Tamar Shirinian on Digital Fakeness in Armenia: PoLAR Author Interview

PoLAR Digital Editorial Fellow Mei-chun Lee interviewed Tamar Shirinian, whose article “Fakeness: Digital Inauthenticity and Emergent Political Tactics in Armenia” appears in the November issue of PoLAR.

Thank you for this insightful analysis of how fakeness becomes a political tactic that “opens up the potential for new epistemologies.” You provide us with an interesting reading of “fake news” that avoids the clichés of fact or lie, and show how the politics of fakeness plays out by actors from two oppositional groups—one LGBT activists and the other right-wing nationalists—on social networking sites. In your description, fakeness is not only a condemnation used to discredit one’s opposition, but also a tactic to obtain “authentic” information, thereby enabling the (involuntary) sharing of information and ideas when channels of direct conversations are blocked. It is brilliant of you to point out that “[t]hese forms of personal, anonymous, and fake relations expand the possibilities of political dialogue beyond the oppositional debates, are based on political attachments and commitments, and are expected in democratic practices. In other words, for a real political encounter to take place, a conscious inauthenticity may become necessary.” 

I am particularly interested in the phenomenon of “Fakebook,” a Facebook profile of fake persona, and wonder if you can tell us more about it. In general, I’m curious about how common “Fakebook” is in Armenia? Are these “Fakebook” accounts set up mostly for political purposes? Are they all run by human beings (we’ve heard stories about fake social media accounts run by bots for more systematic attacks in other parts of the world, e.g. Hong Kong, Papua)? More specifically, you mention in the article about a LGBT activist who used her Fakebook to build relationships with nationalists, to obtain information, and even to plant misleading information. I wonder if these nationalists share similar strategies of using Fakebook. Given that both groups know the potential existence of Fakebook in their networks, do they make any effort to safeguard “authenticity” and combat “fakeness”? Is there any political work on authenticity that comes along with fake politics?

Thank you for initiating this conversation and the opportunity to think further about fakeness and politics. I started writing a version of this article in 2014, what seems now to be long before the saturation of discourses and anxieties regarding fakeness within our political worlds. At least in the U.S. In Armenia, I had a sense of these anxieties—that were not really experienced as anxieties, but rather forms of awareness (sometimes hyperawareness)—for as long as I have been doing my fieldwork. Fakebooks—fake Facebook profiles—are just one iteration of how fakeness has an intimate place within politics in Armenia. It is also, however, the more difficult formation to identify, especially as those interested in the political have been getting better and better at making them. As I mention in the article, a successful Fakebook profile necessitates that the user spend some time constructing it. It cannot be haphazard. It needs to appear to have history, belonging to someone who exists in reality through representation of what a “real” person is like online. If a Facebook profile only has a few friends, it will be obvious it is a Fake. If there is only one picture, it will be obvious it is a Fake. If there is no complexity in the subjectivity being represented in the profile—for instance, relationships to multiple spheres and social networks represented by diverse posts and diverse comments and responses—it is more obviously a Fake. It is a fact that there are many, many Fakes within Armenia’s political and social landscapes. This is evidenced by the many Friend requests that anyone involved within any political movement will get. In any given year, for instance, I receive a few dozen Friend requests from obvious Fakes within the Armenian context: a request from a profile that has only one picture, less than 20 Facebook friends, and little to no posts. These are easy to identify and can just be avoided. The ones that are not as identifiable as Fake—the successful ones—are there. It seems to me that most of my interlocutors in Armenia are aware that they are there, even amongst their own Facebook networks. But, this is often taken as a given as if being online means accepting this as one of the risks. The more successful a Fake is, the more room for success they will have. For instance, if somehow a Fake can convince a few “real” people that it is real, then it will have more chances to convince more and more “real” people that it is real, as “real” people would take the Friendship status a Fake has with other real profiles as evidence of its possible realness. In other words, I am more likely to accept a Friend request from a profile of someone who I may not know in real life if they are already friends with people that I do know in real life.

