A low-budget Islamophobic video translated into Arabic and crafted to provoke, offend, and evoke outrage near the anniversary of 9/11 is the latest example of how almost anyone can incite powerful leaderless social media swarms.
The scary thing is a tech savvy but disturbed high school or college student could pull a similar stunt.
It turns out the producer of “Innocence of Muslims”—which mocks Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and incited mob protests against U.S. diplomatic missions in the Mideast—is an Egypt-born, southern Californian, radical Coptic Christian with a checkered past. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula pleaded no contest to federal bank fraud charges in 2010, was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison, and was ordered not to use computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer.
Apparently, he was able to break his probation’s computer ban through the use of a dozen pseudonyms. He also used pseudonyms to hire a cast and crew for a movie with the working title “Desert Warriors” and shoot part of the film in Los Angeles’s Blue Cloud Movie Ranch. As the video below notes, the film’s cast and crew are complaining that the inflammatory dialogue was dubbed in after filming and the prophet Muhammad character was originally somebody named George.
A decade ago it would have been unimaginable for a small-time swindler to gain access to international communications channels to spark rioting globally. Now, it’s looking like anyone with an Internet connection, multi-lingual language skills, and communications savvy in one form or another can.
Only time will tell how easy it will be to manipulate leaderless Web 2.0 swarms over the long term. To castrate inflammatory propaganda, you need to be able to enable free-flowing ideas to percolate and crowdsource the truth in an atmosphere of trust. When the emotions of rabid Islamophobes and extreme Islamists have both been aroused—in the worst atmosphere of misinformation and mistrust imaginable—this is easier said than done.