The Last HOPE: Social Engineering

Here it is, my slightly delayed final post about The Last HOPE. I have a tentative interest in the Social Engineering themes that were explored there. I see this as a sort of “How to win friends and influence people” for misfits. (I include myself in this category). Which is not to say that it’s an entirely antisocial practice.

Of course there were talks on prank calling and other activities which exploit most people’s tendency to trust others and take their actions and words at face value. I have to admit, sometimes this is hilarious, even if it does give me slight pangs of social irresponsibility. Here’s an example of one my favorites from classic (aka print) bOINGbOING: Carla crank calls a cryogenics company. (Nothing to do with HOPE, it just cracks me up).

There was a panel on Culture Jamming, including Negativeland’s Mark Hosler. He talked about the band’s experience inadvertently getting mass media coverage after claiming they cancelled a tour because they were involved in the investigation of a family homicide case. The implication was that one of their albums had been found in the collection of the child who perpetrated this heinous act, and this connection was being investigated.

This may seem kind of morbid, but I don’t think they expected it to go as far as it did, they just went with it. Hosler admitted that as the situation progressed they started to feel kind of bad about it. Plus, this may have started as a prank of questionable taste, but it would have just ended there if it weren’t for the insatiable bloodlust of the news media that was so quick to jump on the story, they didn’t bother with basic fact checking.

A presentation called “Hacking the Mind, Hacking the Body: Pleasure” was about the ways people hack their experience of sex. It was a frank and mature discussion that spilled over the alloted time and had to be moved to another room where the speaker and attendees continued in a less formal Q&A format. My favorite quote from the presentation, on the subject of cybersex:

Maybe the first email was “Hello World,” but the second was “Hey baby, what’re you doing tonight?”

There was a session on Brain Hacking and unfortunately I missed it. What I heard, though, was that the speaker ran out of things to say pretty early in the hour, and then the audience took over. That, in itself, is pretty awesome.

A guy named Virgil gave a talk called “Wikipedia: You Will Never Find a More Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy”. This would probably more accurately be described as “reverse social engineering” because, well, you may or may not realize this, but there are people right now using Wikipedia to try to manipulate you. I’m not talking about hackers, I’m talking about people who work for corporations, the government, or political figures. People who have a vested interest in sidestepping Wikipedia’s “Neutral Point of View” to present their product in the best possible light. This includes deleting inconvenient facts, as well as adding more overtly promotional content.

This may sound slightly paranoid, but that’s why Virgil developed Wikiscanner (which was featured last year on The Colbert Report) to expose who is actually making these changes. Is it going to catch everything? No, but it has the potential to provide great embarrassment for the powers that be, and maybe that will help keep them honest.

Read more of my posts about The Last HOPE:

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