Not all Fakes are for political purposes. There are multiple uses for them. The television show Catfish provides numerous examples of some of the less politically motivated uses of Fakes. In Armenia, Fakes are often used to develop social lives that might not be possible in real life—women who would like to explore sexuality, people who are interested in same-sex sexual encounters, etc. Sometimes these social lives enter real life, sometimes they remain online. Of course, these social economies of fakeness are also informed by an oppressive politics of sexuality—both on Catfish and in Armenia—marking these uses as political in themselves.

There is no doubt that right-wing nationalists, just as often as lefter/progressive activists, use Fakebook, fake information, etc. My situatedness in the Armenian political landscape with more progressive actors—LGBT activists, feminists, etc.—makes it hard for me to form more intimate relations with right-wing nationalists to be able to access the kinds of information that was more available to me from this situated position amongst progressive activists. In other words, while I interacted daily with staff at the LGBT organization and was privy to their nuanced uses of these technologies, I wouldn’t have been able to interact as closely with some of the right-wing nationalists that I interviewed. But I think what is really important to keep in mind—and what I have always kept pretty surface in my mind as I have gone about doing research in Armenia—is that the very discourse of homosexuality as threatening to the Armenian nation is fake. It was manufactured by a very particular group of people. While their reasons are a little bit more difficult to make any definitive claims about—as there are a lot of different reasons and many opinions on underlying and less honest reasons (such as to move attention away from the state’s actions)—it is a fact that this notion of homosexuality as a foreign threat is invented by right-wing nationalists and been made popular by mainstream press. As invented information to be deployed as a political tool (to whatever end), it is fake. This makes it difficult to discern the use of a “real” Facebook profile to spead information about how homosexuality is leading to the destruction of Armenia from the use of a Fake profile to do the same.

It is in this sense that I think we need to think more seriously and critically about what it means that “bots” are being used to infelicitously push political campaigns and political information. When we talk about one person publishing fake information that becomes popular or one news site making a false claim that then becomes cited by others, it seems less threatening than when we talk about bots positioning themselves as real people and making artificial claims. This reminds me of Elizabeth Povinelli’s sustained interrogation of Life and Nonlife in the production of geontopower (2016). On the one hand, bots on social networking sites making repetitive claims for a campaign or against a candidate are certainly artificial and certainly dangerous. On the other hand, we might understand these mechanisms as no more dangerous—or even no more different in substance—than the constant inundation of all sites (social networking or otherwise) with advertisements, repetitive political discourses, and ready-made scripts. In other words, whether it is a bot, the broadcast of a talking (living human) head, or images produced for the purposes of marketing, seeing fakeness as a process of continuity rather than in stark dichotomy with real information allows us to see the ways that these things are not so different in regards to their uses and the work that they ultimately do. In some ways then, rather than being the most terrified of the bot, we might be the most terrified of those things that are being articulated without the use of fetishized technologies that do similar work but that are less visibly dangerous. The latter might be more insidious.

With the rise of public awareness on “fake news” after the Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a target has been put on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. There are also a lot of discussions on the role of the state and a debate of whether there should be a law to regulate fake news and whether a law about fake news might suppress free speech. Furthermore, traditional media is also accused of helping spread fake news as they take online information as one of their sources of news. I wonder what roles these different actors—international tech companies, foreign powers, the state, and traditional media—play in fake politics in Armenia. Put it differently, what is the political economy behind fakeness? How do the performance of fakeness address issues of power, democracy, and communicative capitalism (Dean 2005)? 

