10 Everyday Information Warfare Tactics You’ve Already Fallen For – and the case of the AltSciFi zine project.

Over the past year, information warfare tactics have increasingly infiltrated into everyday life on social media.

Early this year, the AltSciFi indie cyberpunk/scifi zine project was targeted by a group of copyright trolls that bizarrely called itself “The Artist Community” on Twitter. That group was a few hundred heavy Twitter users who give each other likes and retweets in order to appear to have more social-media “clout”. They also use copyright trolling to harass anyone who “reposts their work without permission” (truly horrifying acts of copyright infringement that form the basis of most Tumblr blogs, many Twitter posts, and the majority of the content posted to various Reddit communities).

Your can read more about the slander/libel attack against the AltSciFi project here (click here).

The attack even spread to the creator of a popular cyberpunk webcomic who based her public person on being shy and trusting, and has been targeted by scam artists more than once in recent years. The same person who instigated the attack against the AltSciFi project also gained the confidence of the webcomic creator and now is using that creator’s popular comic by convincing her to start a “sympathy scam” — begging for financial “support” from fans, while the scam artist puts her name above the original artist on new issues of the webcomic.

Aside from the trail of destruction left by that one person, that behaviour is more and more common across social media. Artists use the viral popularity gained by copyright trolling in an attempt to elevate their status among other artists. More generally, bullies use similar tactics in acts of small-scale information warfare every day. The strangest part of it is how such tactics seem to be accepted as part of daily life now, when the effect is to help corporations pass laws that could effectively destroy the world wide web by worsening copyright restrictions on everyone.

This post is describes ten everyday information warfare tactics, with examples.

Tactic #1. Role Reversal — Playing the Victim

Bullies love playing the victim. If you can convince yourself you’re actually the victim, there’s no need to stop bullying.

Example: a citizen is murdered by police while waiting at a traffic stop. Immediately, attempts are made to smear the victim’s public image as a “criminal”; therefore, they “deserved” to be executed by police; thence, any discussion of brutality is actually “discrimination against police for doing their jobs and protecting the public against criminals”.

Tactic #2. Use Abusive Tactics While Claiming To Be “Protecting Yourself” From Abuse

Tactics include: complain about being “gaslit” while claiming that another person is “desperate”, “obsessive”, “vindictive” or “probably mentally ill”. Rally a group to bully others after pretending that a minority is somehow “bullying” the majority.

Example: Gamergate, Comicsgate.

Tactic #3. Abolition of Context

Use emotionally charged, persuasive imagery and ignore the context surrounding the image. Then provide your own story for the image as suits your purposes.

Example 1: CNN versus Fox News versus Brietbart

Example 2: In the case of the AltSciFi project, images were circulated along with the claim that AltSciFi “stole art” based on an incomplete web store prototype posted to Github. The claim was plainly ridiculous if you thought about it, but very few people bother with thinking once they’ve seen “evidence” and heard a persuasive story, even if the story is obviously wrong.

Tactic #4: Reduce Facts to the Level of “Opinions”

As the old saying goes, opinions are like… mouths. Everybody’s got one.

Facts, however, can be shown as true or false. If someone can be persuaded that facts are opinions, then facts themselves disappear.

Example 1: The AltSciFi zine project — after the libel/slander attack began, the entire months-long bullying attack was extensively documented as it happened. Given the sheer number of people who repeated the garbage as gospel, however, the facts of the situation quickly became drowned out as “just another opinion” subject to the endless cycle of commentary by people who had no idea what actually happened.

Hot takes and instant reactions from instant pundits, self-appointed “judges” and armchair psychoanalysts replace any form of intelligent thought based on fact.

Tactic #5. When You’re Caught in a Lie, Double Down and Call the Truth “Fake News”

This is noteworthy since the term “fake news” first arose from those groups and individuals who lie pathologically. This tactic gains power from its ability to minimise the truth (based on facts) into “fakery”, which itself implies dishonesty or even conspiracy.

Example 1: “The mainstream media is ‘fake news’ — you should really believe this extremist propaganda instead!”

