I am writing to you to let you know that Google’s Timestamp does not mean anything.
I am writing to you to let you know that Google’s Timestamp does not mean anything.
With the recent announcement by musician Joni Mitchell that she suffers from Morgellons Disease, it seems appropriate to address some of the underlying issues at work with the psychosomatic disorder and and closely related illness, such as delusional parasitosis (more well-known, and often associated with side-effects of long-term drug use).
Morgellons is another in a long line of internet inspired imaginary illnesses. Wi-fi allergy, electromagnetic radiation poisoning, and the ever-popular vaccine related illnesses that have been promoted vigorously online for years. Morgellons is just another example. The Morgellons, as they are called by those who believe they or someone they know has them, are sores that contain foreign matter, specifically thread or wire. The belief is that this foreign matter is some sort of viral infection and not the introduction of foreign matter due to improper care of sores. The sores, for their part, are believed to be connected to these ‘filamentous organisms’ (strings or fibers) burrowing itself intentionally into the skin.
Now, if you read that and thought to yourself that this must be a joke … it is not!
People believe that Morgellons exist and that they are infected by these sentient fibers. What’s more, they have successfully petitioned legitimate medical professionals into investigating their perceived symptoms. WebMD launched its page on the subject in 2015, as did Mayo Clinic on April 1st. The CDC concluded that this ‘unexplained dermopathy‘ had a highly probable causal link to the patients’ mental state.
Neuropsychological testing revealed a substantial number of study participants who scored highly in screening tests for one or more co-existing psychiatric or addictive conditions, including depression, somatic concerns (an indicator of preoccupation with health issues), and drug use.
Despite the apparently obvious psychological diagnosis, delusional parasitosis, the echo-chamber of self-diagnosed cases, their more enabling significant others, and the web of alternative medicine profiteers invariably find one another and create a localized community and economy; even more concisely unified by the rejection of their claims by the so-called ‘establishment’ medical community.
It just so happens, though, that the number of social media echo-chambers is increasing to a state approaching critical mass. Individual echo-chambers tend to push members to further extremity of belief. This extremism should, necessarily, separate them from the mean of social life. This is becoming less and less the case and the reason is due, in part, to the fact that so many of these echo-chambers have similar views as to why they’re boutique issues and often nonsensical beliefs are not accepted within the mainstream of society. The answer, of course, is a vast conspiracy.
Say there are ten such independent communities online. Some believe they are being gang-stalked, others believe that they are allergic to electromagnetism, etc. They all feel that they are being deliberately ignored, or worse; harassed, by the powers that be. The Establishment, as they are known, is doing it to them and making it seem like they are crazy for speaking out. Those ten independent online communities can be seen, then, as a part of the growing aggregate anti-establishment social movement.
A quick search of Morgellons on Facebook shows 3,950 members in the largest group at this time. The largest gang-stalking group has 84,975 members. Electromagnetic sensitivity and wi-fi allergy are, understandably, not as popular in Facebook groups but well over 1,000 people were talking about the subject (something Facebook counts includes even if there is not a community group formed on the website). These numbers are fairly small, until you consider combining them with the number of people who believe that vaccines cause autism, that 9/11 was planned and executed by the U.S. Government, or any number of beliefs that necessarily create a fundamental distrust with the ‘Establishment’ powers that be.
The argument that all these beliefs are part of a larger social movement should not exactly news to anyone who thinks critically about conspiracy theories and their effect on society. Even culling these groups together and calling them an aggregate social movement is really just a turn of the phrase expressing something that seems self-evident. The new real takeaway should be that these hypothetical-illnesses-turned-radical-anti-establishment communities are not only growing and proving resistant to facts and research but that their number should only be expected to grow. The likelihood exists that a handful imaginary illnesses may eventually become commonplace, even normalized, in this modern and increasingly unscientifically oriented information society.
Why, you may ask, is this happening?
