A Brief Exploration of Disinformation In The Information Age

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Whilst the world-wide web – or what is simply referred to as ‘the internet’ – is easily one of the finest man-made creations to emerge in recent decades, there is an unfortunate truth that lingers throughout its very fibre. Yes, it is chaotic and yes, it is an avenue of undoubtedly free and unregulated speech (and rightfully so, but that’s another matter for another post), but the problem is its users. I say this, because inherently, the issue stems from its users, and nothing more, in that the amount of ignorance and misinformation that is disseminated across such a readily accessible platform is a problem.

My concerns stem from a multitude of occurrences that brought this train of thought to light. These include the recent Macauley Culkin ‘death hoax‘ of November, 2014, which in a matter of hours became a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook. People believed it. My instinct, when I saw the ‘news’ was to search the Google News section for myself, in a matter of seconds, any cause for concern was ameliorated. In that moment, my inner child spoke up:

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Perhaps I was one of the only few that took this away from the non-existent classes in common sense I took, which are proving to be more and more necessary within today’s social media circles. It echoes, after all, our previous generation’s message of not talking to strangers, not in that you could be abducted and never seen again, but more the means of how they would achieve that outcome: deception, manipulation, disinformation.

Culkin isn’t the only instance, in fact, he’s one of many. And it isn’t simply ‘internet death hoaxes’. I even recently had someone on my Facebook news feed post an alarmingly panicked, angry, and paranoid status that the American government had created the Ebola virus that is very much in the forefront of everyone’s mind. It turned out, in fact, that the 89 people that had liked the status and the 6 that had shared it (and subsequently influenced the mindset of so many others unaccounted for), along with the original poster herself, had misread a filed patent for a strain of the Ebola virus the CDC acquisitioned to circumvent for-profit patenting as well as facilitate broader research.

Disinformation has been presented in a variety of forms that have, unfortunately, warped us to the world around us, as is the case with this (Worst Twerk Fail EVER – Girl Catches Fire!) YouTube video that your friend may have linked you to. It went viral and people laughed. There’s nothing particularly funny about the video, in fact, if you take it at face value, a woman catches fire, screams and the video ends. Just think for a moment. You may have just witnessed the precursor to someone gravely injuring herself, or potentially worse and the most natural response is laughter? Imagine it as if further down one of the tangential lines on which you might find home videos, of those embarrassing scenes that net you £200 if it gets shown on TV.

It was later revealed though that this video was a prank, filmed for Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show. I have no qualm with Jimmy Kimmel, I have no qualm with the video, what I do have a qualm with is that if people looked in the description of the video, they would see exactly what I just told you. However, people’s lack of willingness to look past what’s presented directly in front of their faces (i.e. you just click a YouTube link to primarily watch a video) enables a unique phenomena to occur: the manifestation of a desire to spread disinformation. At a rate unbeknown to me, the video became viral and some people laughed. Granted, some didn’t. Some shared it anyway, albeit not out of concern, but out of mutual appreciation for what is misidentified as entertainment. The rate at which this ‘entertainment’ spreads, far exceeds and overshadows the rate at which those who checked the description to find out it was a prank did. As a result, for a while an alarming number of people believe what they see to be true, it takes days, perhaps even weeks or months for the truth to catch up, simply because people blindly disseminate what’s in front of them.

Whilst prank videos are common, they have different agendas, if any at all. Some, for entertainment, others, perhaps most intelligently, attempt to take advantage of the heat of the current social climate and the issues that are prevalent at that particular moment in time in an attempt to acquire viewership and subsequently award them with monetary gain. But apparently, that doesn’t matter as they hide behind the notion that they are increasing awareness of the social issue they are originally taking advantage of. It DOES matter.

