Pranksters Trolled Russia With Nazis and a Former Porn Star

It’s incredibly easy to make phony war propaganda go viral

Pranksters Trolled Russia With Nazis and a Former Porn Star Pranksters Trolled Russia With Nazis and a Former Porn Star

Uncategorized February 24, 2015 0

Repeat this three times—don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Sasha Grey knows this better than most. On Feb. 18, the American porn... Pranksters Trolled Russia With Nazis and a Former Porn Star

Repeat this three times—don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Sasha Grey knows this better than most. On Feb. 18, the American porn star turned actress and author woke up to reports that Ukrainian soldiers raped and murdered her while she worked as a nurse near war-torn city of Donetsk.

The story came from VK, a popular Russian social media site akin to Facebook, and took the form of a simple image macro meme—a picture of Grey next to a sad story of her death.

According to the tale of woe, Ukrainian soldiers captured Grey, humiliated and tortured her before chopping her to pieces with axes. VK users posted and reposted the story thousands of times.

Grey wasn’t happy, and she responded on Twitter.

The whole situation is weird. But what’s even weirder is that back during the Euromaidan uprising—which pitted pro-European Ukrainian protesters against a pro-Russian government—Grey tweeted her support for the protesters.

Russian bloggers and news outlets excoriated her, claiming she supported a junta in the country. The protesters eventually toppled former Pres. Viktor Yanukovych, an event which precipitated a Russian invasion.

So, first Grey was an enemy of Russia and Kremlin-backed troops in Ukraine, then she became one of its martyrs? Grey was just as confused as everyone else.

On the surface, it looks as if pro-separatist groups out of Russia or Donetsk used Grey to score easy points against Kiev on social media. Moscow’s Internet troll army certainly isn’t above such tactics.

The Kremlin employs legions of computer geeks to flood Websites around the world with pro-Russian comments. But Grey’s troubles are more likely part of an anti-propaganda campaign—one that used the actress along with a Nazi war criminal to make the Kremlin’s troll army look like a bunch of idiots.

VK.com images of Sasha Grey and Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Images via VK.com. At top—Sasha Grey arrives at the premiere of 127 Hours on Nov. 3, 2010. Matt Sayles/AP photo

According to Kevin Rothrock at Global Voices, the images of Grey and others uploaded onto Russian social media sites are part of an elaborate campaign carried out by Internet pranksters.

He pointed to the popular Cyrillic image board 2ch.hk as the origin of the anti-propaganda campaign. The site is similar in style and structure to 4chan—the famous message board that spawned Anonymous and other Deep Web activities both benign and nefarious.

Users on the site wanted to test Russian social media users’ gullibility, according to Rothrock, so they uploaded outlandish disinformation about the war in Ukraine, sat back and watched the viral outage.

It’s a popular and common tactic for inducing rage on the Internet. A pop culture fan might post a picture of Jar Jar Binks alongside a misquoted line from a Harry Potter novel, and wait for other fans to freak out.

But 2ch.hk went further. Along with Grey, the users mixed images of famous pro-Russian rebel leaders and Auschwitz’s notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele with reports of Ukrainian brutality.

The images described Kiev’s soldiers as monsters who tortured and murdered the depicted “heroes.” The Mengele meme cast the war criminal as an “angel,” who stitched up the wounded in the field before Ukrainian fascists murdered him.

The prank worked. The Russian Internet hoovered up the false information and repeated it thousands of times.

Humans have a tendency to seek out information that confirms their biases. We all do it. It’s what helps keep cable news channels—all of them—in business. So it isn’t shocking to see VK users repeating false information that falls in line with what they already believe about the conflict in Ukraine.

What’s worse is when major news outlets picked up the story and repeated it without any investigation. Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine initially reported the Grey story as part of Russia’s propaganda campaign against Kiev.

When it comes to war and propaganda, the truth will always be hard to discern. One thing’s for certain, never automatically believe anything you read on social media, especially if it confirms your biases.