Maybe it’s obvious. The internet, itself, is a catalyst for social change, and that change has been both life-saving and disastrous. No greater information gathering and disbursing tool has forum has existed in the entirety of human history. And everyone’s invited; everyone with access to the internet has the ability to promote any belief they have, no matter how unfounded. The internet has proven also to be the most effective means for people to find each other and convince one another that their delusions are real by virtue of having other people say that they are.
If the question you were asking was actually, “Why does it matter?” then consider the cost of appeasing these disparate groups. That their needs are being met, or in dealing with the aftermath of their mistakes, hospital costs should be expected to soar and necessary services will be diverted in dealing with them. The fact that mental health services are so scant in modern-day America, for instance, means that all of these people with either flood emergency rooms or urgent care facilities or go doctor hunting until they find someone who will nod along with their delusion. The most likely end of which being not a medical professional, but a guru or healer willing to bilk the person and perhaps their family for all they can. As mental health remains an issue the Federal Government refuses to fund, and people with the internet self-diagnose delusional ailments as factual virus or allergy, nothing short of an exponential rise in such phenomena should be expected.
You may not be ready to deal with some underlying issues that conspiracy theories are a reaction to.
It’s not that conspiracy theory profiteers are disappearing, far from it. Social media has made it easier than ever to make a straw man out of the 24 hour news cycle for those who believe in an all-encompassing conspiracy. Meanwhile, their friends and family trying to convince them otherwise has much the opposite effect.
A Florida woman who claimed the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax was sentenced Wednesday to five months in prison for making death threats against the parent of one of the students killed in the attack.
Lucy Richards, 57, pleaded guilty to one count of transmitting threats through interstate communications, admitting that she sent the parent a message reading, “LOOK BEHIND YOU IT IS DEATH,” court documents show.
The parent was referred to only as “L.P.” in court documents, but Reuters and the Associated Press identified him as Lenny Pozner. His 6-year-old son Noah was among the 20 children and six adults shot and killed by gunman Adam Lanza at the Newtown, Conn., school in December 2012.
Prosecutors alleged Richards left menacing voice mails and emails with Pozner last January, saying in one, “death is coming to you real soon.” Three of the charges in her four-count indictment were dismissed under the plea agreement.
After she completes her prison sentence, Richards will be confined to her home for five months, according to court records. She will also undergo three years of supervised release, during which time she will be required to maintain a daily log of her computer activity.
In court Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Cohn told Richards her threats against Pozner were “disturbing,” according to the Associated Press.
“I’m sure he wishes this was false and he could embrace Noah, hear Noah’s heartbeat and hear Noah say ‘I love you, Dad’,” Cohn said, as reported by the Associated Press. “Your words were cruel and insensitive. This is reality and there is no fiction. There are no alternative facts.”
Prosecutors agreed to a somewhat reduced prison term for Richards “based upon the defendant’s recognition and affirmative and timely acceptance of personal responsibility,” the plea agreement says.
Richards apologized to Pozner in a statement, according to the Associated Press, which reported that she had mental health problems, including anxiety disorder and agoraphobia.
“I don’t know where my heart and head were that day, but they were not in the right place,” she said. “It was the worst mistake of my life and I am truly sorry.”
Sandy Hook hoaxers have peddled conspiracy theories about the mass shooting in online message boards, blogs and grainy YouTube videos. Their main allegation is that the massacre was a “false flag” or fake attack orchestrated by government officials to build support for gun control. There is no credible evidence supporting such a claim.
Hoaxers have harassed numerous parents and relatives of the Sandy Hook victims over the years, and Richards is the latest to atone for such actions.
In 2014, a self-proclaimed hoaxer in Virginia was sentenced to a year in prison after he stole Sandy Hook memorial signs from playgrounds honoring the victims. The following year, a Brooklyn man received a one-year suspended sentence for intimidating the sister of Victoria Soto, a slain Sandy Hook teacher hailed as a hero for shielding her first-graders during the attack.
Pozner, the target of extensive harassment, moved from Connecticut to Florida with his wife and two preteen daughters shortly after his son’s death. He has since dedicated himself to exposing hoaxers and debunking conspiracy theories about what happened at Sandy Hook, according to a New York Magazine profile last year.