Perhaps the most recent and prevalent example of disinformation in this manner is that in a YouTube video emerged where a ‘drunk’ woman (who is pretending to be so) is filmed on Hollywood Boulevard as men attempt to take advantage of her by taking her home with them. Or rather, this is what the video would like for you think. You may have already heard, or read the buzz surrounding this particular video. It was originally claimed to be a ‘social experiment,’ the same guise under which various YouTubers hide their inappropriate videos, and have recently taken fire for. The aforementioned video however, has since been removed by the owner, most likely due to the amount of criticism it has received.

The issue then, is still this, these videos, their agendas, whatever they might be – and if there are any at all – are enabled by ignorant viewerships. We, are users of the internet have a duty to question the hand that feeds us this material that we so willfully propagate, at the very least as a means of preserving our common sense, human decency and right to utilise such a widespread platform for communication, connection and respectfully spreading our own ideas.

As Farida Vis points out over at The Guardian, the World Economic Forum (WEF) invited its 1,500 council members to identify the main issues the world faces, and what should be done about them. The WEF consists of 80 councils covering a wide range of issues including social media. Members come from academia, industry, government, international organisations and wider civil society. A conclusion of the issues decided upon can be found as follows:

The top ten most concerning global issues, as voted for by the 1,500 council members of World Economic Forum.

As we can see, the rapid spread of disinformation online rests quite uncomfortably in tenth place, the next cyber-based concern rests in third place, with ‘cyber-threats,’ which is defined as: “the possibility of a malicious attempt to damage or disrupt a computer network or system.” It’s not hard to imagine the implication of damaged or disrupted computer systems, especially when we live in the (dis)information age, where nearly everything is systematically digital. I’m not saying number ten should be number one on our priority list, but if we allow ourselves to be so easily swayed by disinformation on the very platform that gives us such expressional freedom, we’re unravelling the very foundation on which this technology-heavy society is based. It should, at the very least, be a prevalent thought in everyone’s mind.

So this is just a friendly reminder that whenever you see, hear or read something, question it, see it for yourself, don’t sway so easily to the wind of social network trends, because it might just turn out that the information you’re being fed is a lie. If we ignore it, the chaos that resides across the platform of the world-wide web will continue to leak into, intensify and manifest within our society.

‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Theatrical Review

Synopsis: Two years after the events of New York, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still considerably out of his time and struggling to adapt to the modern-day. He is soon forced into a world where mysterious, sinister forces are at work that may endanger everyone, only to find out the true cost of peace.

There are those of you that would condemn CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER to a destitute and unworthy shelf life simply out of disdain towards its predecessor, THE FIRST AVENGER. But this sequel far from deserves that treatment.

THE WINTER SOLDIER is, on the outside, a visual spectacle that steers incredibly fast from the classic patriotism that was featured in the star-spangled forerunner, straight into the technologically driven age of today. THE WINTER SOLDIER is the finest Marvel film to date and provides a level of insight, retrospectively, that forces you to reexamine the significance and influence of THE FIRST AVENGER. At its core, it contains a degree of self-reflection that is sincerely sombre, whilst recognising at its core a humour akin to the witticisms of IRON MAN. Quite frankly, it understands that in order to build a better cinematic universe, sometimes you have to tear down – or revolutionise – the old one, which it does boldly.

It truly is a marvel to see how our starry-eyed patriot has evolved post-AVENGERS – roughly the same time as IRON MAN 3, for those of you uncertain as to the timeline. Leaving the audience at times howling with laughter and, on occasion, almost in tears, the sequel transcends the limitations set by THE FIRST AVENGER, with mesmerising performances from everyone onboard.

The tone, though darker, grittier, and far more intense, aligns wonderfully with the sociopolitical undertones that add a shockingly realistic dimension to the universe, all the while complimented by Henry Jackman’s fantastic score. The frequency and scale of its majestically choreographed physical vehemence is far from gratuitous, and, though it’s not necessarily required in creating a gripping, thrilling experience, it certainly helps.

