Who’s the Dummy?: Selected Readings

The following is a growing and evolving collection of links to texts that support the development of a critical framework in conjunction with the multimedia installation Who’s the Dummy? In some cases an online version of the text does not exist.

Social Media Propaganda As Ventriloquism

Pro-Trump Robot Videos are Popping Up All over YouTube — And No One Seems to Know Why
By David Gilbert, Vice News, May 18, 2018
“A network of dozens of automated, robot-driven YouTube channels are pumping out thousands of right-wing propaganda videos that have racked up hundreds of millions of views — and it seems Google isn’t doing anything to stop it… All of the channels list the U.S. as their location, but identifying who is actually running these channels or where they’re located is next to impossible.”

from Ventriloquism Made Easy, Also an Exposure of Magic, &etc.
By E. Mason, Jr. 1860
“VENTRILOQUISM is the power of imitating voices, sounds, or noises, as if they were perfectly extraneous and not originating in the utterer, but in some other person, and in places at various distances, and even in several directions. A skillful ventriloquist produces these effects without any apparent movement of his jaws, lips, or features.”

How Ventriloquism Tricks the Brain
By Martha Henriques, JSTOR Daily, July 11, 2018
“When the brain comes across a ‘glitch’ in the information it’s getting from its surroundings, it can work a bit too hard to make sense of it. This effort to make sense of unusual patterns leads to some peculiar illusions… The common misconception is that this trick involves the performer somehow ‘throwing’ their voice through a clever trick of the voice box. In fact, it’s the brains of the audience members that perform this feat.”

from Valentine Vox: The Ventriloquist, His Life and Adventures
By Henry Cockton, 1871
“[O]n Valentine shouting out ‘Down with the republicans!’ in one voice, and ‘Down with the tories!’ in another, a general battle ensued, which was kept up on both sides with infinite spirit, while the mayor, duly mounted on the table, was engaged in denouncing the irregular proceedings with all the indignant energy at his command. The voice of Valentine was now no longer needed. The electors were making amply sufficient noise without his aid.”

Stoking Islamophobia and Secession in Texas — from an Office in Russia
By Tim Lister and Clare Sebastian, CNN, October 6, 2017
“On May 21, 2016, a handful of people turned out to protest the opening of a library at an Islamic Center in Houston, Texas. Two held up a banner proclaiming #WhiteLivesMatter. A counter-protest began across the street; video shows a noisy but non-violent confrontation. The rally — called ‘Stop Islamization of Texas’ — was called and promoted by a Facebook page called Heart of Texas, which had wrongly alleged that the Islamic library had received public funding. But the Heart of Texas page listed no contacts in the Lone Star state. In fact, it was operated by a ‘Troll Factory’ called the Internet Research Agency thousands of miles away in St. Petersburg, Russia.”

I Became the Enemy

on The Intrinsic Defectiveness of Ventriloquism
By Steven Connor, from Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism, 2000
“For its audiences, ventriloquism becomes a form of mediated self-hypnosis, in which the entertainment is there to reinforce the belief in the magical powers of the ventriloquist… the more successful he is, the more the ventriloquist risks revealing the fact that his power is not by any means the power that the audience wants him to have, but derives from the desire of the audience to be worked on.”

How Your Brain Tricks You Into Believing Fake News
By Katy Steinmetz, Time, August 9, 2018
“The problem is not just malicious bots or chaos-loving trolls or Macedonian teenagers pushing phony stories for profit. The problem is also us, the susceptible readers.”

How the German Right Wing Dominates Social Media
By Jörg Diehl, Roman Lehberger, Ann-Katrin Müller, and Philipp Seibt, Spiegel Online, April 29, 2019
“A share on Facebook occurs when a user shares a post, like a photo, with his or her friends. And shares are considered hard currency in the world of social networks, because they imply that the user doesn’t merely like the post, but also that he or she identifies with it and stands behind it by spreading it further.”

Now Who’s the Dummy?
from Dead Silence, Director: James Wan, 2007
“I think we should show this boy just how real I am.”

How Propaganda Works

Our Invisible Governors
By Edward I. Bernays, from Propaganda, 1928
“In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion about anything. We have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issues so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions.”

Jammers, Spookers, and Scramblers: Information War in the Ether
By Mark Dery, from Radiotext(e), 1993
“The hyperreality of that voice, all breathy intimacy and wet sibilance, arouses memories of whispered conversations in the dark; it is unmistakably the voice of a lover, lips pressed against one’s ear. But it is more: disembodied, anonymous, seeming to come not from a mechanical speaker but from somewhere inside our minds; it suggests an inner self. In fact, it is an amalgam of the two personas, resulting in a symbiosis that retains the moral authority of a conscience but none of its nagging, finger-wagging imperiousness, invested instead with the psychosexual allure of a partner still breathless from lovemaking.”