He started by releasing Noah’s death certificate and report card to prove his son was real, the magazine reported, and once spent four hours fielding questions from conspiracy theorists on a Facebook group called Sandy Hook Hoax. He has filed hundreds of copyright claims to have pictures of his son taken down from conspiracy websites and has written commentaries in local newspapers calling out hoaxers by name. In 2015, he published a 165-page e-book that lambasted a leading hoaxer. And last year, he sued the same hoaxer for invasion of privacy.
“Conspiracy theorists erase the human aspect of history,” Pozner told New York Magazine. “My child — who lived, who was a real person — is basically going to be erased.”
Pozner also confronted James Tracy, a former academic who was one of the earliest purveyors of Sandy Hook conspiracy theories. After Tracy demanded proof from Pozner that his son was real, Pozner called on his employer, Florida Atlantic University, to take action against him. The university fired Tracy shortly after. He has filed a lawsuit in Florida to get his job back.
Court documents show that Richards learned of Pozner from news stories about Tracy’s firing. One of the stories listed Pozner’s phone number.
“Richards saw the telephone number and, because she was angry over the firing, decided to call L.P.,” reads a statement of facts filed with the court.
Prosecutors said Richards left four voice mails and two emails with Pozner on Jan. 10, 2016.
“You gonna die,” she allegedly said. “Death is coming to you real soon and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
All the messages contained “true threats,” prosecutors said.
On Wednesday, Pozner told Reuters he was satisfied with the sentence Richards received.
“For me it’s about raising awareness to this growing problem of alternative facts,” he said, “and people who are easily influenced by those facts, and then, take it upon themselves to think that they are the part of some army of good.”
I know a fair amount about conspiracy theories. When I was growing up, my father would regularly allude to any number of possible culprits behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His list of possible motives for everyone from J. Edgar Hoover to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson included hushing him up about the existence of extraterrestrials or to keep the Vietnam War going indefinitely. At the time, these ideas seemed just as plausible as any other, including the “official story” as it was referred to by him and others who rejected the idea of Lee Harvey Oswald being the lone assassin.
I love my Dad and even after I learned that the majority of his and others’ misgivings about the JFK assassination had been sufficiently answered several times over, I respect him. He was, at one time, part of the two thirds of Americans who did not believe that Oswald, alone, killed JFK. This event, which would become America’s preeminent conspiracy theory, enthralled and confused. It was the unsettling and complicated event that awakened the country from the docile complacency and domesticity of the 1950s and a return to an anti-establishment strain of America’s civil DNA. My dad who was twelve when Kennedy was assassinated, grew up questioning and distrusting the Government; especially after being drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
From my father’s influence, my becoming a 9/11-Truther was all but guaranteed.
Years later, after dozens of hours spent watching conspiracy “documentaries” that claimed to prove the twin towers had to be taken out by a controlled demolition and “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” and “What about building 7?” it was only my desire to ignore contradictory information that allowed me to maintain faith in a massive conspiracy conducted within the US Government involving several moving parts and thousands of collaborators all sworn to secrecy for life. At least two branches of the military, full coordination of all intelligence communities in the US and Canada, not to mention material support from United Airlines, Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration and, perhaps most notably, the 55 military personnel that died in the Pentagon on that day.
I will go no further to debunk my own past beliefs. The point here is not to berate my past-tense self or to belittle anyone who still holds fast to the belief that 9/11 was an inside job. The point is that such a belief is just that, a belief and an unfounded one at that.
This is an important point that must be acknowledged going forward. We need to discuss conspiracy theories, even though the use of the word “theory” is a misnomer, in terms of founded and unfounded.
The fact is, the suspicion of a conspiracy or cover-up might not always be so far fetched, but there are ways to tell if such suspicions are warranted. The number of people involved in a conspiracy can, over time, has been shown to have a fairly reliable mathematical function.
That’s right! Conspiracies unravel and I can prove it mathematically!
Actually, Oxford University’s Dr. David Grimes already has.
