.
- The legitimate production of content- or better yet- actual journalism- takes a lot of time and money.
- Although it doesn’t usually cost a reader money to visit a website, you are the pawn, like a pin ball, who has to bounce around to rack up the points for the player to get paid.
- Publishing another writer’s content without permission for profit- is stealing. It is not the same as sharing someone’s article on social media- That would be helpful promotion!
- Stolen stories can be used to game an audience for profit regardless if they are true or false.
- Headlines are a play for your attention. Before biting, especially if they trigger an emotional reaction, consider who posted it and where the link is going. In facebook groups it is easy to check what a profile has posted in the past- if all their links are pointing to the same one or two websites, that’s usually a bad sign.
- Engaging with foreign plagiarists hurts publishers at home who invest in the development and reporting of stories. If you want to see conservative perspectives represented in the media- you better support them by not tolerating foreigners stealing from them!
- Protect our communities online and off so we can have real conversations with each other- not baited one sided engineering from manipulators.
If you and Willy could make a video heart-to-heart about this for your fans, it would mean so much to me. If you’d like to point to another related video, I think Destin of Smarter Every Day did a fantastic job with his series on social media.
Cookie Photo Credit: Emily Wilson through Unsplash