7 Dec 2017
7 Dec 2017
Oobah Butler built so much hype with his totally fake restaurant, people called from all over the world trying to get reservations.
People from all over the world have called Oobah Butler begging to book a reservation at his trendy London restaurant, The Shed at Dulwich.
“People were trying to blackmail me to get tables,” Butler told As It Happens guest host Jim Brown. “There were TV executives trying to get in contact with me, all kinds of people.”
There’s just one problem. No such restaurant exists.
‘It kind of just came to me when I sat one day eating toast in the place that I live, which is a shed.’ — Oobah Butler, pretend restaurant owner
The Shed at Dulwich — which was briefly the top-rated London restaurant on the review site TripAdvisor — is actually just a shed that Butler lives in.
“This is how far the housing crisis has gone,” he said with a laugh. “It’s not even cheap.”
He was sitting in his tiny, overpriced home last spring when the idea for the elaborate hoax struck him.
“It kind of just came to me when I sat one day eating toast in the place that I live, which is a shed.”
The London writer has some experience with TripAdvisor deception. His first paid writing gig was to pen fake reviews for restaurants — which is against the review site’s rules.
He likens the job to the famous scene in the sci-fi movie The Matrix, when the lead character learns he lives in a false reality by taking a red pill.
“All of a sudden, now everything is like the false reality,” he recalls.
He began crafting his own false reality by registering The Shed at Dulwich on TripAdvisor, describing it as a small, appointment-only destination for foodies.
He got everyone he knows to write incredible, five-star reviews, praising the homemade food and cozy atmosphere, and of course, talking about how hard it is to get a table.
He also built a website, which described The Shed as “London’s best kept secret.”
“It’s all about mystique,” Butler said.
Butler filled the site with beautiful pictures showcasing the fake restaurant’s fake food.
A fudge brownie topped with whipped cream was really a painted urinal cake with a dollop of shaving cream.
A hunk of bacon next to a fried egg is actually a close-up of Butler’s foot.
“I wanted people to be drooling over my foot, literally.”
Pretty soon the fake restaurateur starting getting calls from would-be customers seeking reservations.
He told them The Shed was all booked up for the foreseeable future.
That just made people want to eat there more.
“People stated applying for jobs at my non-existent restaurant, you know?” he said. “A PR agency wants to represent my non-existent restaurant. All this stuff, it got way out of hand.”
Finally, on Nov. 1, seven months after Butler began his ruse, The Shed at Dulwich became the No. 1 London restaurant on TripAdvisor.
Asked for comment, a TripAdvisor spokesperson told As It Happens:
“It is important to note that generally the only people who create fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us. As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant, this is not a problem we experience with our regular community — therefore this ‘test’ is not a real world example.”
The company also said it uses “state-of-the-art technology to identify suspicious review patterns” to stop real businesses from manipulating their rankings.
But Butler didn’t stop there.
“I’ve created this amazing reality online, now the only challenge left to do is try to recreate that in reality,” he said. “So I opened The Shed for one night only.”
He set up tables in his garden and hired his friends to pretend to be servers and patrons. Then he stocked up on instant food, like microwave dinners and instant soup mix.
His first real customers were an American couple on their first trip to Europe.
“We served them this food and they looked so miserable,” he said.
“There was this moment that I can just remember so clearly. I was looking from a distance and the woman, who described herself as a foodie, she got out her phone to take a photo of the mac and cheese, looked at it through the phone, and then just didn’t take the photo. She put it away. I felt kind of guilty at that point.”
But as they brought in new customers, people seemed to be having a good time. All of them gave positive feedback to the servers, and some even tried to book future reservations.
Even the Americans left a good review.
“The power of the internet is so strong that people will not even trust what’s in front of their eyes or what is going in their mouths,” he said.
After his one-night only experiment, Butler fessed up and removed The Shed from TripAdvisor. You can still see an archive of it here. He also wrote about the hoax for Vice News.