Dr. Grimes’ work shows us that if a conspiracy exists and a large enough number of people are involved, it should be only a matter of time before it is revealed. That math can be taken the other way as well. If a supposed conspiracy, say the moon landing, has yet to be proven false after over fifty years, then very few people had to have been involved. Based on this metric, anyone willing to subject their belief in a conspiracy to logical scrutiny should also expect hard evidence by a certain point in time.
Here’s a simple mathematical equation, as I understand Dr. Grimes’ formula the chances of a conspiracy failing is approximately 4:1,000,000 per person per year. That’s a pretty big number. So, if we were to subject the 9/11 conspiracy theory to this metric, considering a number often given as necessary to pull off all of the attacks set at around 100,000, the conspiracy would most likely have unraveled by 2005. Of course, if someone were to say that such a conspiracy could be conducted only by the Executive office of the President (1800 people) and an elite team of less than 200 agents, such a conspiracy may not be revealed in our lifetimes (125 years). Grimes acknowledges that his number is an estimate based on known conspiracies that have been revealed in the past. Such an equation should only serve as guide.
Consider one of the newest conspiracy theories out there, the suspicion that Trump, his campaign and post-election administrative staff, colluded with Russians to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. It has been less than six months since the election that shocked the world, in which fewer than 20% of the American people voted for Donald Trump and, due to the electoral process, were able to claim an Electoral College victory.
If there had been collusion between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign, assuming that members in the know within the campaign would number about twenty and giving the Russians a team of about 1000 (maybe a generous number, I wouldn’t know). We would expect such a conspiracy to unravel within the next 980 years, with the odds being 1:1 in about 490 years. That would be ludicrous, of course, because either the information would come out within the lifetime of the last conspirator or the information would be released by some sleuth or scholar sometime beforehand. So, if there were some collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians we would expect to have seen something within our lifetimes, obviously.
If nothing has come out, at all, by that point, we should assume that there was no collusion.
Of course, there has been some information that has come out. It hasn’t necessarily implicated Donald Trump, but it keeps moving ever closer to him. The most recent implications being that Jared Kushner met with members of a sanctioned Russian bank, as well as seeking to create a secret communication back-channel between the Trump and the Russians during the Presidential transition period. This, along with Michael Flynn and others’ communications with Russians, have led to open speculation about a possible Trump/Russia collusion in the 2016 election. Not since the assassination of JFK have so many Americans openly discussed the possibility of a conspiracy in earnest.
One thing most Americans aren’t talking about anymore, whether or not the election was being hacked by the Russians. Most folks just find the idea too outlandish. Most Americans want to think of themselves as rational people and the stigma assigned to conspiracy theories is so great, especially after that whole big mess where people suggested that the last President of the United States wasn’t even born in the country, no one wants to be lumped in with that.
Well, what about a bit of a thought experiment. As more avid conspiracy theorists may say, “I’m just asking questions.” What if, hypothetically, some individual or group of individuals had hacked into county election offices in various States and were able to keep a few states Red that might have otherwise gone Blue. What would that look like?
How would anyone even know that it had happen?
A December 13, 2016 post by Slate.com‘s Future Tense writer Theodore R. Johnson explained that Russia’s massive disinformation campaign was aimed at “hacking” the American voter by providing a steady stream of anti-Hillary Clinton leaks and fake news stories. This much is true and well known at this point, but for this thought experiment imagine that the mind of the American voter was not the only thing that was hacked. Johnson wrote that “despite a number of pre-election reports citing voting-machine vulnerabilities, anyone going in search of hacked precinct electoral computers is likely to come up empty-handed,” but this is the very task that has been taken on by #unhackthevote.
UnHacktheVote.com has been analyzing and releasing their assessment of the the 2016 Presidential Election and the likely scenarios that they believe may provide evidence of someone, perhaps someone or some group in or from Russia, may have hacked the election for real, and not just in the “our hearts and minds” kinda way.
How, you may ask, does this crackpot intend to prove that the election was hacked? Apparently, they are using a healthy dose of mathematics. Specifically, Continuously Variable Transmission (or CVT) analysis, the same analytic framework used to study the variation in global economic markets. For those not well versed in CVT (including myself), detailed explanation of what this analysis shows on both their website and on Twitter via the hashtag #unhackthevote.