Example 2: Although the entire libel/slander attack against AltSciFi was extensively documented in realtime, attempts to warn the cyberpunk webcomic artist (mentioned above) that she is being scammed were met with “no! The scam artist is my ‘friend’ (she’s not — she’s a freelance employee who befriended the artist in order to scam her). So what you’re saying must be ‘fake news’!” That’s also known as being in a state of denial, which is sad since befriending and manipulating a vulnerable person is one way that con artists keep their victims from seeking help.

Tactic #6. Substitute Real Motives for more Socially Acceptable Explanations

Blatant racism and misogyny are generally not well-tolerated. In order to subvert social norms, pretend that racist/misognist/homophobic/etc. motivations can be explained in more acceptable terms.

Example 1: transphobia becomes “being gender-critical”. Genocidal racism becomes “ethnic nationalism”.

Example 2: Actress Loan (Kelly Marie) Tran is hounded off of Instagram by racist hatred. The racists are nowhere to be found after the fact because they claim to be criticising her for being a “bad actress” instead of an Asian lead actress in a Star Wars film.

The strangest part of this tactic is that it doesn’t really fool anyone — but it is a useful way to avoid blatantly breaking rules. That way, if a bigot’s account is deleted on the grounds of bigotry, they can hide behind “free speech” since they weren’t blatantly breaking any rules.

Tactic #7. The “Free Speech” Ruse

Free speech absolutism: “I can say any violent, bigoted or abusive thing I want because I have the right of free speech.”

In the real world, absolute free speech does not exist. If you claim that the Earth is flat, most people will laugh at you until you stop making that claim. If you claim that Jews are inferior, or that black people are apes, or that latinos are rapists, most people will shout you down until you shut up or go away. Online, though, the “but you’re destroying ‘free speech'” ruse is used most often by people who want an excuse for their worst behaviour.

Example: a president constantly tweets about how a free press is “the enemy of the people”. After months of this, several people are shot to death in a newsroom. The president’s Twitter account is not deactivated, however, “because free speech”. Hate speech continues to spread across social media because the operators of social media sites refuse to recognise that words change beliefs and inspire actions.

Tactic #8. Any Change Will Be Worse, So Let’s Keep Things Exactly The Way The Are

“Any attempt at fixing problems will be a slippery slope to hell, so there’s no other answer except the status quo.”

This is the default reaction of everyone who has something to gain from keeping things the way they are. This is also called a “slippery slope” fallacy.

Example 1: Gun control? No, that would lead to the destruction of all freedom for all citizens, forever! We must allow mass shootings! It’s “the price of freedom”!

Example 2: Ban violent racists and misogynists from social media? No, that would destroy all free speech for everyone, everywhere! We must allow bigotry! It’s “the price of ‘free speech'”!

Tactic #9. The Reframe

Take an entire category (“Behaviour X”) and demonise it. From that point on, any discussion that is labeled as similar to Behaviour X will also be considered “evil”.

Example 1: Anyone who has a sense of morality that disagrees with the majority is reframed as an “SJW”. From that point on, any discussion of right and wrong is demonised as “bad” and instantly dismissed without further consideration.

Example 2: The rise of neonazii propaganda is reframed as “free speech” and protected. Anyone who fights against neonaziis are “as bad as them”, which is completely nonsensical — also known as Orwellian doublethink (“war is peace”, etc.).

Example 3: Someone could write a TL;DR for this post that deliberately mischaracterises its content, since more people will probably read the comments section than the post itself.

Tactic #10. Use Ridicule and “Humour” As A Distraction

If an argument requires any intelligent thought to understand, destroy it by reverting to “witty” sound-bytes and misleading jokes that distract from the real issue.

Example: Read the title of a post on Reddit, and ignore the text itself. Instead, post a snarky remark in the comments section in order to seek upvotes from others who are similarly illiterate and never read anything longer than an article title or a tweet.

Here are three (update: four five) bonus tactics.

Tactic #11. Majority Illusion

“We all know [x] is true (so I don’t need to show any evidence).”

Example: any item an accusation is made on social media, then repeated virally by thousands of people before evidence is presented, or before the accused can respond.

