Our writers' recommendations this week include stories on the spread of disinformation on Nickelodeon, the Four Seasons Total Landscaping debacle and the legality of owning a sex toy in Arizona.
Kristina, Disinformation Researcher - While the adults were busy electing the president of the United States, the real drama unfolded in the children's voting on the Nickelodeon TV channel. Nickelodeon aired its “Nick News: Kids Pick the President” special, which is an informal survey where children vote for the president. However, according to Nickelodeon, more than 130,000 bot-generated votes were detected. Even the kids' election is not safe anymore.
Read the article here. Follow Nickelodeon here and Emily Yahr from the Washington Post here.
Nick, Contributing Editor - While QAnon has seen a spike in media attention over the last months, the real-world impact of cybercults and conspiracy theories often goes underreported. The subreddit r/QAnonCasualties can be an eye-opener, featuring testimonies from those who have witnessed the damage caused by QAnon first-hand. Extremism researcher Marc-André Argentino compiles some of the most heartbreaking r/QAnonCasualties accounts in a Twitter thread that’s definitely worth a read.
You can read Marc-André’s Twitter thread here and more QAnon casualties on Reddit here.
Joe, Senior Researcher - We all know that disinformation and fake news is designed to sow discord, uncertainty and infighting. However, not a lot of folks (thankfully) know how a full disinformation campaign works. The University of Cambridge along with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have developed Harmony Square: a game to give people a taste of how to destroy a community using disinformation. The game casts you as a “Chief Disinformation Officer” tasked with ruining the harmony of Harmony Square. Although the game does not go into great depth about different disinformation techniques, it serves as a great learning tool to help people understand the disinformation and how to spot it in the future by giving them a peek behind the curtain.
Play Harmony Square here and read about the psychology behind it here.
Ishaana, Disinformation Researcher - I’m still reeling from a very long election week, which apart from throwing chaos at us, has also given us one of the most ironic moments too. Yes, I'm talking about the “Four Seasons” mix-up where Rudy Giuliani addressed reporters on challenging the election outcome from a parking lot instead of the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia. Read this fabulous piece by architect Justin Davidson on the symbolism of the “Four Seasons Total landscaping”, and how a parking lot is a befitting venue to mark the end of Trump’s presidency.
You can follow Justin Davidson here.
Devika, Senior Fact Checker - In the midst of claims related to voter fraud and election integrity, something else caught my eye: a claim about the number of sex toys one can legally possess in Arizona, which has been making the rounds for a decade. Snopes investigated this claim and found something call the “dildo bill,” which was nearly passed in the 70s.
Here is a list if countries where sex toys are banned.
Edie, Deputy Editor - I found this week’s recommendation via one of the team’s favorite podcasts, QAnon Anonymous. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel guested on their pre-election special, which is a great listen, although a week out of date now (famously a long time in politics). Not out of date, however, is Dave’s newsletter, The Trailer. Dave is one of those reporters who somehow manages to come up with fascinating answers to questions you hadn’t thought to ask, like “how many write-in votes were cast for President in 2020 compared to 2016?” The most recent edition of The Trailer lays out how this election debunked the myth that high turnout unilaterally favors the Democrats.
You can subscribe for free here.
Alice, Editorial Assistant - On November 8, The Atlantic published James Parker’s “Total Landscaping: A Masque”, a poem with an impressively broad thematic scope. In this poem, writer James Parker refers to the beauty of the natural world (“America is loose as a goose”), the beauty of the man-made world (“pickled asphalt”; “Fantasy Island Adult Bookstore”) and does not miss the opportunity to rhyme “the thing” with “Total Landscaping”.
As always, Parker deftly captures the mood of the moment. From the “gods of bathos”, POTUS’ frown and the gloom of the Delaware Valley Cremation Center—the ominous tone is clear. Most striking, however, is the sensory detail that oozes from Parker’s poem. In particular, the sonorous line about the “twang of the dildo” makes this poem linger in the memory a long time after reading it.
Read “Total Landscaping: A Masque” here.