Okay, now that everyone’s conspiracy theory glands are flaring up, allow me to provide an anti-inflammatory. CVT can show a few very interesting things, namely, that higher population precincts (read high population density) were more erratic in whom they voted for in the Presidential election than expected, and that smaller (rural) population density areas may have voted with more regularity than is to be expected. In one, very telling example (shown below) Union County, North Carolina’s rural (or at least more sparsely populated) precincts went overwhelmingly for Clinton but then, as if by magic, that same county’s higher population precincts went for Trump. It was is if Voting for Trump at some point was a function of a higher population precinct; as if the votes were programmed as such. This seemingly inextricable outcome, and here’s where I play the wet blanket, is not only an initial set of findings that have not been subjected to peer review but also represents a set of statistical anomalies that aren’t likely to impress a statistically unsophisticated American public. It may also be premature and there may well be a more logical reason for these anomalies. Only time will tell.
At some point, a conspiracy theory has to be acknowledged as either founded or unfounded. History shows that most major conspiracies (say, the Tuskegee Experiments) were never theorized before they were revealed whereas conspiracy theories such as the Moon Landing being a hoax only became popular after any likelihood of it actually being a conspiracy would have likely unraveled.
With a public armed to the teeth with the greatest conspiracy theory promotion tools the world has ever known (the internet and free time) and ready access to information to either confirm or falsify any conspiracy theory they may have (thanks again to the internet, along with the various echo chambers we humans tend to create for ourselves), there needs to be some arbitrary cut-off whereby a person can say “It’s been 10 years, maybe I can let the whole thing go.” For some, that time period may be only a few months. For some, like my father, nearly a lifetime. I would say that it is not wise hold onto some belief in a conspiracy for too long because 1) it can drive you crazy and 2) if there was anything to it you would have known by now. The problem is that such a belief can become a paranoid obsession, with every coincidence proof of an evermore vast conspiracy to cover up the last conspiracy, ad infinitum. That’s really no way to live.
So, as a concerned citizen, I want any wrong-doing laid bare for all to see. I want everyone who had a hand in any shady deal exposed and prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law. If that means that a conspiracy such as the Russians hacking the Presidential Election is exposed, so be it. If, however, no such hack occurred and the very real Russian interference of fake news stories, hacking the Democratic National Committee and releasing emails via WikiLeaks, and attempting to influence the Trump campaign were all that was done (and that is still a Hell of a lot) then, at some point, we all need to acknowledge it.
Note, I am not saying that we have made it that far yet. Right now, investigators such as #UnHacktheVote are doing exactly what needs to happen to say, eventually, whether such a hack occurred or not. A lot of angry voters decided to elect an anti-establishment President and, like it or not, that is who Donald Trump is. Hack or no hack, Trump/Russia collusion or not, Americans need to invest the time they might otherwise use to concoct conspiracy theories to do some deep prolonged introspection.
By Brian Tashman (Right Wing Watch)
In recent days a report from Washington D.C.’s Fox affiliate on the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich has dominated the conservative media world, including Fox News, Breitbart, InfoWars, and the Drudge Report, while most other outlets are covering the ever-increasing number of White House scandals.
The local Fox broadcaster’s story relied on the word of a private investigator, Rod Wheeler, who claimed he discovered that Rich had transferred tens of thousands of emails to WikiLeaks, the group which released hacked DNC emails during the 2016 presidential election.
Wheeler, as it turns out, was a Fox News analyst, vocal Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist who was being paid by another Fox News pundit, Ed Butowsky. (Butowsky initially denied that he had any role in the investigation but then admitted that he had lied about his involvement.) Both the Washington, D.C. police and Rich’s family rejected Wheeler’s “findings,” with a family spokesman saying that “there is a special place in hell for people” who “would try and manipulate the legacy of a murder victim in order to forward their own political agenda.”
Despite initial glee from right-wing media pundits—Alex Jones of InfoWars declared that Wheeler “got in the laptop” that Rich was using—it turns out that Wheeler has absolutely no evidence that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.
