Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Nov 19

Desperate Obama-Haters Give Money to Nigerian Scam

Posted: under Blogging, Community, Digital Migration, new media, Politics & New Media, Viral Fame.

Nobody directly involved will admit it, but this is looking more and more like one of the more nasty, yet brilliant, scams of the last couple years.  It may have been pulled off by the legendary Nigerian internet scammers, but it’s beginning to look like it may have been the work of a vast leftwing conspiracy with a twisted sense of humor.

It gets complicated, as these things often do, but the core appears to be:

1. A WordPress website claiming to be the creation of the African Press International, and NGO somehow associated with the Rainbow Foundation – OK, already I know this is a lot to process – claimed that they had a tape of Michelle Obama admitting that Barack Obama was not an U.S. citizen, and thus not eligible to be president.

2. Nobody seemed to notice that the API’s headquarters are in Norway.

3. In the weeks leading up to the election, as John McCain’s campaign was trailing smoke and in a steep vertical dive (to use an Air Force-appropriate metaphor), a ragtag bunch of deranged Obama-haters his desperate supporters seized on this story as a last-minute chance to save the U.S. from an Obama presidency, which they had come to believe would be some horrible combination of Stalinist Russia, the Taliban and a San Francisco gay bathhouse, circa 1978.

4. The overheated right-wing blog echo chamber started to scream and yell about the tapes, hoping to spark an uproar.

5. The API started getting erratic in its pronouncements about the tapes, on the one hand demanding money, on the other alleging mysterious dark conspiracies that were preventing the release of the tapes, conspiracies involving shadowy pro-Obama forces.

5. Still believing that these tapes existed, the right-wing blogs started collecting money from their readers to buy the tapes.

From the Ace of Spades website:

$20,000 $25,000 Reward for Obama/Ayers/Dohrn/Khalidi Tape

Dirty Harry suggests a benefactor can offer $100,000.

Well, I don’t know if one will step forward. I can guarantee, though,
that if the goods are delivered the blogosphere can contribute $20,000.
In a matter of hours.

Maybe more. More would depend on the tape.

This offer includes
is particularly directed towards Los Angeles Times employees. Maybe
ones that just got fired. Or will get fired in the next couple of weeks.

Guaranteed.

Anonymous.

That’s how we roll.

Pretty pathetic that we have to try to bribe “newsmen” to release newsworthy tapes.

If your conscience is troubled, They should have released it anyway.

6. The scam mutated into an allegation that the LA Times had some kind of tape that would once and for all, destroy the Obama campaign, but that it was withholding the tape because of the aforementioned vast left-wing conspiracy to hand the country over to Obama.

7. The bidding for the tape reached $150,000. In a move sure to be familiar to anyone who has studied the history of “The Spanish Prisoner,” the price for releasing the tape suddenly escalated to $2 million.

8. At this point, you’d think that the people who initially believed in the existence of this tape would start smelling a rat You’d be wrong. A blogger named “Mountain Sage” started cataloging all the inconsistencies of this story, and if you’re really interested in all the ins & outs of this, please go there.

9. I’ll save you a whole bunch of mental consternation & possible suicidal impulses stemming from despair over the human condition, and cut to what I hope is the end of this story: the WordPress blog has been taken down, and the right-wing blogosphere has moved on (mostly) to its next alleged revelations of Obama conspiracies that will exterminate all mankind.

If your head is still spinning a little bit from all this, take a minute and look at some LOLcats or something.

Now then. How is all this relevant to the usual subject around here – New Media, newspapers, journalism? Well, as we debate migrating from the traditional media to a future where all our information comes at us over the Great Big Internet Pipe, I think it’s instructive to recognize that offloading some of the news-gathering & editing duties to the audience (i.e. crowdsourcing, Citizen Journalism, etc.), is not a process entirely free of risk.

Stories like this one were once confined to the utter fringes of our national conversation. Back when I first started working for newspapers, I learned that at least once a week, we’d get a long, somewhat smelly, letter from the local lunatic, ranting & raving about Zionist Occupation Government (“ZOG”) reading his mind with CIA laser beams.  The single-spaced typewritten screeds were usually augmented by scrawling in red pen around the margins, in big circles.  I’ve since learned that writing in big spirals is one of the warning signs of paranoid-schizophrenia, and in this case, of a person who has stopped taking their meds and is hearing the voices & acting on their instructions.

Unfortunately, as we open up the doors of the media to a more collaborative conversation between reader & journalist, fanatical factions are more easily able to hijack the national discourse, and divert us over into areas that are meaningless, pointless and an utter waste of time.  Some would say that that has always been the case – that even in the traditional media’s heyday, we had stupid stories that for one reason or another, rose to the level where we were talking about them because everyone else was talking about them.

And yeah, I know that one of the benefits of the web is that the audience no longer just sits and passively accepts that the information being fed to them is true. That the Citizen Journalists are willing & able to step in to do research to expose fraudsters.  That has certainly been the case here.

But this scam was, well, childish and poorly organized.  A guy in Norway claiming to run an African news agency making wild claims? Already the red flags were waving.

