Thursday, March 29, 2018

McCarthyite Cavalcade of Cartoons

My adolescent niece recently received the following email from the microblogging site Tumblr:
Dear (name redacted by me):
As part of our commitment to transparency, we want you to know that we uncovered and terminated 84 accounts linked to Internet Research Agency or IRA (a group closely tied to the the Russian government) posing as members of the Tumblr community.
The IRA engages in electronic disinformation and propaganda campaigns around the world using phony social media accounts. When we uncovered these accounts, we notified law enforcement, terminated the accounts, and deleted their original posts.
While investigating their activity on Tumblr, we discovered that you either followed one of these accounts linked to the IRA, or liked or reblogged one of their posts:
  • coldfirefan
You aren’t in trouble, and don’t need to take any action if you don’t want to. We deleted the accounts but decided to leave up any reblog chains so that you can curate your own Tumblr to reflect your own personal views and perspectives.
My nieces's first thought was, "Oh my god, I've been hacked and I have to change all 500 of my damned passwords again."

Her second thought was, "Oh my god, somebody hacked my account and stole my identity and filled my page with porn images and all my friends will think I'm a horrible person."

Her third thought: "What if maybe I really am in trouble, and Tumblr is bullshitting me by telling me I have nothing to worry about because I did something wrong even if I didn't do anything wrong! All I ever did on that site was post pictures of My Little Pony!"

But then the light bulb went off. My niece's final encouraging thought was, "Hey - wait a minute. Is this just another extension of people's paranoia about Russia that Aunt Karen was talking about at the dinner table?"

Bingo.  My niece, after several panic-stricken minutes, had finally used her rational brain and decided to ignore the propaganda and fear-mongering. She didn't even waste her time clicking on Tumblr. She will probably never click on Tumblr again. She's still dying to know just who "coldfirefan" really is, though, because she'd never heard that name and hadn't even realized she was stalking him, her or it, especially since she hadn't logged on to Tumblr in months. And she thinks it's pretty rotten that people are so biased against "Russians." After all, some of her (and my) ancestors and relatives are of Russian extraction.

But doesn't she worry, I asked, that Tumblr itself was and still is following her, seemingly aware of her every click and move in cyberspace?. She shrugged. Privacy is not her most pressing concern. She grew up on the Facebook ethos and the "sharing economy," after all. The stealing of her information and data by corporations interested only in making a profit doesn't seem to faze her in the least.

But hey, at least she cares about propaganda as much as she cares about her My Little Pony collection. All is not lost.

Looking over the email that Tumblr sent to her, and to who knows how many other (mainly very youthful) subscribers, I am not so sanguine. This media company's cloying implicit message, that "since you did nothing wrong yourself, you have nothing to worry about" is a chilling one, barely removed from "if you do nothing wrong, then you'll have nothing to worry about - because we're keeping an eye on you."

Meanwhile, the corporate media are praising Tumblr's belated "transparency" initiative. Wired, a part of the Clinton-friendly Conde Nast empire, applauds the platform for "finally breaking its long silence".
After months of silence, Tumblr Friday released a list of 84 usernames and their aliases that it says were connected to "state-sponsored disinformation and propaganda campaigns." It's the first time the company has publicly acknowledged what journalists and researchers have known now for months: Russian trolls also used Tumblr to spread their divisive memes and gifs, reportedly to the tune of hundreds of thousands of interactions.
Wired, which "outed" whistleblower Chelsea Manning by publishing email exchanges between her and the late Adrian Lamo, itself maintained a long year of silence over its role in exposing her. It seems that in Wired's world, transparency is the top priority only so long as it doesn't endanger the security of the US military establishment. And now we learn that Wired and other "researchers" had been monitoring Tumblr for months, and knew what Tumblr warned my niece about long before Tumblr was finally pressured into warning her and other spied-upon users. 

The Daily Beast, where Chelsea Clinton just happens to sit on the board, had also been complaining about Tumblr's tight lips, even after its journalists had taken screen shots of the site and collated the names of known Russian bots. Even so, Tumblr shockingly had rejected requests for comment not only from the Beast, but from the powerful Borg mind of CNN. And when Tumblr did comment, it was too frightfully generic.

Meanwhile, I wonder whether "coldfirefan" possibly used Pinkie Pie Pony to spread divisive messages about Morning Glory Pony, thereby convincing the snowy-white Bride Pony to listen to her husband and vote for Trump instead of for Hillary. Also too, could the male fans of My Little Pony, called "Bronies," really be nothing but a Trojan horse for hordes of Hillary-hating Bernie Bro straw-stallions? I guess we'll never know. But, as Wired continues,
Not surprisingly, the accounts often promoted each others' posts, in an apparently successful effort to expand their reach. They also mostly appear to have continued posting long after the election, a reminder that, as intelligence officials have repeatedly warned, Russia's efforts to subvert US democracy have continued unabated.
My niece is supposed to be all upset at the possibility that her My Little Pony pics may have been subverted, or even had their identities stolen. For all we know, there might be whole herds of little plastic Anna Karenina equines out there in Moscow and St. Petersburg. And that is a very scary thought, especially if they happen to live in the same playroom as Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends.

Seriously, though, the Russian movie version of My Little Pony is supposed to be every bit as cheesy as the hundred or so political Facebook ads planted by those 13 grossly underpaid Russian trolls from the IRA. The film is so subversively bad, in fact, that it's not even available on YouTube any more. It's impossible to find out if coldfirefan is listed on the credits.

Those irksome trolls not only interfered in our free and fixed oligarchic elections, their countrymen even meddled in our beloved cheesy all-American Little Ponies TV franchise, having the gall to dub the dialogue of the animated cartoons into Russian.

 No leaked dossier or Congressional witch-hunt is necessary. Senate Troll Hunter-in-Chief Mark Warner can just relax, because here's all the shocking proof he'll ever need:

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