“You could just say that this has proven that everything we know is just essentially nonsense,” Butler said.
“But I’m an optimist, so what I would say is I think that this proves that if I can make a fake restaurant in my shed … anything is possible. There you go. What about that?”
We have millions of people who are warehoused in almost a larval state in their apartments, watching tv, paying for their medical plans, and glued to this mindless opera of cultural decay that’s recited day after day in front of them. I mean, it’s horrible to imagine — and this is a creation to some degree of the world corporate state, that probably has to be addressed.
– Terence McKenna, The Internet is the Cure for TV (1994)
I know the title of this post seems strange in light of several factors.
First, it’s been nearly twenty years since the dot-com bubble burst and it’s estimated that 3-4 billion people globally, or roughly 50% of the world’s population, already surf the web. Second, it’s become increasingly trendy in 2017 to highlight all the bad things about the internet, with social media typically singled out for the most intense and visceral criticism. Although I acknowledge some very real downsides of social media such as unhealthy obsession and addiction, most of the outrage we’ve seen this year has been focused on “fake news” and “Russia meddling.” In other words, most of the hysteria’s been political in nature, and would barely be registering anywhere near its current decibel level had Hillary Clinton won the election.
All of a sudden, there’s this insistence that social media is especially dangerous because it fosters the creation of echo chambers rife with tribal confirmation bias. Spaces where people with the same views simply talk to one another, and whoever’s willing to be the loudest and most aggressive at signaling to their tribe becomes the most popular. I don’t deny that this phenomenon exists, but like with anything else, you have to accept the bad with the good, and in the long-run the good far outweighs the bad. The main reason so many are having a panic attack right now is because the internet and social media allowed the public to talk to one another directly without being force-fed corporate media narratives and they decided to reject the chosen one, Hillary Clinton.
As such, the “very smart people” and “experts” have concluded the problem is with the voter, as opposed to the terrible candidates on offer or the corrupt system itself. This is the real reason for the current obsession with “fake news” and dangerous social media echo chambers. The elites are simply frustrated that their methods of propaganda no longer work as more and more people talk to each other online.
In contrast, I’m in the Masha Gessen camp when it comes to what actually happened during the 2016 election. Here’s what she said in a recent interview:
I want to really think differently than the very consistent liberal-media line of, Well if they just knew better they would vote differently. They’re under-informed, they’re under-educated. I think it really misunderstands something, which is that, just because people are not acting rationally in accordance with what you think is rational, doesn’t mean that they’re not acting rationally. And I think there’s perfectly rational voter behavior in voting for Trump. For economic reasons and social reasons.
Life is getting worse. You are less comfortable in your own house, in your own town, in your own skin. Your outlook for the future is worse with every passing year. And you conscientiously voted for people through this entire time. So it is actually an established fact that the system did not work for you. This representative democracy thing. And so you go and lob a grenade at it, when the grenade becomes available. And that is rational.
As such, it appears Trump’s election was indeed a rational response by an electorate fed up with the way things were going and faced with an unacceptable alternative. If that’s the case, then this entire narrative that the internet and social media leads to irrational choices because the unwashed plebs are talking to one another is completely wrong. In contrast, Trump’s election was a cry for help and a form of protest from a public that’s been abused and lied to by its own government for decades. I know several Trump voters personally, and not a single one of them really likes Trump, they just wanted to throw that democratic grenade at the system, which is their right as citizens. These were not votes for Trump as much as they were votes against Hillary. Period, end of story.
If that’s right, then the conventional wisdom that the internet and social media is destructive because it perpetuates “fake news” and leads to irrational outcomes is wrong. This isn’t to say Trump’s a good choice for President, but that his election was more than anything else a response to a discredited and corrupt status quo which refuses to reform or offer decent choices. If it wasn’t Trump in 2016, it would be someone worse down the road, and yes, there’s worse. Tom Cotton would be one example. In the long run, it’s probably for the best that we take the medicine now.