Tactic #12: Gender-baiting

If someone is a woman and thinks you’re a man, they’ll use misandry (hatred of men). “[Person X] is a dude and therefore a stalker. I’m sexually rejecting them and that’s the real reason why they dare to disagree with me.” If you’re calm, it’s because you’re one of those creepy “Nice Guys”. If you show any emotion, you’re an “abuser”.

If someone is a man and thinks you’re a woman, they’ll use misogny (hatred of women). “[Person X] is a girl and therefore a neurotic weakling. I’m more rational and reasonable them and that’s the real reason why they’re hyserically disagreeing with me.” If you show any emotion, you’re patronised for being “very passionate”. If you’re calm, you’re “frigid” and likely just need to “smile more” or “be nicer”.

Tactic #13: Victim-blaming

If someone notices a problem, reverse roles and blame the victim for the problem.

Yes, you’re right — this is related to tactic #1.

Examples: Anyone who legitimately mentions racism (in science fiction, for example) is blamed for being “a ‘race-baiter'”, or having a secret “political agenda”.

Notice that “baiting” is the use of exaggeration. Someone who wants to dismiss this post in the comments section could use any of the tactics above as a form of “baiting”. They would then proceed to distort, distract, conflate, minimise or fabricate with a wall of text in order to confuse readers and score cheap points. Entire groups of Reddit (and Twitter) users thrive on that type of “baiting” behaviour, although it’s only clever if you fall for it. Now that you’ve seen what these tactics are and how they work, hopefully you won’t fall for them so easily.

Tactic #14. Reversed Burden of Proof

Someone advances a claim without evidence. When questioned, the person who advanced the claim tells everyone else to do the research to prove or disprove the claim. This allows conspiracy theorists and other peddlers of misinformation to thrive by crowding a given space with unfounded claims that often have no basis in demonstrable/provable fact.

— Added 30 September 2018 —

Tactic #15. Refusal to Argue Endlessly is Admission of “Defeat”

One person advances an argument — usually some sort of accusation against another. The other may make some good-faith effort to address the arguments’ points and refute them. The accuser, however, is operating in bad faith and drags the argument into petty bickering and character assassination. When the accused realises this and decides not to waste further effort in bad-faith arguing, the accuser declares “victory” and gloats the accused is silent because they are “guilty” (or “weak”, unable to refute the claims and therefore a “loser”, etc.).

Example:

– Accuser [A]: Here’s evidence that you did this thing!
– Accused [B]: That’s not “evidence” at all. This is what I was doing (insert explanation of relevant facts and context).

– A: Yes it is! It’s evidence because I said so!
– B: No it’s not. Because you weren’t even there. Besides, [insert logic, evidence and context here.]

– A: You must be deranged! I’m not going to read all that! The fact that you wrote so much means you must be making things up! [Insert any of the tactics from 1 to 14 here, or several at the same time]
– B: Okay. I’m not going to waste my life arguing with you, keyboard warrior.

– A: Ha! Just as I thought! You’re guilty, weak, and a loser! I win! I win! I win! Ha!
– B: *sigh* (Thinking silently: nope… and you’re just an idiot who desperately needs a hobby.)


P.S. The gang calling itself the “(Twitter) Artist Community” attack against the AltSciFi zine project even went so far as a libelious/slanderous DMCA takedown request. The request was filed by a makeup artist, regurgitating the same bilious garbage circulated across social media, at the instigation of the same “(Twitter) Artist Community” social-media con artist who started the attack. This makes the case of AltSciFi a perfect example of how copyright trolling works. You can read more about that here (click here). Unfortunately for that makeup artist, the legally binding nature of DMCA requests puts her in legal jeopardy for making false claims (i.e. libel). Bad idea.

Advertisements

Inevitability of Dystopia? Finding Sci-Fi Inspiration in the Stark Irony of Orwell versus Huxley.

If you want to build plausible dystopian fictional worlds, a useful habit may be to step away from social media for a few days at a time.

The old debate seems never-ending: was Orwell right, or will Huxley’s vision become reality? One answer is “yes”. It’s a question of timing.

Nation-states have attempted to control citizens since the beginning of centrally governed societies, but brute force inspires resistance. After World War II, mass psychological manipulation (the “pleasure principle”) delivered mainly via television became manifest in a phenomenon called “consumerism”. Here we trace a path from the birth of the Web to our present-day predicament.