The question of the political economy of fakeness is interesting, precisely because it points to the ways in which information, especially political information, has never been free from its ties to the political and the economic. The fantasy within liberal democracy, of course, has been that the press is one of the ways in which citizens and constituents can balance the power of the state. What has been largely missing in this fantasy is the role of the economic (private) sphere in that balancing of power. If, for instance, freedom of speech is protected from the state’s encroachment so as to allow a public to debate and govern itself through governing the state, who maintains a check on economic power? Alongside reports of egregious labor conditions at Amazon, for instance, those tuned in will also be inundated with advertisements for Amazon and Amazon products. Since the Washington Post, for instance—because it is owned by Jeff Bezos, who is also the CEO of Amazon—will remark less (or none at all) on the horrors of Amazon, the state’s granting of freedom to the Post does not keep it free from Bezos. When the press is largely owned and run by a handful of persons—who all share in a common interest (the accumulation of wealth) even when in so-called “competition”—what we get is a constant repetition of the same discourses that circulate on all networks ad nauseum so as to make anything outside of this mainstream discourse difficult to hear or even understand as independent from the analytic already provided by repetition—making one (usually a very interested) side on an issue a fact. Dominic Boyer and Alexei Yurchak (2010) refer to this latter form as the hypernormalization of discourse in late liberalism. Thus while what Boyer and Yurchak calls hypernormalization and what Jodi Dean calls communicative capitalism (2005) are nuanced iterations of what happens to political information in late liberalism, or neoliberalism, perhaps as conditions of postmodernity (Harvey 1991), these processes also have much in common to what Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky called the “manufacturing of consent,” which for them was not new but a necessary tool that capitalism employed to produce and justify its raison d’etre (1988). Disinformation as “news”—as Herman and Chomsky refer to normalized propaganda circulated as disinterested information—points us in the direction of understanding “news” as always having had these elements of fakeness precisely because capitalism has always necessitated the manufacturing of consent. This is not necessarily a practice or a process driven by motivation or intention, but it prods us to think seriously about what it means to expect that those with massive economic interests and who also own the means of information would be using their means of information against their own economic interests. And this is true not only in the sense of particular economic interests (in Amazon, for instance), but interests in maintaining neoliberal hegemony writ large. A free press under the conditions of capital is an oxymoron.

It is critical to historicize fakeness and fake news in these ways, precisely because when we do not we reproduce what is the current fake news par excellence, which is that Russia—the zombie/ghost returned from the days of the Cold War—produces fake news to intervene in U.S. political processes and it is particularly good at doing this because of its long history of propaganda to force people to live with communism. This, of course, is a fantasy. But it is a fantasy that works so very well. Today, it is hard to say “fake news” without somehow implicating Russia already. The problem is not the specter of Russia per se—although this is a problem in that it fuels nationalist sentiment/hatred—but rather what the association of Russia with fake news allows for in the context of the U.S. Claiming that Trump’s election in 2016 was caused by Russia and its fake news bots, for instance, occludes vision of the very serious threats of internal white supremacist logics in the U.S. Claiming that Russia spreads “fake news” also means obscuring the very propagandistic practices that are intimate forms of everyday political life in the U.S. When I first started thinking about the operations of “fakeness” in Armenia, the discourse of “fake news” had not yet exploded on the American political scene. In 2014, when I told one of my interlocutors in Armenia that I was writing on fakeness and explained what I meant by this in the Armenian context, she quizzically asked, “Well, are you going to also write about how The New York Times consistently reports ‘fake news’—like about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction?” These kinds of jabs made me hyperaware of the geopolitical tensions of an anthropologist from the U.S. writing about the post-Soviet uses of fake political information—as if to be reproducing the narrative that there was something inherent about a Soviet past and a fake, propagandistic, political scene in the contemporary. These anxieties (mine) were only heightened by the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and then the Brexit campaign and referendum. While fakeness is certainly embedded in political economy/ies, it is also entangled with geopolitical-economy/ies.

In the liberal democratic contexts of the U.S. and the U.K., the realization of “fake news”—the discovery that there is disinformation in popular circulation—is often positioned as a socio-political good: while “fake news” has done much harm, at least we are now talking about it and people might become more aware of how to keep themselves, their minds, and their political leanings free of such harmful practices. This is largely the kind of work that Twitter and Facebook have been involved in: informing their users that there is “fake” news out there and working to weed out that “fake” news to leave a clean space of real news intact. In this sense, fake news is often seen as a virus that makes otherwise healthy systems ill. The very coining and popularization of the concept of “fake news” has been depoliticizing, allowing liberal democracy to remain unquestioning of the fact that as a system it necessitates the manufacturing and mass proliferation of one-sided (liberal, free-market oriented) information by quarantining that virus. What could have become revelation is rendered occlusion. “Fake news” as a discourse works to neutralize the real threat that fakeness presents: calling attention to the ordinary, normal, widespread quality of fakeness within the political scene of late liberalism.