In the early days of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook everyone was brimming with optimism, yet after Hillary lost they suddenly became the biggest threat to society. While I have plenty of concerns about these platforms when it comes to censorship and privacy/surveillance issues, I remain in awe of the implications of people across the world easily talking to one another in real time and forming global networks. We’ve become so accustomed to social media at this point many of us already take for granted how extraordinary and revolutionary it really is. Nothing like this has ever happened before in human history, and it’s hard for me not to be extremely optimistic about its impact on life here on earth over a longer time horizon.
At this point, I want to offer a couple of real world examples to demonstrate what I mean. In yesterday’s piece, I quoted from an excellent article penned by Caitlin Johnstone. She’s an Australian woman who most of us never heard of two years ago, yet she consistently puts out some of the best commentary about U.S. politics by anyone, anywhere. How’s this possible and what does it mean?
It’s possible because of social media and the internet, which permits the gatekeeper-free publication and distribution of opinion on a global basis. This sort of thing has never been available to humanity on this scale and with this ease before, and the implications are simply mind-blowing.
Before the internet, anyone who wanted to have a major public voice on pretty much any issue would have to “play the game,” which basically meant rising up the ranks of some media conglomerate. We could assume that the best and brightest people with the most informed and enlightening opinions would inevitably rise to the top of these organizations, but that would be absurd. The types of people who actually reach the top of such organizations tend to be yes men and women who are really talented at kissing ass while simultaneously not offending the rich and powerful. As such, for most of humanity’s existence any “news” you heard tended to be a carefully crafted narrative that the gatekeepers wanted you to hear.
This is no longer the case. If you’re like me, and you think the smartest and most interesting thinkers out there could never find themselves anywhere near the top echelons of a major media company, then the fact such people are able to directly present their views to the public is an extremely liberating, powerful and positive development. Of course, you’ll also find plenty of terrible characters who get popular pushing degenerate ideas and philosophies, but you have to accept the bad with the good. That’s what freedom is all about. More importantly, I’m of the view that human beings talking to one another freely and on a global basis will be unimaginably positive for our species and the planet in the long-run, even though it may not look that way based on a short-term myopic viewpoint.
Then there’s Bitcoin. A creation which gives us an early indication of all the extraordinary things that can be accomplished by human beings across the world once they decide to voluntarily work together on something revolutionary and special. Although I’ve written extensively about many of Bitcoin’s positive attributes such as the fact it’s decentralized, trustless, free market, non-government money, I’ve neglected one of its most powerful aspects: the global community that’s been created around it.
Every single day, Bitcoiners from around the world are interacting and working with one another on a shared project that no person or institution controls. This is an experiment that never could’ve gotten off the ground and succeeded without the internet. It’s the first global project in history steered by regular people all over the world operating at a grassroots level attempting to tackle one of biggest problems humans have faced over thousands of years: money.
Whether you think Bitcoin’s great or terrible doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Bitcoin proves we don’t need bureaucrats, politicians or esteemed academic “experts” to solve our problems. Rather, we can do it by voluntarily pooling global brainpower and talking to one another. While Bitcoin itself is certainly extraordinary, the lesson it teaches us about what’s possible is even more powerful and inspiring. Moreover, it took over twenty years after the internet started gaining widespread adoption — as well as a devastating financial crisis — for this project to get going.
In other words, be patient. Don’t despair. These are still very early days and something like 50% of the planet is still offline. I’m not predicting that the global connectivity of the internet’s going to lead to utopia, but I’m saying over time, it will lead to extraordinarily positive developments the likes of which we can’t even begin to imagine. These are early days still.
Finally, I want to share an excerpt from the late, genius Terence McKenna’s musings on the internet circa 1994.
A majority of my followers on Twitter don’t even know who Terence McKenna is, which is remarkable considering the people who follow me are, generally speaking, not mainstream types.
Terence McKenna is one of the most underrated and under appreciated thinkers of the last 50 years.