Circa 1994, the World Wide Web arrived. Advertising morphed into banner ads, popup windows, and marketers’ new mantra: “information wants to be free“. What was once a resource for hackers and scientists became a tool for consumerism. Thus was born the Silicon Valley hype machine.

In the late 2000s, network effects shifted the Huxleyan engine into a higher gear. Facebook became omnipresent. Google became a monopoly. Social norms began to shift. At first people complained about oversharing and TMI. Soon everyone was playing the Internet popularity game, as Facebook surfaced relatives you wouldn’t bother to call and peers you barely remembered. Tumblr spurred GIF collecting as form of a mainstream meme culture; Twitter was for ranting at sympathetic strangers.

Silicon Valley’s confidence game hides in plain sight: free = surveillance. Every tweet and conversation is recorded, saved, bundled, sold.

“Building an internet where we didn’t have to pay for anything, because our attention was going to be the commodity that was traded, is one of the most destructive and shortsighted decisions that we could have made.” – Ethan Zuckerman

Social networks are broken. This man wants to fix them.

Circa 2011, another shift occurred. Web 2.0 meant that modern web pages became “asynchronous” — they send and receive data without needing you to refresh the page. This also means they can run programs and collect data without your knowledge or intervention.

Soon after his passing, Steve Jobs’ mythical legacy began. A generation of kids’ parents — and crucially, young girls — became convinced that they needed iPhones. By 2015, seventy-three percent of teens had access to a smartphone. Where young girls run, young boys follow; an entire generation of teenagers has been indocrinated into living through social media.

At the same time, nation-states commenced cyberwar.

In 2013, Edward Snowden released a cataclysmic cache of documents about government surveillance. Yet Facebook, Google and Twitter grew apace.

Between 2013 and 2016, government contractors and research-based firms like Strategic Communication Laboratories Group and Cambridge Analytica quietly amassed information on millions of Americans, mainly via Facebook and Internet advertising data.

The presidential campaign that led to victory in 2016 openly engaged in an information operation named Project Alamo. It wasn’t a political campaign as much as marketing and persuasion on a national scale. The campaign’s themes were emotional pushbuttons of the advertising industry: fear, greed, and narcissism. Invading our screens primarily through social media for the first time in history, we all witnessed a new evolution of the pleasure principle, designed to appeal solely to a specific demographic niche. Issues themselves were a sideshow. Every tweet and headline further polarised, multiplied and amplified the opinions of millions, yet rarely ever changed minds.

Orwell creeps back in: Project Alamo was well-known for using Facebook advertising to engage in several voter suppression attempts, mainly profiling and targeting young white liberals, young women, and African-Americans.

Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.

Inside the Trump Bunker, With Days to Go

Side note: the same groups that designed the Brexit campaign were also key architects of the winning 2016 American digital strategy.

2018: the current U.S. president has attempted several nationwide Muslim bans, and is using all possible means to deport Mexican-Americans. The current Department of Justice has decriminalised hate groups, oversees a boom in the private prison industry, threatens and harasses African-Americans, and menaces immigrants under the rhetorical pretenses of “law and order”, “pacifying gang violence” and “cracking down on drugs”.

From Day One of Trump’s campaign, he pushed heavily for a crackdown on undocumented immigration, and once in office, Trump ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ramp up its enforcement efforts.

For years, ICE has outsourced the bulk of its detention operations to the private sector.

Last year (2016), then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson followed the Justice Department’s footsteps by asking his department to look at its own use of private prisons. What resulted was a sweeping assessment of their use and an accounting that showed some 65% of people ICE detained were kept in for-profit facilities.

Private prison industry sees boon under Trump administration

The current occupier of the American White House is a known sexual predator, as are several members of his administration. He spent the entire 2016 campaign gaslighting and attempting gender-based shame tactics against his female opponent, using Twitter as his megaphone. “Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing… Twitter for Mr. Trump. And Facebook for fundraising” said Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale.

