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Tinfoil Digest: The Feds Can't Meme Edition

Tinfoil Digest: The Feds Can't Meme Edition

This month's recommendations include a 21-page report on the creation of the world's worst meme, the author of which is literally the United States Cyber Command (a.k.a. the Department Of Defense). This hilarity aside, we have a stellar guest recc from the Q Origins Project, and a whole host of other material for you — our friends, fans, and family — to devour.

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The Q Origins Project, Guest Recommendation — For a while, it was impossible to hang out on Q Telegram without seeing talk of "Sabmyk," a movement (whether real or entirely digital, it wasn't quite clear) that was characterized by strange, disjointed posts creating a mythology involving "Noah's prophecy" and a messianic figure called "Sabmyk."

Most QAnon followers were baffled by it instead of drawn to it, in part because Sabmyk always felt a little off. It felt like a marketing campaign -- and now, thanks to the British charity HOPE Not Hate, we know why: it appears to have been one. 

HOPE Not Hate's investigation is an amazing rollercoaster ride involving a bee costume, an "empire" of fake accounts on Facebook, and a culprit whose ritual scarring gave him away. Wonderful work!

MicrosoftTeams-image-Mar-29-2021-10-11-03-36-AMJordan, Disinformation Research —  As someone who has social media accounts, I’m partial to the occasional shitpost. As someone who’s also managed social media accounts for media organizations, I know how stressful it can be to get an occasional shitpost approved. However, nothing tops the Pentagon’s 21-page PDF documenting the creation of a single meme.

You’d expect a meme that took a whole 22 days to actually be good. Au contraire, mon ami, it was bad, like, really bad. In Cyber Command’s own words, the concept is as follows: “Cartoon bear in soviet uniform costume holding Halloween candy basket, now tripping with ‘treats’ (malware names) spilling out of candy basket.”

Got that description in your mind? Good. Here’s the final product. After a senior advisor for Norway’s Armed Force Cyber Defense filed a Freedom of Information Request to the US Department of Defense Cyber Command, VICE was able to obtain the full report chronicling the image’s creation.

The team involved says they are “very excited to create more graphics,” so this just might be the gift that keeps on giving.

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Devika, Senior Fact Checker — The rise of misinformation and disinformation often makes you wonder what you can do to increase digital literacy, as well as why people share fake news in the first place.

Sometimes, we might think that people share unverified and fake news because they are willfully ignorant and purposefully share falsehoods. However, this article in Scientific American summarizes a paper published in Nature which found that “it’s not partisan motivations that lead people to fail to distinguish between true and false news content, but rather simple old lazy thinking.” The study found that social media algorithms and the need to gain more “engagement” play a key role in diverting people’s attention towards “inaccurate” information, and suggests that there needs to be a shift in people’s attitudes about truth, but rather a more subtle shift in attention to the truth.

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Alice, Editorial Assistant — Conspiracies: The Secret Knowledge is a new series on BBC Radio 4. The first episode, "A Smoky Backroom," discusses the overlap between the world of conspiracy thinking, journalism, and fiction, and shows how 20th-century novels about conspiracies developed alongside and even informed conspiracy theories in the real world. Featuring real histories about paranoid racism and folk tales about omnipotent monsters, Conspiracies: The Secret Knowledge makes for a fascinating listen. 

You can follow the host of the series, Phil Tinline, here and listen here.    

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Ilma, India Editor — Since the military seized power in February, history is repeating itself in Myanmar with TikTok’s lack of commitment to understanding the cultural nuance driving misinformation. How does feeding an algorithm and sidelining human intervention for a one-size-fits-all approach by big tech incite violence? This excellent report in Rest of World investigates.

IshaanaIshaana, Disinformation Researcher — Since the start of the farmer protests, we have seen the movement being maligned by those associating it with the Khalistani separatist movement. This narrative subversion, coupled with calls for violence, continued on the Indian Republic Day when the peaceful protests took an unfortunate turn. Fringe elements of the protesting farmers clashed with the Delhi Police killing one person and leaving many injured. This important investigation by Ayushman Kaul of the Digital Forensic Research Lab tells us why the volumes of these hashtags are detrimental to informing the public with authentic information.

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Edie, Deputy Editor — I’m late to this one but so glad I’ve caught up: I’ve been listening to the BBC Sounds podcast The Missing Cryptoqueen. It’s a really brilliant listen (I think I devoured the whole thing in a couple of days) about the bizarre story of a Bulgarian finance executive who set up a fake cryptocurrency and then disappeared under mysterious circumstances. A great companion podcast to this one is the first season of Jane Marie’s The Dream. I won’t tell you why, you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Nikita-1Nikita, Fact Checker — I'm recommending this exciting report by BBC News which talks about how, for months, a British professor corresponded with a man called only "Ivan," seeking assistance to defame an organization that works towards bringing Syrian war criminals to justice. The report unveils how Prof Paul McKeigue also asked Ivan to investigate other British journalists and academics. Chloe Hadjimatheou exposes how even a decade after the start of the Syrian conflict, the battle is still being waged in the field of misinformation. Read all about it here.

joe-smallJoe, Senior Researcher — In the investigations and editorial office, a long-shelved piece of research into QAnon in Japan has become a meme because of how it was never finished (though it did lead us to identify the webmaster of QMap).

Thankfully, Matt Alt has had no trouble at all in putting together a fantastically researched article on QAnon’s now apparent lack of traction in the country. The piece takes a look at Japan’s history of conspiracy groups and cults, and why its media industry is remarkably well-suited to fend-off America’s most damaging cultural export.

Read the article here, and follow Matt here.

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Our writers’ recommendations this week include an essay by Geoff Shullenberger, a Tom Scott video, a fact check about F. Scott Fitzgerald and a surprising amount of Satanism.