The discourses of fakeness in Armenia, however, have been very different in their political and politicizing trajectories. Fakeness has placed the “normal” conditions of media, information, and politics into question. This has much to do with the lack of liberal democratic norms. Media are not spaces in which Armenians expect freedom and truth. Importantly, this is not because of a legacy of state socialism but because of a legacy of post-Soviet hardcore capitalism, especially because of the oligarchy’s rule and dominance over so many aspects of political life. Information within media, for most Armenians, is always already understood to be coming from a particular source—the ruling party, an opposition party, the owner of that particular press, the pressure placed on the owners and thus journalists of a press by an oligarchic figure, etc. Interestingly, this has been true even after Armenia’s so called “Velvet Revolution” in 2018, through which mass protests and strikes were successful in ousting Prime Minister Serj Sargsyan from power and placing the more liberal Nikol Pashinyan in that position. While some aspects of governance might no longer be dominated by the oligarchic Republican Party, the oligarchy’s hold on many state institutions (for instance, federal court judges who were appointed by the old regime) as well as almost all economic institutions, has meant that many Armenians can still clearly see and take note of political discourses as emerging from particular sites of power. Thus, in the context of Armenia I refer to the spread of false information, fake political positions, and the use of fake social networking profiles not as distinguishable entities set apart from the normal (“fake news”), but as a parasitic relation that continuously produces the normal as something else.

Exactly. As you remind us, historicizing fakeness and situating it in its geopolitical-economy/ies are critical and necessary so that we won’t reproduce the same conspiracy discourse and will be able to see how fakeness challenges the “normal” of late liberalism. I want to follow up on the “parasite” analogy you mention here as well as in the article. You describe fakeness as parasites of the digital space that live within to disturb, to trouble, and to contaminate. You argue that “[f]akeness as a condemnation as well as a self-conscious act ruptures normative political discourse, creates new relations to informational systems, and opens up the potential for new epistemologies. As a kind of antidisciplinary tactic—an interrupting parasite that lives within—fakeness allows for new political discourses and new engagements.” You also cite Michel Serres and argue that “parasites as agents who, through interruption, generate a different order.” Can you elaborate more on this parasite analogy and explain how “a different order” (an ecosystem?) is generated? Which host(s) do they live upon? Are there other forms of parasites other than fake news and fake accounts that participate in this new order? I’m thinking about Internet phenomenon that take similar “fake strategy” such as memes and trolling. Do you also find them participating in fake politics in Armenia? 

I see fakeness as a parasite in informational systems that takes from the system, thus weakening it without killing it and, having interrupted the ways in which production and consumption occur within that system, changing the epistemological formations therein. As Serres reminds us, a system is not a harmony. While there seems to be no use in talking about a system in disequilibrium, we also know that there is no system that functions without glitches (1982: 12). Thus, it is within any human system of relation (including systems that involve nonhuman beings) that we find these moments of error, of something gone awry, or of some “noise.” The host, Serres explains, is the one at whose expense we eat, live, thrive—without giving back: the “first rat for the second, the sleeper for the rats who eat his food, the taxed for the tax collector…and so forth along the chain” (14). The parasite, in turn, is the noise, the interruptor, the one who upsets a system as it works by taking from it. What I particularly find useful in Serres’ discussion of human relations as parasitic is the complexity of intention. It is not that the parasite seeks to make another order, to consolidate a new system out of the existing, but that he actually does so in his attempts to maintain order. In his simplification of systems (intended to stop disorder), the interruptor creates complexity and it is because of this complexity that systems grow. It is fakeness, in other words, that creates noise in a system when it takes information and makes it into something that generates that system as suspect. Fakes, users of fakeness, as well as the very accusation of something as fake are not necessarily caught up in a desire for systematic transformation—one which redefines values of Truth, for instance—but having made noise they now see that new orders of knowledge need to be generated in order to work with and deal with the disruptions. These fake disruptions of the real demand new understandings of information that do not pivot around what is real and what is fake, but rather what information does—a different epistemological system. Information, whether it is real or fake (and independent of whether it is real or fake) does something in the world and it is this doing that should interest us rather than whether it is real or fake.

