We are approaching the 10th anniversary of WhiteCottonGate, where a handful of valiant bloggers battled the insidious machinations of a fake blogger. Nowadays, fake blogging or profile misrepresentation is commonly known as “cafishing.” At the time we were all aghast that a person could do such a thing. Today, we know it is all too common. Was this guy a vanguard of his time, a social media savant?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot since the Comet Ping-Pong conspiracy paranoia that’s been going around. Basically some stalwart internet trolls have gathered online to hyper-analyze emails leaked during the presidential campaign. Not being trained in legal or investigative sciences (science is wrong anyway), they have gone over convenient portions of the emails and have come to their own conclusions. These conclusions have led to a crazed fanatic gunman who actually entered the restaurant armed with a rifle, even firing it in the restaurant while families and staff were there. All because he was convinced there was a child pornography/slavery/torture ring there because all his conspiracy theory friends on the Internets said so.
Their belief system has something to do with Hillary and her sex slave ring. I don’t quite understand why they need to think she is a Madame Supreme and not just a lifetime political entity. I guess because she’s female? I mean, if she’s been in politics this long, she must be leading a sex slave ring, right?
Since then these trolls have been attacking nearby businesses, individuals who work there, and are now extrapolating their “investigations” to anyone remotely linked to Comet, and to other musical venues. I personally know some of these people and they are scared and exhausted. Basically anyone who seems “suspicious” to them is probably guilty of pedophilia. And increasingly it seems to be anyone or anything they don’t understand, like queer or punk culture in DC. These people can’t believe there are drag queens or music venues in the District of Columbia who _aren’t_ child molestation rings. Underneath it all I think it’s just a veiled witch hunt in the guise of righteousness. They think “these people are different, they must be guilty, and we should punish them.” Basically because they must be gay. It’s really frightening and dangerous. They reach these conclusions, make accusations, and armed gunmen appear to “investigate.” They are an independent collective of judgement, jury and executioner. It’s fucking insane. It’s a mob mentality that only snowballs and will one day do real harm to innocents. And it has happened before in history and can happen again.
So when I went to Comet Pizza last week to support their business in light of these online mob attacks, I posted a picture to Instagram from the location, deliberately adding hashtags that might draw the trolls’ attention. In computing it’s called setting a “honey pot.” Predictably within minutes they began commenting with their righteous condemnations of me and the location for crimes they have communally agreed upon. Saying the restaurant harbors tortured children in the basement and such (this place has no basement). I began to try to reasonably interact with them, assuring these people who have never set foot in the restaurant or DC that this was just a neighborhood restaurant and entertainment venue, but the probing questions continued. It quickly became clear to me they had a belief and they were sticking to it, and when I did not answer their questions the way they needed for me to justify their beliefs, they became even more suspicious. They use the same language as cultists, holding on tightly to a belief of something that isn’t there, working themselves up into a deeper frenzy.
And there are hundreds of them. It makes me feel kind of hopeless knowing there are that many people are out there with a fake belief system, from fake news, from fake sources. But that explains the anti-vaccination movement too (which also bothers me).
10 years ago it took 4 of us with coding, archival and investigative skills to unearth the truth on one single fake blogger. How do we combat an army of Marc Whitecottons who seek to undermine an entire nation, and attack anything different from themselves? I really don’t know where to start here, aside from being aware of the problem, spreading the word about these people and the accusations they are spreading, and to stand strong against lies and paranoia. They are attacking culture and queer things in DC, and it could become serious some day soon. I’m genuinely worried. But you start coming at my city and the people I know, it is on. I will not let this happen. Especially from faceless trolls typing away from their mom’s basement.
Or are they really just trolls?
In light of the news about Russian cyber-influence that may have turned the tide of the November elections, it’s also entirely possible that there are Russian elements behind these online witch hunters. They seek to undermine this countries’ stability either from within the government or outside through our cultural institutions. Most of them could indeed be paranoid American troll citizens, but whipped up into a frenzy by Russian online troll infiltrators. It’s some really frightening Cold War tactics. Frightening, but tried and true. In the olden days it was called “propaganda.”
Of course, that could mean I am a secret Russian propagandist too! How much to you really know about me? Haven’t you always thought there was something odd about me?