Has Anyone Seen the President?
By Michael Lewis, Bloomberg, February 9, 2018
“[Steve] Bannon seems to view the Democrats less as the opposition party than figures of fun. ‘The Democrats don’t matter,’ he had said to me over our lunch. ‘The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.’”

Russia Is Targeting Europe’s Elections. So Are Far-Right Copycats
By Matt Apuzzo and Adam Stariano, The New York Times, May 12, 2019
“Distinguishing Russian interference from clickbait or sincere political outrage is difficult, even for intelligence services. The digital trail often winds up in one of the internet’s anonymized dead ends. But pro-Russian fingerprints exist… Yet even as Russia remains a concern, officials say political groups across the Continent — particularly supporters of the far right — are adopting many of the Kremlin’s tactics, further blurring who is behind the messages.”

Mechanized Speech

Ventriloquism, Automata, and Talking Heads
By Steven Connor, from Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism, 2000
“Speech represented the ultimate challenge for the makers of automata, because speech was the most plausible proof that the automaton was truly self-moving, or even, as we might nowadays say, self-organizing… Clearly the word automaton always marks out the space of a potential question concerning the life of what it names. This is precisely the same question as is asked in the exercise of modern ventrioloquism, in which the voice passes across the divide between the animate and the inanimate, rather than the divide between the natural and the supernatural. It is also the question asked of the voice itself by the exercise of ventriloquism: is the voice merely a produced and governed phenomenon, or is it capable of assuming its own life?”

Future Elections May Be Swayed by Intelligent, Weaponized Chatbots
By Lisa-Maria Neudert, MIT Technology Review, August 22, 2018
“The battle against propaganda bots is an arms race for our democracy. It’s one we may be about to lose.”

How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually
By Max Read, New York, December 26, 2018
“I will remember 2018 as the year the internet passed the Inversion, not in some strict numerical sense, since bots already outnumber humans online more years than not, but in the perceptual sense… Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real. The ‘fakeness’ of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience — the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not ‘real’ but is also undeniably not ‘fake,’ and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head.”

Twitter Shuts Down 5,000 Pro-Trump Bots Retweeting Anti-Mueller Report Invective
By Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica, April 23, 2019
“In response to an inquiry by Ars, a Twitter spokeswoman said, ‘We suspended a network of accounts and others associated with it for engaging in platform manipulation — a violation of the Twitter Rules.’ An investigation into the network is still ongoing, the spokeswoman said, but no determination has yet been made about who was behind the campaign. ‘In cases such as this, attribution is difficult,’ the spokeswoman noted.”

Rage and Its Uses

The Voice of Rage and the Excremental Voice
By Steven Connor, from Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism, 2000
“The power of the voice derives from its capacity to charge, to vivify, to relay, and amplify energy. Precisely because of this, the voice can also become deathly; in its decayed or deathly condition, the voice precipitates a peculiarly emaciated kind of body. We might call this an excremental voice; a voice that is pure discharge, a giving out of mere dead matter, toneless, vacant, absent, sepulchral, inhuman. It seems to demonstrate that it has no connection with the world, or with the one who originates it; it is heterogeneous matter.”

Behind the Viral #GoFundTheWall Fundraiser, a Rising Conservative Star and a Shadowy Email Harvesting Operation
By Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins, NBC News, January 11, 2019
“According to former employees and public records including website archives, Nevada business registrations and property records, Kolfage has repeatedly created GoFundMe campaigns and published inflammatory fake news articles, pushing them both from websites that he sought to hide behind shell companies and false identities, in part to harvest email addresses. Those addresses were then used to push people back to Kolfage’s websites, to sell a brand of coffee he owns, or to be stockpiled for future use by conservative campaigns.”

Inside Bannon’s Plan to Hijack Europe for the Far-Right
By Nico Hines, The Daily Beast, July 20, 2018
“Trump’s former White House chief advisor told The Daily Beast that he is setting up a foundation in Europe called The Movement which he hopes will lead a right-wing populist revolt across the continent starting with the European Parliament elections next spring. The non-profit will be a central source of polling, advice on messaging, data targeting, and think-tank research for a ragtag band of right-wingers who are surging all over Europe, in many cases without professional political structures or significant budgets.”

The New Normal

Data Firm in Talks for Role in White House Messaging — and Trump Business
By Peter Stone, The Guardian, November 23, 2016
“A data mining company that helped Donald Trump win the presidency is in early talks to snare two potentially lucrative new contracts, one to boost the incoming Trump White House’s policy messaging and the other to help the Trump Organization expand its sales… [T]here has been discussion about possibly creating an outside advocacy group that would focus on messaging and communications to support White House goals, which Cambridge [Analytica] might work for.”