What does this mean? It means there’s an incredible amount of mind-blowing information out there at everyone’s fingertips, we just haven’t found it yet. We’ll find the good stuff eventually.
The future’s bright, it’s just going to take some time.
Try writing some fake news on rock. It will follow you for eternity.
“The public, it seems, needs to be protected only from bloggers and websites.”
With pemission from
NOV 24, 2017
Can anyone still doubt that access to a relatively free and open internet is rapidly coming to an end in the west? In China and other autocratic regimes, leaders have simply bent the internet to their will, censoring content that threatens their rule. But in the “democratic” west, it is being done differently. The state does not have to interfere directly – it outsources its dirty work to corporations.
As soon as next month, the net could become the exclusive plaything of the biggest such corporations, determined to squeeze as much profit as possible out of bandwith. Meanwhile, the tools to help us engage in critical thinking, dissent and social mobilisation will be taken away as “net neutrality” becomes a historical footnote, a teething phase, in the “maturing” of the internet.
In December the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to repeal already compromised regulations that are in place to maintain a semblance of “net neutrality”. Its chairman, Ajit Pai, and the corporations that are internet service providers want to sweep away these rules, just like the banking sector got rid of financial regulations so it could inflate our economies into giant ponzi schemes.
That could serve as the final blow to the left and its ability to make its voice heard in the public square.
It was political leaders – aided by the corporate media – who paved the way to this with their fomenting of a self-serving moral panic about “fake news”. Fake news, they argued, appeared only online, not in the pages of the corporate media – the same media that sold us the myth of WMD in Iraq, and has so effectively preserved a single party system with two faces. The public, it seems, needs to be protected only from bloggers and websites.
The social media giants soon responded. It is becoming ever clearer that Facebook is interfering as a platform for the dissemination of information for progressive activists. It is already shutting down accounts, and limiting their reach. These trends will only accelerate.
Google has changed its algorithms in ways that have ensured the search engine rankings of prominent leftwing sites are falling through the floor. It is becoming harder and harder to find alternative sources of news because they are being actively hidden from view.
Google stepped up that process this week by “deranking” RT and Sputnik, two Russian news sites that provide an important counterweight – even if one skewed in its pro-Russia agenda – to the anti-Russia propaganda spouted by western corporate media. The two sites will be as good as censored on the internet for the vast majority of users.
RT is far from a perfect source of news – no state or corporate media is – but it is a vital voice to have online. It has become a sanctuary for many seeking alternative, and often far more honest, critiques both of western domestic policy and of western interference in far-off lands. It has its own political agenda, of course, but, despite the assumption of many western liberals, it provides a far more accurate picture of the world than the western corporate media on a vast range of issues.
That is for good reason. Western corporate media is there to shore up prejudices that have been inculcated in western audiences over a lifetime – the chief one being that western states rightfully act as well-meaning, if occasionally bumbling, policemen trying to keep order among other, unruly or outright evil states around the globe.
The media and political class can easily tap into these prejudices to persuade us of all sorts of untruths that advance western interests. To take just one example – Iraq. We were told Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda (he didn’t and could not have had); that Iraq was armed with WMD (it wasn’t, as UN arms inspectors tried to tell us); and that the US and UK wanted to promote democracy in Iraq (but not before they had stolen its oil). There may have been opposition in the west to the invasion of Iraq, but little of it was driven by an appreciation that these elements of the official narrative were all easily verified as lies.
RT and other non-western news sources in English provide a different lens through which we can view such important events, perspectives unclouded by a western patrician agenda.
They and progressive sites are being gradually silenced and blacklisted, herding us back into the arms of the corporate propagandists. Few liberals have been prepared to raise their voices on behalf of RT, forgetting warnings from history, such as Martin Niemoller’s anti-Nazi poem “First they came for the socialists”.
The existing rules of “net neutrality” are already failing progressives and dissidents, as the developments I have outlined above make clear. But without them, things will get even worse. If the changes are approved next month, internet service providers (ISPs), the corporations that plug us into the internet, will also be able to decide what we should see and what will be out of reach.
