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I am (potentially) filled with admiration for this paper, Conspiracy Theories. If it's meant to be taken entirely at face value then I'm not impressed at all, but if it's doing what I think it is then it's genius:
In it, Sunstein says that domestic and foreign conspiracy theories pose “real risks to the government's anti-terrorist policies” and argues that the government should be “cognitively infiltrating” groups that purvey these theories. Sunstein proposes having the government send undercover operatives and paid “independent” contractors onto online message boards and websites—and into some real-life groups—in order to undermine the theories.

There's no evidence that such a program is currently being undertaken by the Obama administration, but the paper set the conspiracy world aflame. “Cognitive infiltration” has become the latest buzz phrase in conspiracy circles. [Paraphrase taken from article in Slate]
That second paragraphlet right there is why, until I'm persuaded otherwise, I choose to believe this is a work of genius. Wild conspiracy theories only become a pain for governments when entire swathes of the population begin to believe them. If that possibility looms (and in the States it looms on a regular basis[1]), there isn't a lot they can do to combat the media clout of a Henry Ford or a bunch of Kochs, but anything they can do to target the nonsense at its source is a bonus. And in such a febrile environment, where everyone already suspects everyone else of working for the enemy (whoever they consider the enemy to be), what more elegant and efficient solution than simply proclaiming definitively that some of them are on your payroll? A couple of droplets of that added to the pool, and as the water starts to froth and bubble you can wander off and deal with something more important. So I am in awe—unless the administration really is wasting its money paying people to stooge for it on conspiracy forums. Although that's as good a way as any of tackling youth unemployment.

[1] Obviously nowhere is as given to wild conspiracy theories as the Middle East, but that's at least partly because everyone in authority there tries to stoke them:
Fayrouz, a paragon of the highest forms of Arab music and poetry, had boycotted Egypt for a decade in line with the Arab decision to ostracise the country for signing a peace treaty with Israel. So the July 1989 Cairo concert was the first chance for Israeli Arabs to hear a beloved diva whose songs were the unofficial anthems of Palestinian suffering. Some 27 buses carrying 1,000 devotees rolled across the border from Israel for the event. When the Egyptian ta authorities noticed the hoards arriving, they doubled the tax bill for the three-night extravaganza. To pay it, the Syrian/Saudi producer from the wily Khashoggi clan just printed and sold thousands of tickets, all stamped “Front Section”. Naturally the rich Egyptians who paid about $95 per ticket, a princely sum, figured they could swan into their front-row seats at the very last second, so their chauffeured Mercedeses all pulled up at once at 11pm, when the concert was scheduled to start.

The crowd soon overflowed the limited seating...The bedlam continued for hours, with all possible exits and any open space eventually crammed with chairs. A fire would have left a gruesome toll, but I thought a riot seemed a more imminent danger. Around 1am, with patrons still pouring in and no seats available, the concert promoter emerged on stage and announced that he could reveal the source of the confusion. There was a Zionist conspiracy afoot to undermine the concert! I laughed at this canard used to blame practically any unfortunate occurrence, including the weather.

Neil MacFarquhar, The Media Relations Department of Hezbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Dec. 13th, 2011 08:01 pm (UTC)

Have you read The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod? (Yes, it's relevant.)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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