The Russo’s first Marvel outing grabs you by the scruff of the neck only to demand your respect. It is to THE FIRST AVENGER what THE DARK KNIGHT is to BATMAN BEGINS, and until THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON rolls along, THE WINTER SOLDIER will reign supreme. The Russo Brothers truly raise the bar for films of the superheroic – a rather large surprise, considering their last directorial effort was YOU, ME AND DUPREE.

In a nutshell, the Cap’s second solo adventure is the gasp of fresh air you’ve been waiting for, and after you see it you’ll be craving it even more. THE WINTER SOLDIER’s complex continuity has ignited a new era in the genre and is a superpowered masterpiece that develops America’s poster boy into a hero any fan would be proud to see on the silver screen. Five stars.

This review was originally posted over at The Hollywood News.

‘Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2′ Theatrical Review

 

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Synopsis: In the events following the foodpocalypse of its predecessor, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) works for The Live Corp Company – an elitist group of scientists led by Flint’s shadowy childhood hero, Chester V (Will Forte). Striving to become a world-reknowned inventor, he is sent back to Swallow Falls and must reassemble ‘the gang’ to reclaim their home and save the world from unbelievable food mutations –  ‘the foodimals’.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 features the reassembling of underdog quirky inventor Flint Lockwood, meteorologist ‘girlfriend’ Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), Earl Devereaux (Terry Crews), Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), Brent (Andy Samberg), Manny (Benjamin Bratt) and Flint’s father, Tim Lockwood (James Caan). We also welcome antagonist Chester V, who is perhaps too easy to hate (even if he is spookily reminiscent of the late Steve Jobs both visually and conceptually) and his somewhat unnecessary assistant, Barb (Kristen Schaal).

Cameron and Pearn’s feature is littered with allusions and easter eggs. Plentiful JURASSIC PARK references make it all the more enjoyable, perhaps in an effort to please adult audiences as well as younger audiences, which it does oh-so wonderfully. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments for the older individual, and a huge array to be shared with children, but one way ofpudding it is that the most alluring aspect of the film is how fantastically adorable it is. Wait until you meet Barry.

Admittedly, the plot is perhaps the best out of few avenues the sequel could have taken and is particularly imaginative when it comes to the creation of the foodimals, immaculately conceived by Flint’s genius, no less. With appearances from foodimals such as the Flamango, the Cheespider, Hippotatomus and the Bananostrich – which may at times lack ap-peal – the world of the foodimals entrances and hungers infinitely. Be sure to look out for the legendary Sasquash, as he only makes a brief appearance.

With such big boots to fill, the steaks may have been high, but the story follows on well. It is certainly quirky, absolutely jam-packed with puns and has a rather strong commentary – in regards to green politics and environmental preservation – if you look for it. In terms of an animated feature, it has everything it needs, yet lacks that finishing touch. Whilst funny and brilliantly voiced, it isn’t as hilarious as the original, with very little character development (i.e. Flint and Sam’s relationship isn’t acknowledged), and overall it feels a little rushed.

The food-and-fun-filled sequel to 2009′s successful CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS should be relished though, for carrying on its originality, timeless recognisable style of animation and sense of humour. To summarise, it is thoroughly enjoyable both stylistically and due to its lovable characters, and is arguably one of the better animated films in recent years. One might even say it can’t be beet. Four Stars

This review was originally posted over at The Hollywood News.

‘Iron Man 3′ DVD Review

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SynopsisOverwhelmed by the events in New York City from AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, Stark must conquer his fears in his attempts to combat the mysterious terrorist known as the Mandarin, and in doing so, he puts everything and everyone he loves in jeopardy.

Black’s third installment in the highly profitable and iconic Marvel series sees Robert Downey, Jr. return as Tony Stark, once genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist turned troubled protector Iron Man. 

Much like Stark, the tone of IRON MAN 3 is clearly different, opening with Eiffel 65′s Blue, leading into a well-crafted cinematic tale of self-exploration and humanity in a newly inhuman world. The ‘threequel’ will undoubtedly please most, exploring a whole new side of the loveable Iron Man who we discover is not as invincible as the source material might claim and leaving easter eggs a plenty to discover, some of which the most devout of fans may even miss.

