Wednesday, September 6, 2023

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

In between having my Facebook account hacked and my wifi signal jammed, I heard an interview with Roger Lucey, and my imagination went wild.

In August I heard from a friend who noticed nothing from my catalog of albums was coming up in a search on Bandcamp.  Sure enough, it was true, for me and everyone else who searched for me on the platform, worldwide.  (It was slightly confusing for a lot of people, because songs of mine did come up even while the search ban was in place, but they weren't from my catalog, they were songs of mine that other people had covered or put up for some other reason.)  Bandcamp never notified me that this search ban was going to be put into effect.  Some Bandcamp users told me the messages I sent out on the platform to my fans were disappearing from their inboxes.

I wrote Bandcamp asking about me not showing up in their search results.  Twelve days later I got a brief response, informing me that my account had been flagged because I had used tags like "antisemitism" or "Hitler" for songs that were about things like antisemitism, and Hitler.  These are obviously important, current, and historical subjects much talked about in the news, and which I have written many songs about.  Why I wasn't notified about my account being flagged and impacted in such obvious ways that adversely affect the bottom line of both Bandcamp and this Bandcamp artist, and whether it would ever have been unflagged if I hadn't asked them about it, is still a mystery, but a day after I was told my account had been unflagged, my artist account, album names and song titles once again appeared in searches on the platform.

A few days after my Bandcamp account was removed from Bandcamp purgatory, my Facebook account was hacked.  

Waking up one morning and checking notifications on my phone, there were messages on my Page popping up that appeared to be from me, but I wasn't writing them.  At first I thought maybe it was one of those automated messages you can set up, telling people who write that you'll get back to them soon, or something like that.  I never set up such messages on Facebook, but I thought maybe I had done so by accident.

Looking more closely, this was not what was happening.  Someone had managed to get some malware working with my Facebook Pages, probably because another hacked account had access to one of them.  Until the problem was apparently taken care of through getting rid of the malware, removing access by the other hacked account, resetting passwords and all that, the hacker was writing messages to anyone I'd recently been in touch with on one of my Pages (not from my personal account).  Many people believed it was actually me saying hello and wishing them well, as it appeared to be (despite being greeted with the term "mate," and despite the profligate use of emojis employed by the hacker), and some still thought it was me when they began to be asked personal questions.

Two days after my Facebook account being hacked, I was recording, uploading, and editing various video files for a new podcast episode.  I probably had to restart the wifi router at some point, but otherwise it was working well, uploading and downloading video files efficiently enough. 

Streamyard is a platform I've used regularly for years, including much of that day, with those aforementioned video files.  It was working fine all day.  When I got onto the platform in preparation for my interview with David Cobb, for his new podcast, everything was working fine, and we were seeing and hearing each other just fine.  This continued to be the case for the first few minutes of the interview, and then everything went to hell.

If I have connectivity issues, restarting the wifi router always does the trick.  This time, although the only thing using the wifi was my laptop and the only app it was running was Streamyard, even after restarting the laptop, the signal went in and out every few seconds, and for about half of the planned interview, I wasn't there.  At the top of the hour, my teenage daughter texted me to ask if I was done, and she could bring her younger siblings back into the living room, where my studio, such as it is, is located.  I didn't get her text until 24 minutes after the hour, and it was at the moment I received her text that, as if a spell had been lifted, my laptop started behaving normally again, quickly loading websites and all that.

As these things were happening, I wondered if having these kinds of problems is normal for most people over the course of a typical couple of weeks?  Is it all just down to the rise of AI, and this sort of thing is happening to everybody lately?  If not, then am I just experiencing another of those series of freak coincidences?  Am I paranoid for wondering if this is something other than a series of freak coincidences?

What was indeed probably a coincidence was that the day after my Facebook account was hacked, but before my wifi signal was jammed (if that's what happened), I was awake in bed at 4 am listening to BBC World Service, as I often am, and I had the pleasure of listening to a fascinating interview with a South African guy named Roger Lucey.  He was a popular anti-apartheid white musician in the late 1970's, whose career was methodically destroyed by the secret police.  As part of the Truth and Reconciliation process, decades later he got to find out exactly how they went about destroying his career, back then.