It was actually one of the anonymous reviewers of the article who suggested thinking fakeness through this framework of the parasite. I had not considered this framework originally and was thinking about the “antidisciplinary” tactics of fakeness largely through Michel de Certeau’s notion of “making do” (2011) in a system where “real” information or Truth does not necessarily work or do what political actors in Armenia need to get done. Fakeness, in other words, is a way in which both right-wing nationalists and progressive activists can do political work without being bogged down with the existing forms and relationships that have been normalized. As a tactic, fakeness works to do what its users need to get done—which necessarily reworks the original uses for which the tools they use were meant. When the parasite was offered as a suggestion (and I really wish I knew who the anonymous reviewer was—perhaps this being a call for them to come forward!) I was intrigued because in some ways I wanted to imagine the possibility of seeing fakeness in a positive light and, at the very least, in a neutral light. The parasite seemed like a negative form. But much like fakeness, the parasite is neither positive nor negative. It is only what it does—in this sense, also, I realized it wasn’t necessarily neutral either. It is political and thus it is interested; in its political acts its value is only determined by what it does. Fakeness has been used to do things that we might consider outright evil. In India, for instance, Hindu nationalists have used WhatsApp to spread false information about kidnappings in order to lure in lynch mobs on Muslims. In Armenia, as I point out in the article, right-wing nationalists have been using fake bits of information to drudge up anti-homosexual sentiment and incite fear, with the potential to create massive and physically violent backlash against queer folks. But fakeness might also do things that work toward social justice.

It is interesting that you use the term ecosystem to think about the ways in which parasites generate new systems. Serres’ use of parasites is in many ways an explanation of capital. He tells us that much of what is generated is not actually produced. “Real production is undoubtedly rare, for it attracts parasites that immediately make it something common and banal. Real production is unexpected and improbable; it overflows with information and is always immediately parasited” (1982: 4). Much of what is generated as capital, in other words, involves various processes of leeching on the original energy output of the laborer. Within the ecosystem of information—which is also a part of the larger system of capital—new information is rarely produced. “News,” for instance, is rarely new. Information that already exists is mimicked, taken from one site to pollinate another site—introducing a bit of difference in its new iteration. Much of what exists within 24-hour television news networks internationally—websites that are updated moment to moment, feeds that constantly feed—are reproductions with nuanced differences, complicating the ecosystem and its content. In Armenia, as I explore in the article, these forms of reproduction (commentary, opinion, discussion, analysis, etc.) are taken as “news” (as original products), especially when these forms of reproduction come from bloggers and social networkers who stand apart from the state apparatus, an entity that no longer garners trust (that is, until the more recent Velvet Revolution). In this way, what is “news” is actually a meme, parasitic of original information turned into something else, and the ecosystem of information—if we call it that—is made more complex the more these forms of parasitic relation occur. Perhaps in some ways this is similar to Eduardo Kohn’s discussion of the Amazon as a site of dense representations that create more and more complexities of signs exchanged between different selves (2013).

In the informational (eco)systems that I am discussing in Armenia, these forms of information are all parasites of one another, making that which is “real” almost always mediated through its parasitic forms. For instance, the Diversity March was originally organized to showcase Yerevan’s demographic differences within—differences from the imagined norm/majority of Armenian Apostolic Christians—for instance, Muslim or Assyrian or Yezidi—whose styles, manners and behaviors differed from the proper—for instance, emos, punks, and other forms of subcultural alterity. However, as the information, commentary, discussions, and claims about the Diversity March have framed it within the discourse of gay pride parade or not gay pride parade, these debates make it impossible to see the Diversity March as anything other than a battleground of queer politics. These very debates were products of parasitic (fake) information—that took the fact of the March and used it for its own purposes and, in doing so, changed the very possibility of that fact existing within informational systems in a way other than the now-mediated and parasited information. Similarly, trolls—that do not in themselves produce but feed off of what is already there—change the ways in which my Armenian comrades and colleagues behave online. Always assuming that there is at least one troll—usually a Fake who has gotten in through a false identity—within a Facebook group, a set of Facebook friends, or the audience of a blog, they comport themselves accordingly. The existence of Fakes—whether as reality or threat—changes the very forms in which information itself is understood and used.

