The Interface

By Casey Newton

How Lady Gaga fans bend reality to their will using Twitter



October 2 · Issue #218 · View online
The Interface
One of our core concerns around here is the way social networks are vulnerable to coordinated influence campaigns that can distort the nature of our reality, with negative consequences for our country. I write about this most often in in conjunction with state-sponsored campaigns, like the ones that Facebook caught Russia and Iran promoting this summer.
Today I want to talk about a different kind of coordinated influence campaign. It’s a campaign to promote the recording artist and actress known as Lady Gaga.
Exhibit 1 comes from Brett Esposito in BuzzFeed. An unknown Gaga fan organized a conspiracy on a message board in which fans are encouraged to create “soccer mom” accounts, in which they represent themselves as older women, and tweet song requests at radio stations around the country. The scheme reads in part:
“Trick the radio hosts into thinking the GP [general population] loves it.
"If you have qualms about using someone’s picture and ‘impersonating’ them on twitter, use a stock photo of a middle-aged woman/man. This way it’s completely legal and you can’t get in trouble for it but you will be helping radio DJ’s all over the world think that the GP is actually living for the song, therefore playing it more often.”
Exhibit 2 comes from Rachael Krishna, also in BuzzFeed. Gaga has a movie coming out Friday, A Star Is Born, that will compete with the superhero movie Venom. Her fans are reportedly flooding Venom with negative reviews in the hopes that it will drive people to A Star Is Born:
On Tuesday, a number of people accused fans of A Star Is Born and Lady Gaga of being bots and posting negative reviews of Venom.
For what it’s worth, this behavior isn’t exactly unusual for Gaga fans. The Little Monsters, as they’re known, have been behind a number of online troll campaigns; they were part of a group that trolled Ed Sheeran off Twitter and regularly fight with other fandoms. The fandom were supportive of troll account Uma Kompton and have been accused on multiple occasions of spreading racist and sexist abuse. The singer has in the past asked her fans to change their behavior, but a lot of it is rooted in online stan culture.
Some of the reviews are clearly satirical. “I saw #Venom last night and had to leave halfway through, my children wouldn’t stop crying at how bad it was,” reads one from a faux soccer mom. “Luckily a second pre screening of #AStarIsBorn was about to start, and now we are all crying, tears of amazement. Please pray for my eldest he is still in a coma.”
This kind of brigading isn’t new. In 2016, Brian Raftery wrote about the still-unsolved mystery of why a small group set out to tank the IMDB rating of a harmless indie movie named Kicks.
Earlier this year, Charlie Warzel spoke to the researcher Aviv Ovadya about the concept of “reality apathy”:
Beset by a torrent of constant misinformation, people simply start to give up. Ovadya is quick to remind us that this is common in areas where information is poor and thus assumed to be incorrect. The big difference, Ovadya notes, is the adoption of apathy to a developed society like ours. The outcome, he fears, is not good. “People stop paying attention to news and that fundamental level of informedness required for functional democracy becomes unstable.”
On one hand, most of us probably care very little how many times Lady Gaga’s new song gets played, or how much money her new movie makes. On the other, her fans are showing us how easily they can manipulate reality by exploiting anonymous Twitter accounts, viral mechanics, and a willingness to bend the truth.
It would be easy to make too much of this. But it’s easier to make too little of it. The cynicism about reality required to be truly apathetic toward it can only manifest over time. And whether the campaigns are sponsored by states or deranged fans, they’re now fully underway — and quite effective.

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And finally ...
When I started this newsletter 51 weeks ago, I set a goal for myself of hitting 5,000 subscribers by the midterm elections. As of today, I’m at 5,011, with just over 30 days to go. I wouldn’t be able to devote so much time to The Interface if it weren’t for all of you subscribing, sharing, and writing back with your tips, well wishes, and criticisms. Please keep them coming.
I want to give special thanks to my boss, Nilay Patel, for giving me the room to try this thing. I also want to thank some of the people who offered me crucial early support in sharing The Interface with their own readers and followers: Walt Mossberg, Kara Swisher, Ben Thompson, Charlie Warzel, Taylor Lorenz, Kevin Roose, Farhad Manjoo, Sarah Frier, Deepa Seetharaman, and Sheera Frankel. It helped a ton.
Lastly, thanks to all the great journalists — including all of those I just mentioned — whose work I feature here every day. I started writing this newsletter in part because I felt like all the amazing journalism investigating the intersection between social networks and democracy wasn’t getting enough attention. I’m grateful to everyone who helps me understand social networks better every day.
Here’s to the next 5,000.
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