The ease of lying in a digital world

The ease of lying in a digital world
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By Colby Klaus
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People have lied on Reddit.

I know, "Next you're gonna tell me that astroturf is a plot against our god-given right to Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball, eh?"

Well, no, because astroturf is notoriously terrible at lobbying.

But what it's not terrible at is making a casual observer believe absolute B.S., and that's what the post I'm going to talk about today has in common.


Let me paint the picture here:

Have you ever been browsing Reddit because you're a masochist with misanthropic tendencies, and come across a post that just really sets off the warning bells in your head?

Well that was me a few months ago. I came across a post about a feminist being hypocritical, because certain parts of Reddit specialize in finding new things to fuel their hatred of women. And this post is a screenshot of twitter that looks just a little too convenient, because of course it is.

Since I hate myself just a little too much, but not enough to prevent wasting my time trying to prove someone wrong on the internet, I decide to do a little investigating. What seemed odd--beyond the hefty dose of convenient hypocrisy--was that not a single one of my searches was returning results for one of the tweets in question. Because (say it with me here), of course.

So I will now be presenting to you the fruits of my labor as a cautionary tale on the internet's propensity to make stuff up, especially when it comes to tearing down feminism. 


The thread I came across was a thread very much like many others you find on Reddit. It contained a person who seems very much to be a feminist; a popular figure renowned far and wide on the interwebs; and brazen hypocrisy, all within one convenient, bite-sized image.

A tale as old as time, and it sat at a hefty number of upvotes, because of course.

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This is a screenshot I took from the subreddit TumblrInAction (with proper Conspiracy Red for effect). When witnessed on /r/all, Reddit's feed of submissions that have been upvoted across all subreddits, it ranked within the top 100 for that day. 

What could be found within that submission? What made it so popular?

Why, nothing more than a feminist being hypocritical and a Dawkins in the wild!

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Feminists, Dawkins, and Islam, oh my! That's a ménage à trois looking for a bed of upvotes and it won't have to search far!

B.S. ALARM 1


But that's a very interesting crop job, wouldn't you say? Very clean, very tight, and very convenient how they found a feminist who contradicted themselves just three minutes shy of a full 24 hours.

The investigation started with a simple Bing of the exact text in the first tweet. Mysteriously, nothing came up. Ok, I think to myself, maybe Bing is just being a butt right now. Off to Google I went, thinking maybe everybody who chastised me for using Bing was right after all.

Yet nothing came up on Google.

Something seemed amiss now. Searching the text of a tweet will almost always return a link to that tweet or user. The only reasons it wouldn't is if the account was private, or the tweet was deleted. And if it was private, then surely someone wouldn't be enough of an asshole to screenshot their friend's twitter for reddit karma, right?

Then I remembered, there's a second tweet alleged to be from that account! Lo and behold, I got a result and found the rightful retort against Dawkins.

And now that I had the account, I could see if the screenshot was correct! A simple scroll through enough days of tweets oughta bring it up, right?

B.S. ALARM 2


Yet no tweet could be found. Not a single tweet showed up about men never helping feminists, at least not over the span of several days surrounding the time the tweet was alleged to have happened, and certainly not a convenient 8 hours before Dawkins would bless Islam with his ideas on feminism.

If there were no tweets matching the text seen in the first tweet from the screenshot, did that mean the person posting it to Reddit made a fake? It certainly didn't look shopped; the text was proper twitter font, characters were within 140 limit, and nothing in particular seemed out of place.

But what if photoshop wasn't the tool being used?


Browsers have a nifty feature in them called Inspect Element. This essentially lets you look through the code of any page you're viewing, which can be handy in a lot of different ways. Obviously, you can't change the website's code through this tool and have it reflect that change on the server or for anyone else, but what you CAN do is have it reflect changes within your particular viewing of that page at the moment.

For example:

If I right-click in Safari and select Inspect Element, this is what the bottom of the browser looks like.

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By doing a CMD F in that little box there, I can do a search for text found on the page and find what I want to edit.

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Notice the green bar of text in the upper right-hand corner? Using Inspect Element, I was able to change the last word from "woe" to "butts". 

And this change will stay even once I close the Inspect Element tool.

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Now, nobody else will see this change, and it will disappear as soon as I reload the page.

But the point is: it's super easy to edit something on a webpage in a way that appears 100% legitimate and doesn't require any photo-editing software. You can then screenshot the edited material so it may be passed around and taken at face value by the majority of people who view it.

B.S. ALARM 3


With this in mind, I started to think of what could be used to track down which tweet was edited.

You know what stuck out to me?

The number of favs and retweets. See, in a twitter timeline, it won't show you the timestamp of a tweet; you have to click on an individual tweet before that happens. But every tweet will have it's fav and retweet counts right there.

So a simple Find on the page for the number 10, and I got a lot of matches. And eventually, a single tweet stood out.

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Compare the items marked by Conspiracy Red to those same items in the first tweet we talked about at the beginning of this article. Favs match. Retweets match. The profile pics of the retweeters are the exact same, and in the same order.

And even more damning, the timestamp. The screenshot had it in military time, but 14:10 is 2:10 PM and that's exactly what we see on the found tweet.

This tells us that someone intentionally edited this tweet using Inspect Element, took a screenshot of it, then compiled the two other legit tweets to try and make some random feminist look bad.

Why would they do it? Who knows. It's not exactly a large amount of work to go through, but it's certainly more than just going into any default and leaving a comment about how much feminism is ruining the world.

THE HEARTWARMING STORY

Credit where it's due to the moderators of TumblrInAction, who responded quickly and took down the offending post when I sent them a message--even though it was obviously super popular and had a lot of comments in it. A few months later, when the image showed up again, I reached out to one of their mods and the submission was again removed expediently.

CONCLUSION

The whole point of this story was to illustrate just how quickly false information can be believed by people that want to believe it. Of course, this also means that any amount of debunking isn't going to stop the dissemination of false information. Every internet denizen should understand that lies made about them will live on forever.

FUN FACTS

I still don't know why I'm spending so much time to prove mundane, likely unimportant things wrong on the internet. 

The sub this originated from, I will say, is one that I wasn't expecting to care about proof. I was proven very much wrong in that regard, so I will admit to egg and my face being in alignment.

Bing turned out to not be at fault here, so all y'all haters can back up right now.