Mar 9, 2012

Send in the sock puppets: social media manipulation and Kony

The ease with which people have been manipulated by the Kony 2012 video will have governments and corporations excited.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Unless you’ve managed, miraculously, to avoid the Kony 2012 video, you’ll understand now why the US military is investing in technology to create fake online identities with the aim of influencing social media. At least one of the armies of the future is made up of sock puppets.


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26 thoughts on “Send in the sock puppets: social media manipulation and Kony

  1. Robert Barwick

    “Imagine the Israeli government preparing a slick video about the savage treatment of women activists in Iran and seeding it online in the hope that it goes viral, lifting the pressure on the US government for an attack.”

    A campaign of that type happened in 2001, when an on-line petition was circulated globally, promoted by Readers Digest and others, about the terrible treatment of women in Afghanistan by the Taliban. The petition was circulated before 9/11, and very conveniently helped lay the groundwork for the public to accept the morality of the ensuing, and still ongoing, war.

  2. LunaticWaffle

    This article is superficial analysis and intellectual snobbery at its finest. The institutional left lament inactivity in the general populace then try to rip it down whenever it emerges. This article is replete with all the typical criticisms of post colonialism and the horrors of people taking guidance without left wing academics proposing the solution first. The only disingenuous campaign I almost fell for yesterday was the one perpetrated by critics of the movement.

  3. Pete from Sydney

    “The ease with which people can be manipulated isn’t a reflection on the internet ”…maybe it is…back in the old days facts were mostly checked before they ran, not after….PS why is this story related to the ‘ more managers go in news limited rationalisation’ story at the bottom?

  4. mikeb

    Bernard has managed to link some thin-lipped vitriol with conspiracy theories about accessing Ugandan oil. Amazing. In not “indulging” in these theories he manages to mention it twice – including in the last sentence. Bravo Bernard. Now that’s real investigative reporting. Now I haven’t seen the Kony video but suspect that a fair portion of it is accuracte. So what exactly is wrong with people trying to make Ugandan lives better? So what if 99.99% of the video viewers will do nothing about it but talk a lot. Some people who might be able to make a difference could be encouraged to action of some sort & if that happens then I’d say the campaign is a success. You Bernard may well have a sanctimonious smirk at white Westerners with short spans of attention, but what exactly has been your contribution to the issue apart from pouring scorn?
    ” ‘Now you know who Kony is. What is that worth?’ he frothed”. Indeed.

  5. ian milliss

    Bernard, it won’t be the end of civilisation. All that will happen is that youtube view numbers will be regarded with the same contempt as online polls. Manipulators and gullible fools will wave the numbers around and then sensible people will laugh at them. It has always been thus.

  6. Coaltopia

    King Leopold’s Ghost still haunts the region. #StopKonyalism

  7. mPrime3

    What Invisible Children has done as a campaign is incredible, and great that at the very least it has bought an unrecognized major war criminal into the limelight. The worldwide buzz about the film has taken off, and of course there will be the cynics and the naysayers, some with rival agendas, some armed with ‘facts’ and some who are far more informed than Invisible Children’s US people, which is mostly made up of Film School Graduates and Media/Tour Support staff (only 3/42 have any qualification in Politics and International Relations).

    Their website concerns me as well, designed as one long page and encourages action before knowledge:
    Sign e-petition
    watch and share propaganda
    message celebs
    message pollys
    finally READ about Kony and IC (with side notes to purchase “merch”)
    and if you make it that far without being caught up in the storm, then there is a link to the actual organisation’s page. The transparency doesn’t link the media and branding to the charity, which brings out the skeptic in me.

    The video in itself doesn’t really delve into the Ugandan problems beyond their poster boy Jacob, more camera time is spent with the CEO’s son. It mostly highlights the enormity of their global multimedia campaign and reinforces their position of making Kony bigger than Hitler and Bin Laden.

    The scariest part is the ‘Slacktivism’ movement, the viral activation of mainstream guilt which can be quickly turned into a ‘voice’ where the original message of the cause is lost due to the constant barrage of narcissism and peer pressure (not saying it’s everyone, but don’t tell me it’s not out there). Beyond that, the ‘social’ events they are planning “Cover the Night” have a potential (POTENTIAL) to become global scale London riots.

    I’m not saying Invisible Children are inherently bad for the world and don’t deserve support, but, before you donate, take a little more time to process another side of the story, find other facts away from blogs and exploitative journalism. Start the DEBATE, without continued interest in the Kony matter, he and others may be active for another 30 years.

    It’s ok to be skeptical as long as you follow through.

  8. Advokato

    I’m getting a bit tired of the old ‘White Man’s Burden’ crap being thrown around by bloggers (and in this case Bernard). How do you produce money to help people in a foreign country? You advocate by making videos and writing submissions to governments and talking about the problems and mobilising people who otherwise would have no interest in the issue and wouldn’t devote time or money to the cause.

    Charities COULD tell people the truth – that the issues are complicated, that there’s no simple way to solve problems, that much of the long-term efforts need to be owned by locals – but by doing that you lose a lot of the money that can assist these ventures, and then the people facing these problems are more-or-less on their own, ignored by the international community. But apparently that’s okay since it’s ‘white paternalism’ that’s the problem, not the recruitment of child soldiers or rape as a weapon of war or poverty or corruption or ethnic and religious clashes…

  9. klewso

    I thought a “Kony(?)” was someone who smoked ’em, or a rabbit, or even an island – till I read this.

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