In your article, you discuss the “virtual potentials” of digital fakeness and online anonymity. You show us how Fakes produce the possibilities of political dialogue between two oppositional groups. Fakeness is posed here not as the opposite of authenticity or some kind of wrongdoing that needs to be corrected but rather something that generates potentials and enables connections. Reading your article, I am reminded of Tom Boellstorff’s argument on “virtuality” in his study of the virtual world Second Life (Boellstorff 2008:19): 

Virtuality can thus be understood in terms of potentiality; it can be said to exist whenever there is a perceived gap between experience and “the actual.” This is now the most important meaning of “virtual” with regard to virtual worlds; “virtual” connotes approaching the actual without arriving there. This gap between virtual and actual is critical: were it to be filled in, there would be no virtual worlds, and in a sense no actual world either. 

Can you talk more about the virtual potentials of fakeness and perhaps give us some examples? How does online fakeness influence/interact with offline actions in Armenia? As fakeness such as rumors, lies, and mimicry has a long history in human societies, what do you think is new about fakeness in the digital space?

Boellstorff’s understanding of the virtual as that which approaches the actual but maintains a gap—which he elsewhere defines as the “indexical,” or the way in which the digital “points to” or indexes the actual (2012)—is definitely interesting in that it allows for the possibility of seeing digital worlds as worlds that are both separate and in connection to the actual. In a similar vein, George Marcus suggests that we, ethnographers, should think about “online cultures” as we have about the virtual Dreamtime worlds of Australian Aboriginal peoples. For instance, the Kaluli use the term mama to describe the virtual world that cannot be seen but are reflections of this world. This other world is neither supernatural nor sacred—it is just another world. Importantly, mama is also connected to this world and can have serious effects on this world. Ethnographers once needed mediums and their ability to go to this other world and to communicate with this other world. Now, however, virtual worlds are directly accessible to ethnographers and can become field sites for systematic ethnographic inquiry (Marcus 2012).

These understandings of the digital and the virtual are intriguing, perhaps most so because they trigger that intense anthropological desire for difference (although, interestingly, Tom Boellstorff is also the anthropologist who offers us the anthropology of similitude (2005)). And there is definitely something to be said about the other-worldliness of worlds like Second Life. The digital spaces in which I conduct my fieldwork, however, are in and of the “actual” world. Information online travels into the IRL (in real life) and back often entirely unnoticeably. A conversation that begins on a Facebook group post extends itself into Messenger, might travel farther, into discussion at a happenstance encounter on the street, and then continue being discussed back on the Facebook group post. A Tweet might be the object of discussion at an NGO office alongside something someone had said at another IRL meeting—refusing to separate the weight and reality of the two incidents—making the Tweet very much of the material in this world. The fake information about the Diversity March being a gay parade was not information of another world, although it certainly did a lot of traveling in digital spaces. It was very much a part of the world with bodies being pushed and shoved, spit being spewed, and adrenaline being pumped as these bodies moved through space and into shelter. Rather than see digital space as “virtual” in Boellstorff’s or Marcus’s senses, I see online space as another space that is a part of this world. In other words, these are spatial rather than worldly relations. As John Postill and Sarah Pink have argued, there is a “(dis)continuity between the experienced realities of face-to-face and social media movement and sociality” (2012: 124), in which what happens online does not necessarily stay online and what happens in digital space does not necessarily stay in digital space although it could and perhaps sometimes does.

