In the very early days of the George Floyd protests, like many other people, I watched the crisis unfold on social media with increasing horror. In the midst of my dismayed scrolling, I came across a set of screenshotted tweets: in the early hours of June 1st, cell phone service in Washington D.C. had been shut down and thousands of protesters were missing. Final dispatches before communications ceased show a conflagration next to the Washington Monument and Army helicopters flying down Sunset Boulevard. More screenshotted tweets rebutted these claims, however, unnervingly, the rebuttals were all identically worded, mass tweeted from dozens of accounts, and more screenshots still showed those users denying ever sending them. The implication was as terrifying as it was (and still is) believable: the US government was killing protestors in Washington D.C and covering it up.
In fact, none of this was true. Before too long, the tweets were revealed to be part of an elaborate hoax. #DCBlackout and the claims of missing protestors and shutdown cell phone service allegedly started from a Twitter account with only 3 followers. Within hours the hashtag had been shared tens of millions of times on Twitter. The claims, and the counter claims, were found to be entirely false, and research by disinformation experts suggests that the hoax was orchestrated by an unknown, well funded and well organised entity.
Dark forces on social media exploit genuine crises to generate fear and confusion, helped by the work of bots. In #DCBlackout, those forces understood the beliefs and fears of the Left, mimicking Leftist Twitter prose to spread their claims. A Game About Fear takes these circumstances as the point of departure. In this installation, I worked with a coder to train a bot using thousands of tweets containing the DC Blackout hashtag. The result is chilling - almost perfect imitations of Leftist rallying cries, pleas for help and demands for justice and democracy. What is the value of your voice when it can be counterfeited, mass-produced and weaponised against you? A Game About Fear is a warning about the inauthenticity of language as it passes through the many complex and sinister layers of our contemporary, online context.
Tiyan Baker is an early career Malaysian Bidayuh/Anglo-Australian artist who makes video and installation art. Baker's practice engages with sites of contemporary cultural crises. Her work often uses field research, documentary techniques and found artefacts to question established discourses and reveal bias, frailty and failure. Originally from the Larrakia lands known as Darwin, Baker currently lives and works on the Gadigal and Wangal lands known as Sydney.