Much of the debate has focused on the impact of ending the rules on online commercial ventures. That is why Amazon and porn sites like Pornhub have been leading the opposition. But that is overshadowing the more significant threat to progressive sites and already-embattled principles of free speech.
ISPs will be given a much freer hand to determine the content we can can get online. They will be able to slow down the access speeds of sites that are not profitable – which is true for activist sites, by definition. But they may also be empowered to impose Chinese-style censorship, either on their own initiative or under political pressure. The fact that this may be justified on commercial, not political, grounds will offer little succour.
Those committed to finding real news may be able to find workarounds. But this is little consolation. The vast majority of people will use the services they are provided with, and be oblivious to what is no longer available.
If it takes an age to access a website, they will simply click elsewhere. If a Google search shows them only corporately approved results, they will read what is on offer. If their Facebook feed declines to supply them with “non-profitable” or “fake” content, they will be none the wiser. But all of us who care about the future will be the poorer.
Telecom giants in the US are set for a significant victory if Washington goes ahead with its plan to repeal so-called ‘net neutrality’ rules. The Obama-era legislation was enacted to prevent internet service providers from potentially cornering parts of the digital market and charging extra fees. As a result, it’s likely to have a direct impact on internet speeds in the US and cause a lot of inconvenience for users.
Meanwhile, Google has just been caught secretly collecting location data from Android phone users, even after they turned off location settings and had no SIM card in their devices.
So is there a way to escape from the increasing arbitrariness of the ‘regular internet’?
Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload, who is wanted in America for alleged illegal file sharing, has pledged to create an ‘alternative internet’ to defend rights to privacy and freedom online.
RT: What are your thoughts on Kim Dotcom’s idea? How is it possible to build an alternative internet?
Dmytri Kleiner: The current internet as it exists right now suffers from a lot of privacy concerns. A lot of those privacy concerns – some of them are inherent to the architecture of the platforms, but a lot of them are related more to the business models of a lot of the kind of companies that make money on the internet. Companies like Google and Facebook make their money by targeting advertising. And targeting advertising requires to know a lot more about you than untargeted advertising. So the more they know about you, the more they can sell these ads for.
Kim Dotcom’s proposal is not something that I’ve seen too many details about, although he has been mentioning MegaNet for a few years now I think, as early as 2015. And there are a lot of things that sound pretty good about what he is proposing. Especially the idea of using mobile devices more actively. It is not clear what he means by that – whether he means there will be an overlay network on top of the kind of IP internet that adds anonymity along the lines of something like Tor or Tox; or whether he plans to use Bluetooth, or NFC (Near Field Communication,) or direct Wi-Fi capabilities of the mobile phones themselves to create a so-called mesh network along the lines of Briar or several other applications. But in any case, more development in this area would certainly be good – the better platforms that consumers have that deliver privacy and anonymity – the more we have – the better. But that won’t necessarily affect the actual concerns of data being collected by the likes of Google and Facebook.
RT: What about the speed at which people can use the internet. With these net neutrality rules being rolled back is Kim Dotcom’s idea a way of circumventing those alternative rules that are going to come into force?
DK: We need to know more about the architecture to make a claim either way. If it is planning to use the kind of radio capabilities of mobile phones themselves, and the Bluetooth and NFC and Wi-Fi capabilities those phones have to create another mesh network, then you could have an advantage that it is much more difficult to block than centralized things. So net neutrality wouldn’t affect it directly. However, it is still may be a slower service to what people used to right now, given a neutral internet.
RT: What would be the drawbacks be to an alternative internet? Some people might say there is too much anonymity, and perhaps there would be sort of fair game for criminals and the like? What’s your response to that argument?