Facebook Tackles Rising Threat: Americans Aping Russian Schemes to Deceive
By Sheera Frenkel, The New York Times, October 11, 2018
“What is different this time is how domestic sites are emulating the Russian strategy of 2016 by aggressively creating networks of Facebook pages and accounts — many of them fake — that make it appear as if the ideas they are promoting enjoy widespread popularity, researchers said. The activity is also happening on Twitter, they said… ‘If you look at volume, the majority of the information operations we see are domestic actors,’ said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security. He added that the company was struggling with taking down the domestic networks because of the blurry lines between free speech and disinformation.”

Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics
By Scott Shane and Alan Blinder, The New York Times, December 19, 2018
“[T]he influence effort in Alabama may be a sign of things to come. Campaign veterans in both parties fear the Russian example may set off a race to the bottom, in which candidates choose social media manipulation because they fear their opponents will. ‘Some will do whatever it takes to win,’ said Dan Bayens, a Kentucky- based Republican consultant. ‘You’ve got Russia, which showed folks how to do it, you’ve got consultants willing to engage in this type of behavior and political leaders who apparently find it futile to stop it.’”

How an Investigation of Fake FCC Comments Snared a Prominent D.C. Media Firm
By Dell Cameron and Jason Prechtel, Gizmodo.com, February 21, 2019
“In May 2017, dozens of Americans came forward with claims that their identities had been used, without their consent, in a campaign to inundate the Federal Communications Commission with public comments critical of the Obama-era policy… What was most curious, however, is that each of these people had supposedly submitted the very same comment; a veritable word salad of telecom industry talking points… Internal FCC logs reviewed by Gizmodo for the first time offer clues as to why the matching comments led investigators in October to the doorstep of CQ Roll Call, a company that, while running an august newsroom in the nation’s capital, is also in the business of helping lobbyists construct digital ‘grassroots’ campaigns aimed at influencing policymakers, and specifically, those controlling the FCC’s rulemaking process.”

“Sustained and Ongoing” Disinformation Assault Targets Dem Presidential Candidates
By Natasha Korecki, Politico.com, February 20, 2019
“Not all of the activity is organized. Much of it appears to be organic, a reflection of the politically polarizing nature of some of the candidates. But there are clear signs of a coordinated effort of undetermined size that shares similar characteristics with the computational propaganda attacks launched by online trolls at Russia’s Internet Research Agency in the 2016 presidential campaign.”

When Propaganda Comes Offline

Two Years After #Pizzagate Showed the Dangers of Hateful Conspiracies, They’re Still Rampant on YouTube
By Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Swoskin, Tony Romm and Andrew Ba Tran, The Washington Post, December 10, 2018
“YouTube has focused its cleanup efforts on what chief executive Susan Wojcicki in a blog post last year called ‘violent extremism.’ But she also signaled the urgency of tackling other categories of content that allow ‘bad actors’ to take advantage of the platform, which 1.8 billion people log on to each month. ‘I’ve also seen up close that there can be another, more troubling, side of YouTube’s openness. I’ve seen how some bad actors are exploiting our openness to mislead, manipulate, harass or even harm,’ Wojcicki wrote. But a large share of videos that researchers and critics regard as hateful don’t necessarily violate YouTube’s policies.”

Facebook Fueled Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany, New Research Suggests
By Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, The New York Times, August 21, 2018
“Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent. Nationwide, the researchers estimated in an interview, this effect drove
one-tenth of all anti-refugee violence.”

Iran-Based Political Influence Operation — Bigger, Persistent, Global
By Jack Stubbs and Christopher Bing, Reuters, August 29, 2018
“An apparent Iranian influence operation targeting internet users worldwide is significantly bigger than previously identified, Reuters has found, encompassing a sprawling network of anonymous websites and social media accounts in 11 different languages… The extended network of disinformation highlights how multiple state-affiliated groups are exploiting social media to manipulate users and further their geopolitical agendas, and how difficult it is for tech companies to guard against political interference on their platforms… Much of the content is then reproduced by a range of alternative media sites, including some of those identified by FireEye last week as being run by Iran while purporting to be domestic American or British news outlets.”

A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts from Myanmar’s Military
By Paul Mozur, The New York Times, October 15, 2018
“The military tapped its rich history of psychological warfare that it developed during the decades when Myanmar was controlled by a military junta, which gave up power in 2011. The goal then was to discredit radio
broadcasts from the BBC and Voice of America. One veteran of that era said classes on advanced psychological warfare from 15 years ago taught a golden rule for false news: If one quarter of the content is true, that helps make the rest of it believable.”