Following Downey Jr. back into the fray is Paltrow as Pepper Potts, now C.E.O of Stark Industries, Cheadle, returning as Colonel Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine turned Iron Patriot – one of many aspects of the film contributing to the many layers of sociopolitical commentary that can be found within the film if examined closely enough – Pearce, as one of the charming and only ever-so-slightly psychotic antagonists Aldrich Killian and Ben Kingsley as the embodiment of terror known only as the Mandarin, though not precisely an incarnation reflective of that in the comics.

Though oft compared to its predecessors, IRON MAN 3 proves to be one of this year’s biggest and best summer blockbusters with beautifully shot scenes rich in CGi courtesy of 17 different VFX companies. It is undoubtedly full of heart, has plenty of ambition and only just teeters at the existentialist questions that would baffle the everyman. It never quite wholly satisfies, but will keep you happily satiated until we next see Downey. Jr. in THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. Combing a surprisingly complex level of what feels to be genuine character development and the right mix of action and comedic dialogue, IRON MAN 3 a much-see, a must-own on DVD, and arguably one of the best films of the year. This is especially the case for collectors and Marvel enthusiasts. Four Stars.

Extras: Deconstructing the Scene: Attack on Air Force One, THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Exclusive Behind the Scenes), Marvel One Shot – Agent Carter, Iron Man Unmasked, 10 Deleted Scenes and Gag Reel. Grab the Blu-ray.

This review was originally posted over at The Hollywood News.

‘The World’s End’ Theatrical Review

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SynopsisFive childhood friends reunite in their prime to take on a challenge that bested them once before – The Golden Mile. Returning to Newton Haven, they soon discover that something strange is afoot, leading them to question their choices, their lives and their friendships.

The third and final installment of the long awaited Cornetto trilogy is arguably the best of the three. The mint-flavoured film sees protagonist Gary King (Simon Pegg) seek out his age-old drinking buddies – Andrew (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) – to reinact a fateful night from their past; tackling The Golden Mile, a pub crawl of otherworldly proportions.

Fans of Wright’s ice-cream predecessors may find some familiarity in THE WORLD’S END, which has matured in both style and personality and lets Wright dare to do with this film what he did not with its forerunners. It is primarily darker, more complex and arguably intended for more adult audiences, with the opening artfully stylised and considerably well-suited in unison with its unscored track listing (from ’87-’92), hand-picked from Pegg and Wright’s personal collection.

When we consider its genre, Wright is more daring to say the least, extending your typical comedy into a film with a chewy, comedic centre and a hard sci-fi/action sugar-shell, contributing to a genre mishmash that most certainly pleases. There are plenty of surprises in store for fans of the trilogy and Wright himself, with familiar faces making an appearance and the occasional Easter egg for comic-book enthusiasts and film aficionados.

Pegg provides a pivotal performance as a grown-man with a youthful spirit, and his personal conflicts never dilute proceedings as he churns out line after line of unrelenting hilarity. Frost follows suit as the backbone of the film, equally as witty and providing a spectacularly serious undertone to an otherwise straight-up comedic classic. Additional cast members Freeman, Considine and Marsan do a fantastic job of complimenting each other (as well as Pegg and Frost), adding definition and anchoring the group dynamic. However, THE WORLD’S END’s numerous tone shifts effectively leave us unsure whether to laugh or cry, and whilst Rosamund Pike delivers a wonderfully acted performance as Sam, it feels unnecessary and perhaps only included to account for a female character that isn’t as obviously sexualised as others.

Ultimately, Pegg, Frost and Freeman provide solid, fantastic performances and are feasibly the most noteworthy. In combination with the excellent script, soundtrack and the tendency to consistently and exponentially one-up itself across the film, it culminates in what might arguably be one of the best comedies of the year. Four stars.

This review was originally posted over at The Hollywood News.