Wheeler admitted to CNN that he had no evidence and based his allegations on something he heard from a Fox reporter:
But Tuesday afternoon, Wheeler told CNN he had no evidence to suggest Rich had contacted Wikileaks before his death.
Wheeler instead said he only learned about the possible existence of such evidence through the reporter he spoke to for the FoxNews.com story. He explained that the comments he made to WTTG-TV were intended to simply preview Fox News’ Tuesday story. The WTTG-TV news director did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“I only got that [information] from the reporter at Fox News,” Wheeler told CNN.
Asked about a quote attributed to him in the Fox News story in which he said his “investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and Wikileaks,” Wheeler said he was referring to information that had already been reported in the media.
NBC News also reported that FBI officials rebuffed “the Fox News claim that an FBI analysis of a computer belonging to Rich contained thousands of e-mails to and from WikiLeaks.”
Local police in Washington, D.C., never even gave the FBI Rich’s laptop to analyze after his murder, according to the current FBI official.
And a former law enforcement official with first-hand knowledge of Rich’s laptop said the claim was incorrect. “It never contained any e-mails related to WikiLeaks, and the FBI never had it,” the person said.
Despite this, Fox News ran with the story anyway, and Sean Hannity interviewed Wheeler on his program last night.
Wheeler conceded that he never once saw Rich’s emails or his computer: “I have never seen the emails myself directly. I haven’t even seen the computer that Seth Rich used. I don’t even know where the computer is.”
He told Hannity that he is relying on “a federal investigator” for information, whose tips made him “think that perhaps there were some email communications between Seth and WikiLeaks.”
“I don’t know for sure, I don’t know as a matter of fact if the emails went out to WikiLeaks or anybody else but it sure appears that way,” he said.
Wheeler’s statements on “Hannity” contradict what he told Fox’s Washington D.C. affiliate when he said there was “absolutely” evidence linking Rich and WikiLeaks: “That’s confirmed.”
Hannity, for his part, blindly speculated that Rich was a disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporter who communicated with WikiLeaks because he was outraged by Sanders’s treatment by the DNC.
It seems that no matter how unreliable and discredited this story gets, conservative outlets will likely stand by it.
UPDATE: In an interview with Newsweek, Wheeler said he never talked with the federal investigator—who he told Hannity “came across very credible”—he cited for his story:
The FBI is not investigating the unsolved murder of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, Newsweek has learned. The bureau’s lack of involvement refutes a Fox News report that an FBI analysis of Rich’s computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to a person with ties to WikiLeaks. The report cited an unnamed “federal investigator.”
On Monday, a local Fox affiliate quoted Rod Wheeler, a private investigator looking into Rich’s death, as saying he knew of evidence connecting Rich to WikiLeaks. The following day, Fox News published an expanded report, claiming that a “federal investigator” had corroborated Wheeler’s comments.
Citing that source, Fox News said that “an FBI forensic report of Rich’s computer—generated within 96 hours after Rich’s murder—showed that he made contact with WikiLeaks through Gavin MacFadyen,” whom The New York Times described in an obituary as a mentor to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and as director of WikiLeaks. The source said that sometime before May 21, 2016, Rich had transferred 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments belonging to DNC leaders dating from January 2015 to late May 2016. MacFadyen, the apparent recipient, died of lung cancer last October.
But Newsweek has learned that the FBI is not involved in the Rich case, despite the claims that it is. And speaking with Newsweek, Wheeler, the private investigator, seemed to walk back his comments.
Wheeler was not immediately available to comment on Wednesday about Newsweek’s finding. But in a message to Newsweek on Tuesday, Wheeler said the Fox News report was misleading and that his information was secondhand from that “federal investigator.” “I’ve never, ever seen Seth Rich’s computer, nor have I talked with the federal investigator,” he wrote in a message. “I think it is likely that there is information on the computer that can assist us in the investigation,” he said, “but short of that, I have nothing firsthand.” He added, “I’m just going off of what the federal investigator says.”