However, if a much more well-funded and intelligent organization were to set out to concoct a Big Lie, and to use the low barriers to entry that the web offers to storylines, memes, etc., to deceive the public … how would we know?  And if this organization were smart enough, and good enough at using SEO and other tools to bury and discredit its critics and their objections, what then?

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Nov 08

Blast from the Past: Indecision 2000 and How Video Stories Have Evolved

Posted: under Digital Migration, monetizing mobile content, Multimedia, Online Video, Politics & New Media, Web Tech.

Man, check out John Stewart.  Is it me, or does he look just a little bit like the Muppet Beaker?

Ah yes. The pardon of Marc Rich. Makes you nostalgic for a time when this was the worst crime that could be laid at the feet of the outgoing president, don’t it?

Just looking at this video makes me feel 1,000 years old.  It’s a reminder of how, when the party in charge of the White House changed back in 2000, there were all manner of investigations into the misdeeds of the previous administration.  Wonder if that’s going to come around again … and if we’re going to spend most of 2009 having to sit through a re-hash of all the grubby insider deals perpetrated by the Bushies

I am of two minds about this issue – on the one hand, I think that to distract ourselves with chasing down Bush partisans to whack them around & humiliate them in front of banks of TV cameras, would be a mistake, taking our attention away from dealing with all the massive problems we face.

And then, on the other hand, there’s the fact that the massive problems we face are a direct result of the actions of these sleazy, incompetent thieves. To let them skip merrily away into the night, their pockets stuffed with stolen taxpayer funds, chortling in glee at their cleverness … well, that just grates.

Anyway. The point of this was to do a compare/contrast of viral video from then, to the political online video we see now.  Makes you realize how far we’ve come, with production values.  And how we’ve come to expect that when outlets like The Daily Show air a segment, they back it up with video clips culled from the past.

This is a very Web 2.0 concept … I think it comes out of stories on the web, where we have hyperlinks within the stories that allow us to see the evolution of the meme over time, and then compare it to the current story. 

My point is that in the last eight years, the way that we process information has changed in a fundamental way that we’re really not fully cognizant of. We expect to see the background, the history from primary sources, that supports what the person is telling us in the present.

In a very real way, The Daily Show and John Stewart are the equivalent of the “content aggregation” sites that have succeeded so well online. 

I just want to find a way to make sure that the aggregators have something to aggregate. That original reporting of facts & events does not die off, and that the persons who do the pick & shovel work to unearth the sound bites & images that are then stitched together (for great acclaim & profit) by middlemen like the Daily Show (or Drudge, or HuffPo, or Sadly, No!, Politico, etc. etc. etc.) start to share in some of the extraordinary wealth that is generated off of their sweat equity.

The link economy.
We needz it.

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Nov 02

Viral Video Hits: Campaign ’08 Edition

Posted: under Catching a Falling Knife, Multimedia, new media, Online Video, Politics & New Media, Tail Wags Dog, Viral Fame.
Tags:

Now that we’re finally approaching the end of a presidential campaign season that started way back in May 2007 … and as an aside, allow me to observe that it used to be that declaring for the presidency the December before the Iowa caucuses/New Hampshire primaries was early …

Let’s take a look back at one of the emerging forces that has come out of nowhere these last fours years to impact the way that politics is conducted: viral videos.

The first indication that this was going to have a transformative effect on the electoral process was back in ’06, when Virginia Senator George Allen’s “Macaca Moment” kneecapped the GOP’s best hope for hanging onto the White House. This was not the first YouTube video about politics, but it was the first really big one.  The scandal that erupted over this cost Allen his Senate seat, his shot at the White House, and was the signal that Virginia was now in play for the Democrats – one of the really big, under-reported shifts in electoral demographics of the last couple years.

Now they, you’ll notice that this video has only racked up 370,000 views or so. Good, but hardly awe-inspiring … not even in the category of kittens dancing around on piano keys. 

So how is it that these videos have such an effect?  Well, the mainstream media is still, for now at least, the ones setting the parameters and nature of the conversation.  But the process by which the MSM frames the national discussion has undergone a sea change. And part of it is the GOP’s fault.

It started with Drudge and the Monica Lewinsky scandal (although many are finally acknowledging that the “Drudge Effect” is losing steam), continued on with the Swift Boat veterans, and this year, finds its truest expression in the vids of Fey-as-Palin.

See, reporters and editors are pretty much web addicts.  We poke around on the internet all day long, trying to figure out what the Vox Populi is saying, so we can latch onto it and churn out a “trend” story.  And then go drink.

Viral videos that make us laugh, make us stop, make us click to get the link and then e-mail it to our friends & colleagues … those get the “trend” prize, whether they are or not at the time.  And, of course, once a critical mass of journalists bestows the “this is a growing trend” status on a meme (Soccer Mom, NASCAR Dad, Security Mom, Joe the Plumber, etc.), then said meme is going to get a serious working-over by the material-starved talking heads on the cable news programs. 