In this regard, while there is definitely a lot that could be said about the spatiality of online space—as a space it has its own dimensionality, temporality, affects, etc.—social media as a space does not constitute its own world. As such, fakeness does have much in common with rumors, gossip, and allegations of sorcery that anthropologists have pointed to in a multitude of times and spaces. What does make social media as a space different, however, is the ease with which information is reproducible and identity falsifiable, and the quickness with which something can travel in multiple directions at once. Armenia’s social media landscape includes, for instance, BlogNews.am, a blog site that reposts “popular” blog and social media posts, making them more popular. If BlogNews reposts a fake piece of information, making it viral, it will allow that information to spread much more quickly than any “true” information. The virality of the information is, ultimately, what gives it a truth value. Each repost asserts its truth, making the “Truth” irrelevant at worst and just another opinion on the issue at best. While this is in some ways very similar to what happens when a major news source—such as The New York Times—prints fake news, the direct participation in the reproduction of information on social media gives digital space an aura of democracy, marking the information that travels far and wide (literally through the very bodies—fingertips) that do the reposting a visceral sense of truth even if imbued with what might be fakeness.

Thus when I speak of potentials, I do not mean other worldly potentials. Rather, I am speaking about actual political tactics that might be put to use if we put aside our righteousness about Truth. I do not mean to suggest that Truth should not matter, but when our (assuming a progressive and or Left audience here) enemies are attacking with a vast armory of fake information, making our meager appeals to the Truth irrelevant, it might be time to think about how their tools are worthy of giving a shot. To see these potentials, I don’t necessarily call for maintaining distance from the actual—perhaps like the potentials of deferring queerness into the “not yet” in order to create other possibilities of future (Munoz 2009). While there certainly is a great deal of potential and possibility in that, I am more interested in fakeness as a tactic. What would it mean, for instance, to distribute fake information for a progressive cause, to divert attention from something, to lie, to cheat, in order to sway to the Left? In the article I give some examples of how LGBT activists sometimes rely on fakeness to do political work. At times, activists also joke—or come up with unpracticed ideas—of how fakeness might be useful. These examples are sparse, particularly because even while they occasionally make use of fakeness, the trickery of these practices feels wrong. Perhaps it is wrong. But the point is not whether it is right or wrong, whether it is fake or real, whether it is virtual or actual. The point is what it does and what it can do. 

Tamar Shirinian is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She received her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, with a Certificate in Feminist Studies, from Duke University in 2016. Her research focuses on the connections between sexuality and political-economy in the context of postsocialism, especially in the Republic of Armenia where a widespread rhetoric of “perversion” merges emergent forms of sexuality and sexual identity with political immoralities, marking postsocialism as a queer process. More recently she has started a project on the psychic and emotional aftermaths of disasters, focusing on post-Harvey Houston and the strained processes of recovery for marginalized people.

Mei-chun Lee is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of California Davis. Her dissertation, “Code for an Open Government: Digital Activism and the Uprising of Civic Hackers in Post-authoritarian Taiwan,” examines a Taiwan-based hacker community and their political experiments translating the idea of openness from technologies to governance. She is a Digital Editorial Fellow of PoLAR and an Editorial Assistant of Big Data & Society. Currently, she is curating a Virtual Edition on “Digital Politics” for PoLAR.

References Cited

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Boellstorff, Tom. 2012. “Rethinking Digital Anthropology.” In Digital Anthropology, edited by Daniel Miller, Heather A. Horst, 39-60. Berg: London.

Boellstorff, Tom. 2015. Coming of age in Second Life: An anthropologist explores the virtually human. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Boyer, Dominic, Alexei Yurchak. 2010. “American Stiob: Or, What Late-Socialist Aesthetics of Parody Reveal about Contemporary Political Culture in the West.” Cultural Anthropology 25 (2):179-221.

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de Certeau, Michel. 2011. The Practice of Everyday Life, Vol. I. Translated by Steven Rendall. Third Edition ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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Herman, Edward, Noam Chomsky. 1988. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media. New York: Pantheon.

Marcus, George. 2012. “Forward.” In Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method, edited by Tom Boellstorff, Bonnie Nardi, Celia Pearce, T.L. Taylor, xiii-xvii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Munoz, Jose Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press.

Postill, John, Sarah Pink. 2012. “Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web.” Media International Australia 145 (November):123-134.

Povinelli, Elizabeth. 2016. Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Serres, Michel. 1982. The Parasite. Translated by Lawrence R. Scherr. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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