After Andrea is attacked by a stranger in Mexico City, she just wants to figure out who the guy was. Investigating this question drops her right into the middle of one of Mexico’s biggest conspiracies.
Woah, this week’s episode of Reply All, titled The Prophet, is quite the ride. This is the most important story I’ve heard in a long time and it my suspicion that social media was a tremendous mistake. Holy shit I’m scared.
ANDREA: So, in the morning you arrive at your desk and there’ll be an hour by hour strategy beginning, let’s say, 8 a.m. We’re gonna launch the hashtag “Happy whatever day it is.” Next would be, “Hashtag don’t you hate it when,” and then would be, “Hashtag my mom just told me,” or like “Hashtag I’ve never felt better than.”PJ: It’s sort of- it’s the same–ANDREA: It’s fill-in-the-blank sentences–PJ: Terrible, mad-libs memes that dominate actually like a lot of American Twitter.ANDREA: Yeah–
PJ: So they were basically do the work that Russian trolls would later do in the American election. Fill the internet with spam, and then have a bunch of fake people promoting opinions. But sometimes that strategy wasn’t enough. Sometimes there’d be a piece of news that was just too big to drown out. Like when The Guardian released a story alleging that the PRI had been bribing the country’s big TV network in exchange for good coverage.
For stuff like that, they would create a massive diversion online. They’d make up an event.
ANDREA: So you know, they call them smokescreens and you can see it like bullet pointed–PJ: Like internally they called them smokescreens?ANDREA: Oh yeah, I mean, there’s no, they’re not–they’re not shy about the terminology and they’re not pretending like I mean that’s the really, the thing that surprised me is how explicit and blatant the language is that they’re using. So a combination of smokescreens that can be like, actually I think they killed Justin Bieber when that article came out.PJ: They killed Justin Bieber?ANDREA: Yeah, but they’ve done that a bunch of times. You can see them killing Bieber three or four times.
PJ: So Andrea actually corrected herself later, it turns out that that time, after The Guardian story, they didn’t kill Bieber, they just pretended to cancel one of his concerts. Other times, he was not so lucky. And if every diversion failed, they still had one more tool. They’d just start a fight. They’d tweet some offensive, vitriolic hashtag and then hope that the ensuing argument drowned out any other conversation.
Well, none of that sounds familiar. None of it.
It’s particularly interesting that we are hearing about this because the Mexican government initially didn’t do a great job of hiding it. Makes you wonder what other, more competent governments are up to. Scary stuff.