DK: It seems to me the criminals aren’t having a terrible amount of difficulty operating on the internet as it is today. Having a more alternative internet that is more controlled by its users, gives us better options in order to protect ourselves. We can have collaborative moderation, and collaborative block lists and stuff like that that could make user-driven ways to defend against this stuff more effective, rather than being completely in the hands of Facebook and Google and Twitter, and only being able to access the protections that they provide.
RT: Can you see the public taking to this alternative internet quickly, or would there be problems for them to connect? What are your thoughts on its accessibility?
DK: There are a lot of questions need to be looked at there. One is how user-friendly and usable this kind of stuff is. We know without a clear business model, like advertising that Facebook and Google have, you have to question where the investments are going to come from to create the kind of rich user experience that users are used to; to market it, to promote it, to support it – and all that kind of stuff. I mean given the right support I definitely think that an alternative could be made and it could be very popular.
However, it is not clear where that support could come from short of public institutions because as a private entrepreneur Kim Dotcom can only spend money that he can earn back. And it is not clear how he would earn money on such a thing, given that advertising and surveillance would not be used.
“We are working on detecting and de-ranking those kinds of sites – it’s basically RT and Sputnik,” Schmidt said during a Q & A session at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada on Saturday, when asked about whether Google facilitates “Russian propaganda.”
“We are well of aware of it, and we are trying to engineer the systems to prevent that [the content being delivered to wide audiences]. But we don’t want to ban the sites – that’s not how we operate.”
The discussion focused on the company’s popular Google News service, which clusters the news by stories, then ranks the various media outlets depending on their reach, article length and veracity, and Google Alerts, which proactively informs subscribers of new publications.
RT has criticized the proposed move – whose timescale has not been publicized – as arbitrary and a form of censorship.
“Good to have Google on record as defying all logic and reason: facts aren’t allowed if they come from RT, ‘because Russia’ – even if we have Google on Congressional record saying they’ve found no manipulation of their platform or policy violations by RT,” Sputnik and RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said in a statement.
During the discussion, Schmidt claimed that he was “very strongly not in favor of censorship,” but said that he has faith in “ranking” without acknowledging if the system might serve the same function. Schmidt, who joined Google in 2001, said that the company’s algorithm was capable of detecting “repetitive, exploitative, false, and weaponized” info, but did not elaborate on how these qualities were determined.
The Alphabet chief, who has been referred to by Hillary Clinton as a “longtime friend,” added that the experience of “the last year” showed that audiences could not be trusted to distinguish fake and real news for themselves.
“We started with the default American view that ‘bad’ speech would be replaced with ‘good’ speech, but the problem found in the last year is that this may not be true in certain situations, especially when you have a well-funded opponent who is trying to actively spread this information,” he told the audience.
Schmidt advised Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign on digital operations, and offered the same services to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2015, according to several emails from campaign chairman John Podesta’s private account, published by WikiLeaks last October.
On election night 2016, Schmidt was spotted at the Clinton campaign headquarters with a “staff” badge, according to a photo submitted to Politico.
RT America registered under FARA earlier this month, after being threatened by the US Department of Justice with arrests and confiscations of property if it failed to comply. The broadcaster is fighting the order in court.
Google’s initiative will have a direct impact on “freedom of speech and thought” in the US, believes Prof. Dan Kovalik, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
“It is a form of censorship, and the idea is to lead readers away from RT content. And it will have an impact on the discourse in this country,” Kovalik told RT. “When [you start] censoring anyone, they are going to censor everyone, and I think everyone in the US should be appalled by this and very concerned.”
Google is dancing to the tune of the US government as part of the broader campaign to demonize Russia, political commentator and TV host Steve Malzberg told RT.
“This is all about the fact that Russia is right now the enemy. Russia has been made the enemy by the left, the Democrats and, by definition, the media. The media has been nonstop for a year now about ‘evil Russia.’ Anything associated with the ‘evil Russia’ will incur the wrath of the government,” Malzberg said. “It is because they have been called in before Congress and because of this witch hunt that is going on… They don’t want to risk the wrath of Congress, and that is the problem.”