Nov 24 (5/5): The Devil’s InstaGram

Because I share an alma mater with one of the guys in Penn & Teller (the magicians who people get mad at for telling how tricks wok), I’m going to rip a bit of the curtain back for people who are interested in seeing how following a war on Twitter actually works even though it really demystifies a lot of what I’ve been doing. People seem to think this is magic and it’s really not.

This is a rough recreation of a “branch” of a Twitter conversation about troop movements in the Ain Issa region, but you can go into the thread and tool around the branches for yourself. (Obviously—it’s the internet!)

First, consider this map Tweet:

But then consider this branch of the thread that I have attempted to recreate.

This should be mostly self-explanatory.

And then there may be different strands off of each response, and it’s not usually so pronounced as that, but yeah. People are publicly crowd sourcing their information on the war. I happened to glimpse this particular piece of a collaboration when pulling a map and thought it would be fun and instructive to share.

The nature of conflict lends itself to disinformation, which breeds conspiracy theories, often about people that strike others as bizarre. The people closest to the conflict often find it infinitely more bizarre, not just because of all the weirdness of people whom you know and work with being accused of shit, but because so many of these people are so obviously operating out in the open and in public that it just feels weird that others think they’re hiding something. Even the people who have gone completely open source get accused of secret cabal shit.

I don’t even know which “side” each of these people are on, or if it’s all the same side, or if there’s the weird intersectionality of oppositions that occur or what. There’s one guy with great information who, for the longest time, the only political orientation I had discerned was an aversion to “goat fuckers.” And then I realized he used that term pretty consistently, but I learned that through him having reliable information over time. All I really know is that they collaborate in the open and appreciate likes, which are a wonderful currency of the realm—less for the thumbs up, and more for laying breadcrumb trails across Twitter so that like minded researchers can find each other.

In this “market,” it’s not about a million likes but when you see a few reliable people have liked some posts, then you know they’ve been here before looking for the goods—goods that are Tweeted out precisely because they are for all to share. If you’re doing a good job scouring the internet, then a like from you might be recognized by others as validating the information. Real personal validation comes not from large numbers of likes but from that respect and how it links them to others. Game recognizes game. If you want to learn something from them, just find them and watch; that’s part of why they’re on the internets. I don’t have anything to add and am there simply to  learn, and though I obviously haven’t asked, it appears they appreciate it when they see the likes and, as you can see, might even be happy to help if I had any explicit questions.

The reality is, apparently the internet works just fine for things besides the safe and discreet delivery of cat pictures and pornography. Anybody can flip on their phone and basically watch what’s going on anywhere that hasn’t shut the internet off. It all works. But people just don’t believe it.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was opening an InstaGram account.

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