The War On Pineapple Pizza Predicted The Capitol Riot Over A Year Ago
Recipe reveals how ‘influencers’ spark online division and real world extremism
In July 2019, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) claimed that they had “no evidence of Russia actively carrying out information operations against pizza toppings,” but that didn’t stop the agency from using the benign controversy as a teachable moment; demonstrating how easily actors with nefarious intent foment unrest online that spills into the streets. CISA’s “War on Pineapple” succinctly describes how foreign agents influence social media to cause division and social unrest. If only we had listened.
CISA, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, crafted an infographic that revealed the playbook used to influence and escalate online division to real-world activism. Developed as a cautionary reminder of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the infographic’s prescience is uncanny in the wake of the Capitol riot on January 6. Indeed, planning for that day didn’t happen overnight. It requires specific ingredients to bake over time before the cheese is heated to eruption.
This is the recipe for inciting a riot.
“Some people who destroyed property, claimed Joe Biden was an illegitimate President-elect, and violently stormed the Capitol building as part of “Stop the Steal” had not voted for any candidate — not even Donald Trump. So what got them off the couch?”
Targeting divisive issues
Online trolls are always looking for opportunities to engage and enrage; not meme debates like “laurel versus yanny,” but ones that can be divisive. The topic might be gun control, women’s rights, questions about the election, or racial injustice, for example. In the infographic, CISA uses the question about whether pineapple belongs on pizza.
Trolls don’t care about the outcome of a threaded debate; they don’t even need to win. Be on the lookout for those that just want to spark division.
Moving accounts into place
As the troll prepares to engage, they might change their avatar and profile to match the stance. Older, established accounts may have greater reach by follower count and assumed authenticity by virtue of longevity. To activate these accounts, CISA suggests the profile names might be changed rather than creating brand new accounts. That’s because a new account with a handful of followers would be like a tree falling in the woods with nobody around to hear it.
In addition, CISA notes that multiple accounts are typically controlled by the same user, or in some cases, a farm of operatives. This allows the dubious actor to game the social feed algorithm so posts can be carried by a tsunami of likes and retweets into extended network feeds.
Amplifying and distorting the conversation
One of the hallmarks of a troll is the use of misinformation or the citation of unreliable sources as evidence for an inaccurate claim. Quotes may be taken out of context or entirely fabricated to fit a narrative.
Even when they’re amusing, they can still be damaging. Last week saw more Mike Lindell (the pillow guy) bashing on Twitter, with retweets devoted to an attributed quote where he allegedly said the Capitol “rioters were hypnotized by Antifa temptresses who hid psychoactive drugs” between their legs. As wacky as his claims are of election fraud, Lindell did not say this. But that hasn’t stopped the raft of people from spreading the fake news as accurate.
Why? Because it’s posted on a WordPress site with a legitimate-sounding name — The Business Standard News — yet it hides the disclaimer about being satirical on a separate page, rather than on articles. Also? A review of their “About” page reveals another deception, as it directs users to “their” Facebook profile, which is the seemingly legitimate South African Biz News Facebook page.
But nobody ever triple clicks to verify a post. Trolls know that most people just blindly like and drive-by retweet.
Making the mainstream
When the debate reaches televised mainstream media, trolls have hit the jackpot. As CISA notes, the “meddling is legitimized” as the message is amplified across the nation. The point is, if it’s on the evening news, regardless of the channel you watch, then the topic is worthy of attention. Expect pundits to weigh-in on the matter as the controversy snowballs.
I mean, really, who are these people that put fruit on pizza? We need to put an end to that.
CISA claims that dark money injects funding for events or organized events to influence people off the couch and into the streets. But it isn’t just anonymous agents. Once the big lie hit the mainstream, some donors supported the “Stop the Steal” campaign with wads of cash. One gave $2.5 million and later sued to get it back. Another $300,000 was donated by an heiress to a supermarket chain.
It stands to reason that the campaigns, online agitation, and paid travel, certainly influenced and manipulated many to action on January 6. Consider this head-shaking revelation by CNN — some at the Capitol insurrection did not even vote.
Let that sink in for a moment. Some people who destroyed property, claimed Joe Biden was an illegitimate President-elect, and violently stormed the Capitol building as part of “Stop the Steal” had not voted for any candidate — not even Donald Trump. So, what got them off the couch?
The protest and violence of the day might not have their origins in a single social post. But the confirmation bias over time may reinforce beliefs that ultimately lead to blind, ignorant rage.
Foreign and domestic threats
CISA falls short in the illustration; however, it is evangelizing the notion that disingenuous influence only originates from foreign soil. Domestic extremist groups have also co-opted the social universe to peddle divisive notions, even recently. Last month, far-right activists and conspiracy theorists used the Gamestop chaos to amplify anti-Semitic rhetoric and hate speech to drive recruitment, as reported in Newsweek. Some used the massive online “pump and dump” scheme masquerading as another “Occupy Wall Street” movement on Telegram to foment violence, with some urging the need to “stock up on weapons and ammunition.”
And it wasn’t just anti-Semitic tropes. In jumping on the Robinhood “eat the rich” bandwagon, members of multiple groups affiliated with anti-government or far-right were explicit in tying incendiary commentary to election conspiracies. “The people that can shut down multiple Wall Street stocks in the middle of a trading day are the same people that can shut down vote counting in the middle of the night,” referenced one account in the Newsweek piece. “The same people who control our political system also control Wall Street and big business.”
CISA’s “War on Pineapple” reminds us to be alert and to identify social influencers with dubious intent. Even after the great Twitter purge of bot accounts, I’ve seen countless new profiles emerge with creation dates since Election Day with less than a handful of followers attempting to troll on topics related to the election, the inauguration, and the impeachment of Donald Trump. Unfortunately, I see users falling into the same old trap, being egged into debate before scrutinizing the author’s legitimacy. If only we decried “fake users” as often as we heard the phrase “fake news.”
As to whether pineapple belongs on pizza? It’s hardly worth debate because it doesn’t.
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