He is also in perpetual re-election mode. In addition to wielding personal social media data of over 240 million Americans, the former reality star and real-estate vulture bilionaire presently has powers of quasi-state media, immigration authorities, technologically sophisticated hate groups, police and military force at his disposal.

If you’re not white, male, Christian, and a sympathizer to Dictator 45 — now is the time to delete your Facebook account; cease using social media as a personal diary.

This is for all women, non-conservatives, Jews, African- and Asian-Americans, Latinos, and LGBT people.

Those with Native ancestry already know not to trust any American government or anyone who operates in its name. The same is true for Middle Eastern and South Americans. The future of U.S. and U.K. may in some ways be their alternative history.

Look a little way down the road and write the story before it happens.

Orwell and Huxley have now joined hands.

Huxley was right, and Orwell was right, in that order; but they’ve joined hands now, and the old dystopian vision is just the beginning.

Recent events involving AltSciFi — an informal group of artists and techies building an independent sci-fi zine project — show how old arguments about “Orwell verus Huxley” no longer even ask the right questions. It’s no longer rebellious artists versus the authorities, or the people versus The Government.

It’s now artists versus artists, and “the people” versus anything that isn’t a massive corporate brand.

This internalisation and weaponisation of opinion arises due to a noxous blend of narcissism, carelessness and gullibility that can be considered the dark triad of social media. Here our scope tightens from the international level to the scale of small groups, private individuals and independent artists.

Hostility to Self-Published Work, and Gratitude for Empty “Success”

Over the past three years, and especially this past year or so, you may have seen prototypes for an indie sci-fi project posted on Reddit.

It’s fascinating to see how essentially any self-published or independent work is downvoted and/or trolled, whereas Hollywood press releases are happily posted and received hundreds (or thousands) of upvotes.

Every now and then, someone comes to Reddit to thank “you guys” (as women are clearly nonexistent on Reddit) for helping them get reviews or sales on Amazon. But no one ever posts actual numbers. It’s almost like Reddit is a self-confirming echo chamber where you go for attention — then go back “thanking” people in order to get a second round of attention. The best echo chamber is a hollow one, as are most “success stories” posted there.

Irrelevance: How Frustrated Artists Become Copyright Cannibals

In the “attention economy” of social media, artists have fallen prey to two dynamics: the idea of “staying relevant”, and the urge to become mobs of pseudo-legalistic copyright trolls.

“Relevance” is a quasi-marketing term that describes artists’ obsession for keeping “top of mind” awareness in others. Do people think of you when they see pretty-yet-redundant Blade Runner 2049 fan art? Do they remember your username when you post cute new anime sketches on Twitter, or remind them about your painfully earnest Youtube art tutorials and struggling Patreon account?

In reality, “relevance” is meaningless for independent artists. It’s a marketing metric for celebrities and giant corporations that saturate multiple media (TV, radio, etc.) to gain “mindshare” using million-dollar ad campaigns.

On the Internet, we’ve been indoctrinated to become complicit in two parts of a confidence game: 1. Everything should be free; and 2. Attention is as good as payment.

1. In a capitalist world, nothing is free. “Information wants to be free” ultimately means the only people who make money are the biggest corporations that can survive with razor-thin profit margins. In other words, Amazon/Google/Apple/Facebook/Twitter create a de facto cartel that controls practically all consumer information flows across the planet. And literally any government or group that wants your personal data can easily buy it. Big Brother and Big Friend are now one and the same.

2. Attention doesn’t pay for bread on your table and a roof over your head. Artists live in a trap of their own creation: they react blindly against the idea of “working for exposure”, and then burn thousands of hours playing the social media game in order to stay “relevant” (in other words, throwing away time and effort in exchange for “exposure”).

The Dark Triad of Social Media: Narcissism, Carelessness, Gullibility

The “best” narcissists cultivate a carefully designed persona and use emotionally manipulative tactics to mobilise their followers. Rather than corruption and suppression from outside, this is corrosion and repression from within. Struggling artists frustrated by their own irrelevance can thereby “win” at social media by acting like copyright trolls; they “protect” their gullible flock against independent projects designed by artists, to help artists. This happened recently to the AltSciFi project.