We are moving closer and closer to a merging of the “underground” flow of significant memes and information on the internet, and what the MSM reports and pays attention to.  This gallery of viral hits will take you through the history of the Presidential Campaign ’08, in a way that will have you remembering the conversations we were having only a few months ago, and how those memes have morphed into the Accepted Collective Wisdom.

Mission accomplished. Time for cocktails.

1. Yes We Can – Barack Obama Music Video

It started with this, back when the Iowa caucuses came back, and people started actually buying into the idea that maybe … maybe … there’s something to this guy Obama.  Maybe we don’t have to pin our hopes on Hilary and another depressing go-round with Bill Clinton in the White House with a lot of free time on his hands.  This has gotten 11 million views since it was put up, features will.i.am and hella good editing & soundtrack.

2. Dear Mr. Obama.

A hit for the McCain campaign, this Iraq war vet holds forth on his belief that the war was not a mistake. This has been made into a commercial for the Republican Majority Campaign PAC.

3. I’ve got a crush on Obama.

This one got more than 10 million views – which proves that hot chicks in tight clothing are certainly a spur to the success of a video.  Lately, Amber Lee Ettinger has diversified and put on the Palin glasses & hair bun, and there are now more than 30 “Obama Girl” videos.

4. JibJab’s “It’s time for some campaignin’ ”

This one came along in mid-July, when we were starting to get really serious about this, and provided a nice preview of the emerging themes of the campaign.  This wasn’t as big a hit as the videos back in 2004, when the images of Kerry sailing up the Mekong and Bush screwing up everything he touched really hit a nerve.   This one does deliever, however, with Obama riding a rainbow unicorn.  And seeing Hilary clonk Bill with a frying pan never gets old.

5. McCain’s YouTube problem just became a nightmare

This one has gotten upwards of 8 million hits, and is from provocateur Robert Greenwald and bravenewfilms (full disclosure: years ago, I worked on a project that was destined for Greenwald’s production company, until it got tied up in a very messy legal quagmire).  This video, part of a “The Real McCain” effort to define the candidate, set a lot of the foundations for the stories that we’ve been seeing reported in the last couple of months. Another very telling point: it’s garnered upwards of 66,000 comments – a pretty good yardstick for something that “engages” the audience.  

6. Obama, Paris Hilton & Britney Spears – the “Rock Star” Ad

This is another video that got more than 2 million view, and made a huge splash at the time.  To many people, this marked the spot where the McCain campaign went off the rails … where it started to become less about what McCain was going to do, and more about going negative and trying to smear Obama, using whatever means necessary.  Of course, this then led to one of the funniest responses of the campaign season …

7. Paris Hilton accepts McCain’s endorsement

“I’ll see you at the debates, bitches,” is one of the best one-liners of the campaign season.  I blogged about this before, so go there for a fuller reaction to her actually rather insightful energy policy.

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

8 . Crazy Hilary Supporter Goes Off

Remember back when the PUMAs were allegedly going to tear the Democratic Party apart? When this giant seething mass of resentful, fanatic feminist Hilary supporters were going to desert and vote for McCain because they were so pissed off about the treatment Hilary got in the primaries?  This woman made her way into the media spotlight for a while.  And then it turned out that she didn’t really represent any kind of significant voice in American politics.  She was just old, ornery and slightly nuts.  Kinda like McCain, some to think of it…

9. RNC Convention Protests

This footage of Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman being carted away made a lot of news at the time, as did the tear gas and other protests going on outside the convention hall.  This was all quickly overshadowed by the next player to emerge on the national stage…

10. Is McCain Palin’s Bitch?

This one has gotten more than 2 million view, yet it hasn’t made it as big as some of the other viral hits.  I just love it because they managed to find an actor who actually kinda looks like McCain.  And it starts with the faux-Palin firing an AK-47. And ends with the line “Who wants to go polar bear huntin’?”

11.  Couric-Palin interview – “I can see Russia from my window”

This has passed into the category of epochal political history.  The moment that Palin said something so galactically stupid that people around the world stopped in their tracks to ask, “She said WHAT? What the hell was THAT?”  Of course, that then opened the door to….

12. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

This got more than 7 million views.  And has spawned a whole cottage industry.  I’m sure you have seen all of these.  And if you haven’t in a while, go and check them out. They could populate an entire list by themselves… 

13. Sarah Silverman’s “The Great Schlep”

This is not as genius as Tina Fey’s work above, but it’s still damn good, and more than that, has apparently inspired a whole bunch of young East Coast jews to bug their grandparents in Florida to vote Obama.  We’ll have to wait ’til Tuesday to see how well that worked out, but in the meantime, the description of Obama’s barbecue skills is worth a peep.


14. Obama – McCain Dance-Off

If we are not to settle big issues through single combat, then the dance-off would seem to some observers (OK, me) to be an equally thrilling and relevant process.  And it may reveal more about character and poise than those damn canned statements they just recite in front of the cameras in lieu of actually answering the questions asked by the moderators.

Final winners will be unveiled tomorrow.

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