Not being prone to jumping to unnecessarily conspiratorial conclusions about anything, and knowing, as I do, that there are many people out there with the time and dedication to put a lot of effort into ruining someone's career if they think doing that is a useful project for one reason or another, I have always tended to assume that although I've seen the evidence that I'm on a government watch list, that doesn't mean there's any government involvement with every bad thing that happens to me, like for example when it comes to those self-proclaimed antifascists who try to get all my gigs canceled.

But every time I write about these sorts of activities that some people are regularly involved with like that, many people postulate in their comments that this smells like Cointelpro.  With the caveat that you don't need to be an intelligence agent to do the traditionally disruptive work of the FBI for them, if your brain has effectively been captured one way or another, what if the things happening to me were all part of a program to throttle my career?

Entertaining that notion for a moment, it all sure seems very consistent with past campaigns to throttle the careers of dissenting artists, updated for the digital age.  Roger Lucey's career was essentially demolished by the activities of one agent who was assigned to his case, given the job of making sure he can't do gigs in his own country anymore.

What if these things were not only coincidences, but were all related to each other?  I know I'm going out on a bit of a limb here, but what if there is someone choosing key moments to jam my wifi signal, and this is the same person who also got me flagged on Bandcamp and banned on search there?  Perhaps it's the same person who eventually managed to successfully edit my Wikipedia page to reflect the fact that this person (perhaps the same one) has also written anonymously-penned articles denouncing me as an antisemite and fascist collaborator?  And perhaps it's the same person making sure each time I go on tour, someone contacts venues, gig organizers, and fellow performers, to tell them I'm an antisemite, or a Nazi?  Perhaps it's the same person notifying other countries when I'm about to try to enter their country, in order to try to get me deported because of something I wrote in my blog?

Just one person with lots of time on their hands on a regular basis to pursue these various sorts of activities could do it all.  They could be employed by a government agency, or perhaps a "radical" nonprofit of some kind.

The most frustrating thing about having these things happening to you is the plausible deniability of everything.  It could be that none of these things are related.  Other than whoever is calling venues to get my gigs canceled, the deportations, hacks, search bans, connectivity issues, etc., could all be chalked up to coincidence, or technical snafus.

So many of the new developments that have been devastating to the careers of artists like me, as well as the efforts of organizers, have been devastating across the board, having nothing to do with the politics of the artists or even the organizers.  

Things like the capture of the world's attention by Facebook, which then introduced algorithms into everything, making what was temporarily a very useful platform into one worse than useless, since it has supplanted other, more effective forms of mass communication, such as email lists and Indymedia centers.  Things like music streaming platforms essentially taking away the artists' ability to give away or sell their own music on their own terms (contrary to whatever else you might have heard from the tech propagandists).  Perhaps most especially things like the changing of the rules governing student groups on campuses across the country that essentially ended what had been a thriving economy supporting a lot of independent speakers and performers, up until the turn of the century.

With those big trends, here again, except perhaps with the de-funding of student organizations, it could all be chalked up to the natural development of technology under a system of capitalism that doesn't want to seriously regulate it in any way.  It could have just been convenient that social media platforms are using algorithms and other methods that tend to make useful communication or effective organizing much more difficult than it used to be.  Or it could be part of a bigger agenda, with social engineering more overtly at play.  Actually we know this is the case, if you're paying attention to the Twitter Files.  Though social engineering by intelligence agencies working with social media corporations is probably not entirely why everything is so dystopic in recent years, it has surely played an outsized role.

In the BBC interview Roger Lucey says when the secret police agent was actively working to ruin his career, Roger had no sure idea what was going on.  He thought maybe he was paranoid, he blamed himself, he self-medicated a lot as a result, and he and his family had a very rough time.  He ultimately changed careers entirely.

It's so poignant because in retrospect it seems abundantly obvious that there was a campaign to ruin his career happening that probably involved the secret police, and you'd think this would have been obvious to a lot of people, or even press outlets, at the time.  But no.  

When I make comparisons, in any case, I feel lucky.  No one has pumped tear gas in through the ventilation system at any of my concerts.  Between gigs in Europe, Patreon, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, I can still be a fulltime whatever it is that I am.  But I often wonder, if not for the constant obstacles, what this line of work could have been like, for me and a lot of other people, many of whom have had far bigger obstacles and harder times than I.

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