Here’s the short version. See if you can spot the pattern:

Narcissism

“If there’s an opportunity to look good, get attention, to appear attractive and to gather followers, it’s going to draw narcissists,” Campbell says, “whether it’s politics, media or social media.”

One malevolent egomaniac didn’t like that her artwork was re-posted on Twitter with attribution, rather than retweeted as she preferred (her original tweet contained perhaps-racist wording that was probably unintentional). Instead of asking for a retweet, she tried to send a mob of her Twitter followers; that was denied by blocking her and anyone who tried to pile on in her “defense”.

So she waited for months until another artist on Twitter found our project, and thus was born a slander campaign about “stealing art” that nearly destroyed the project — before it was ever marketed or promoted to the public (outside of requests for feedback on Reddit).

The entire slander campaign centred on three or four pages on a Github test site that had functioning PayPal links — out of at least twelve pages. On Github (a site for web development and programming projects). That few outside of Reddit had probably ever seen. And we have no inventory to sell. We exist to help artists sell their work; that’s explicitly how our site is designed.

We even had a few links out of hundreds of Tumblr posts, and most of those didn’t even work yet. If you clicked on them, they literally didn’t work. The project has a few paying subscribers from Reddit (“thanks guys!”), but the project won’t be “profitable” for at least a few years based on subscription revenue.

We’re an informal group of artists and techies, obviously not some nefarious “art stealing” operation. But the very fine people of Twitter and Facebook ran a lovely slander campaign anyway, like a bunch of overcaffeinated, malignant tweens cosplaying a proper group of grown-up copyright trolls.

Carelessness

Everyone involved knew GitS2017 was an exercise in exclusion. Early special effects work was tested to make Scarlett Johannson look “Asian.”

The entire backstory of the main character, whose name is 草薙素子, was changed so that the original Japanese character was murdered and brain harvested to make a plausible excuse for the white actress’ “non-racial cyborg body”.

It sounds like a joke, right? Like someone decided 1920s Charlie Chan didn’t go far enough. It’s the 21st century. Add robots.

The main excuse racists made for Ghost in the Shell 2017 was “Japanese people like it” — intentionally ignoring Asian-Americans who are directly affected by Hollywood racism and exclusion.

Those few Japanese who said they liked GitS2017 were likely engaging in a form of politeness called “tatemae”, separation of acceptable public opinion and true private sentiment.

Until recently, a goal of AltSciFi was to amass artists and fans to fund and produce an independent, authentic Ghost in the Shell film. You can find several blog entries on AltSciFi WordPress that describe various scenarios in which we can make this happen.

In 2017, Hollywood released a bastardisation of Ghost in the Shell’s source material that whitewashed the main protagonist, who is Japanese. Perhaps in a moment of foreshadow, it was dismaying to see many artists on Twitter praising the 2017 film’s visuals while ignoring its blatant racism.

It was particularly harrowing to see one artist’s work on the film in particular. That artist will not be directly mentioned here; needless to say, their name will forever be attached to the $110 million Hollywood disaster that is now a hallmark in the Asian-American fight against racism.

Art and politics are intertwined. Asian-Americans made it clear that Ghost in the Shell 2017 was racist and wrong from the start. The artists involved turned a blind eye, and in doing so, chose racism. Now, which artists spread false social-media rumours about AltSciFi and made threats? Surprise! That Ghost in the Shell 2017 concept artist was one. Mister Moral Outrage.

The other artist, who began the Twitter rage-mob, has a beautiful and unique illustrative style (this is a mild overstatement: her approach combines loud colours, fashion sketches and video-game character design). Unfortunately, that style includes painting dark brown skin on anime characters who have stereotypically white features, and clothing them in Japanese-style kimono.

A pattern emerges. Yes, you’re right: the pattern is problematic source material that appropriates Asian imagery without regard for the culture itself.

The mob-starter’s excuse when confronted for believing and spreading false rumours was: “it’s your job to contact me. It’s not my job to check facts.”

Remember the malevolent egomaniac from a few paragraphs ago, the one spreading toxic gossp? Well, the easiest way to end a gossip campaign is to look for facts before making any conclusions. Instead, the gossip grew with each repetition, hardened and ossified into a bona fide art-stealing conspiracy theory.

So, no, darling, it’s always your job to check facts, known as “basic adult critical thinking.” Likewise, it’s always an artist’s job to research and talk to people of the ethnicities whom the artist wants to portray.

Gullibility

The combination of narcissism and carelessness is turned into a weapon by the average person’s gullibility. In the first incident, the sign of a toxic narcissist was the failed attempt to unleash a Twitter mob, followed by months spent licking a wounded ego while waiting for another opportunity. The telltale sign of a second narcissist was the willingness to immediately feign “abuse” (as you can read about here) when she obviously and embarrassingly didn’t even know what the terms mean. Her malleable and gullible Twitter followers were thus transformed into a mindless horde. It really is that easy for a narcissist to do — and far easier than focusing on creating great art that anyone actually wants to pay you for.

Now, one of her unfortunate followers even filed a spurious DMCA takedown notice, thereby exposing herself by lying in a publicly posted, legally binding document. That is the true dark side of this scenario and many similar ones: the malevolent egomaniac and toxic narcissist keep their hands clean, and their gullible social media “friend” (or sympathetic stranger) is placed in an unfortunate and precarious position.

This situation clarifies the reality that the AltSciFi project isn’t about social media popularity, indie artists’ profit margins or even a particular aesthetic (and definitely not Twitter-level anime art).

AltSciFi isn’t about “inclusion.” It’s about using science fiction to imagine a future where human beings are no longer excluded by racism, homophobia, religious hatred or xenophobic violence. And one in which egomaniacal narcissism, tribalistic gullibility and weaponised carelessness are no longer seen as a viable alternative to basic critical thinking.

All humans are human. Art is political. So is science fiction. And so is AltSciFi.

Information wants to be free, but…

The lesson in all this is that the core purposes of the Web have been inverted. “Information wants to be free” said Stewart Brand famously, but now, a handful of companies control practically all expression on the World Wide Web. Artists are now playing copyright troll against other artists. Fans are now either mouthpieces for giant entertainment companies, and/or gladly hand away their privacy and personal data to surveillance programs disguised as advertising. Meanwhile, everyone is desperately distracted by panhandling for Likes, Retweets, Reblogs and Upvotes.

This is the inevitability of dystopia, and it’s happening right now.

If you want to write plausible near-future fiction, here is a great place to start. Orwell and Huxley could never have imagined a reality in which the civilian population would so thoroughly internalise their own oppression and regurgitate it as entertainment.

Now ask yourself what role you play, and what you intend to do about it.

“Information wants to be free,” said Stewart Brand.

“…but your time should not,” replied Steve Wozniak.

Hologram Steve Jobs steps from the shadows of the afterlife to address throngs of fans and journalists at CES 2020. Faded blue jeans and black turtleneck appear as real as the whispered revolution that has obsessed the imaginations of all who eagerly await the fulfillment of their dreams.

You’ve seen the demo.” The inimitable voice of Hologram Jobs easily commands the world’s undivided attention, ghostly pale hand gesturing to a giant projection screen playing silently in the background. “Now, we’re bringing sci-fi to reality.”

A hush falls over the voices and minds of all who strain to hear each syllable in the standing room-only congregation.

The presentation is brief. Hologram Jobs has taken on the full strength of a messiah in post-corporeal form, looming over the audience, conjuring futuristic illusions in the auditorium’s resonant space. “The future begins now,” Jobs concludes, triumphantly holding the iPhone Air aloft. Its activated backlight leaves the crowd awash in pure white illumination as the holographic apparition dims in return to the enlightenment of nothingness.

Steve Wozniak rolls out on his Segway and stands in the front row, gathering the faithful. “My new iPhone Air is insanely great!” Woz proclaims, tugging the transparent rectangular slab from a worn-out old jeans pocket. Tapping ice-blue buttons, sliding fingertips across the slippery-smooth surface, the phone comes alive under the ancient wizard’s touch. “Jony says we’re going for holography in the iPhone 11s, and Tim wants to put them in your contact lenses.”

The enthralled crowd breathes in unison: “Revolutionary.” Online orders for the iPhone Air break all sales records.