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Trolls, Bots and Robocalls

 April 19, 2022 at 10:00 PM PDT

S1: Hello and welcome to the Peppy Voicemail Hotline to reach co-creator Kannan Press. One. To reach head editor Chris Reyes Press two. To comment on a past episode or topic , press three. To start the newest episode , press four.
S2: You're listening to the Parker Anderson Projects and Project Project. Good morning and welcome to season two of the Parker Edison Project. This time around , we're showing you how culture really manifests in our day to day life. This particular episode deals with the problem. We're all dealing with bad bots , scammers and robo calls. We all get the calls. How they got to be so common is an eerie evolution. They happen right under our noses. We started off with phones and telemarketers. Siri.
S2: These days , cell phones have become a key part of American life. So much so. Landlines and payphones have gone almost extinct. Facebook has become this generation's Yellow Pages , which means classic telephone call centers had to find a way to fit in to social media. You ever heard of a troll ? In politics , a troll is a fake online identity created to promote a specific set of opinions. See ? With the popularity of the Internet , unscrupulous politicians have figured out that they can use trolls to persuade inexperienced voters. The way it works is a troll is paid to create 10 to 15 fake Twitter accounts and use them to tweet. So frequently , their messages are perceived by novice voters as popular opinion. When the same process is executed mechanically , it's sometimes referred to as a bot farm , essentially serving the same purpose as call centers. But in addition to swindling your money , they also manufacture fake news. Make no mistake though , those are the bad guys. Folks like my next guest are constantly utilizing ethical practices and finding creative ways to introduce them into the mainstream.
S4: Okay.
S2: Okay.
S4: I run a consulting practice called Rufus and Main here in D.C. and I also am helping start a nonprofit called Gen-Z for Change. They're a coalition of TikTok creators that use their platforms for good. I'm really a marketer. I work in marketing. I just happen to do that primarily in progressive politics and for causes that I believe in.
S2: I was looking at a little bit of your resumé and I had to ask you to tell me anything about the Joe Biden video game.
S4: So in 2020 , I joined the Biden campaign and I ended up joining a team called the Digital Partnerships Team. We had a unique role , which was how do we get more Joe Biden content onto other people's channels , like anywhere on the Internet ? That wasn't our social media or our email list or our ads , right ? Like kind of into the ether. I convinced some people to do a lot of gaming work. I was really fascinated with the idea of getting into that community. It's such a big part of Internet culture , and we had created an island on Animal Crossing and then colleague and I somehow convince people to let us build a Fortnite map who was really fun.
S2: That's dope. That really is. Thank you. The focus of this episode has a lot to do with the connection that we have to our phones. And I was kind of curious if you could give me your impression of the part that phones might play in the next election.
S4: Yeah , that's such a great question. I mean , we're really holding computers in our hands. They have , honestly , in a lot of cases , the same kind of processing power as a lot of our laptops do , the same amount of memory , things like that. And when I started in this field over ten years ago , iPhones are still relatively new. The idea that people weren't signing petitions on their phones , they weren't purchasing things , they weren't making donations. And of course , now that's not the case at all. You know , people are on their phones constantly. I read a study that said that people are spending on average 4 to 5 hours on their phone every day. I don't know about you. I know. My phone tells me it's a little higher than that. For better or for worse , for what I do for causes and for campaigns. I can reach you through text messaging. I can call you. I can run ads on your phone. I can reach you on social media on your phone. I can send you emails on your phone. All of those things are a way for me to try to reach people. It's kind of crazy.
S2: In the music world , we have platforms that are coming up and they're being paid to to raise the notoriety of certain musicians. I want to know if this could possibly be similar to the tactic that's being used in the political realm.
S4: What that makes me think of a lot is how like Tick Tock is being used both by the music industry and then also for good. So that's pretty interesting , right ? The idea that these trends are manufactured on TikTok. The music industry was like really early and understanding the power of tick tock. I think we're seeing it a lot in how music is crafted now to. Right. What is that 10/2 clip that can be utilised on tick tock ? And I think if you look at the artists that have kind of been. Tick tock for the last couple years. They're the ones that are owning music industry , right ? Like Doja Cat Megan Thee Stallion Lil Nas X. So in politics , the thing that I'm most interested in this year is the use of text messages and politics. This isn't new , but I do think I've been seeing more and more SMS messages from candidates and specifically like lower ballot candidates this cycle. And we have seen that. Text messages are a great way to develop relationships with voters or with constituents. It's very personal. It's very 1 to 1 , and it can raise millions of dollars. The thing that I worry about is , like any tactic , the more you do it , the last meaningful it intense , right ? I think they're going to just start kind of bombarding us. And fortunately and I think people are going to start to get annoyed by it , which is frustrating.
S2: We've seen troll farms and beams and YouTube ads used to distort public opinions.
S4: And it is. But there are also things that we can all do that really do make a difference. So the biggest one is like not sharing information that's incorrect. And there's a couple of ways that people might do this. The first is , you know , if you see something on Twitter or something and it speaks to you , you might just retweet it and maybe you don't realize that it's incorrect. So when I see something that maybe feels a little inflammatory or just feels like , really , wow , that's kind of crazy , you know , making sure that you're doing your due diligence and searching real news organizations and seeing if that's legit before retweeting it is really important. The other thing that people do accidentally is let's say you see a piece of information and they know it's wrong , like information on vaccines that's just factually incorrect. And people perhaps might retweet that or , quote , tweet that and say , you know , this actually isn't right. But that's also really harmful , too , because if you're retweeting that information , the algorithm doesn't know that you're disagreeing with it. The algorithm just knows you're sharing it. And so by doing that , you're actually like feeding the algorithm and ensuring that that bad content , that wrong content continues to be seen by other people. So if you see a piece of information like that that's wrong or incorrect , you know , the thing that you could do is you can screenshot it. You can kind of put a lot of U.S. news organizations do this. They put big X's on the top of it to kind of say , like , we're showing you this , but it's not correct and it's wrong. And the other thing to think about is that they call it like the truth sandwich. So the first thing you do is say , okay , this is actually what the truth is. And then you acknowledge the falsehood and this is why this thing is wrong. And then you kind of close out again and saying and again , you know , this is the correct piece of information. And here's how I know it's correct. You know , I verified it or it's coming from leading scientists or whatever it may be. And we try to push back on information that's wrong. Sometimes all we do is we just come across kind of intensely and we people go back into what they believe , right ? They say , oh , I'm being attacked and I don't like this attack and I'm just going to believe what I want to believe. So I think the most important thing that we can do is obviously always be really empathetic and understand where people are coming from , making sure that we're actually engaging in real conversation , like you said , and not just kind of saying , you know , you're wrong. I'm right.
S4: I also actually teach a course at a university , too. So I feel like I spend all of my time with Gen Z , which is very funny because I did not anticipate doing that in my life. I think working really closely with young people has been really energizing. They're so optimistic. They care so much about our country and they want to make it a better place. They're also really welcoming of other people , people who are different than themselves or one another. So one of the things I'm really excited about this year is helping younger people just turn out to vote in this election. Yeah.
S4: My name is Matt. I may be the number two. And then me. Matt to me , kind of like my name , but with a number thrown in.
S2: I'm so impressed by Madden's point of view. We're lucky to have mines like hers in such powerful places. The youth are the future. So few things are as important as empowering them. Hope you were jotting down notes on the tips Madeline just provided. If so , keep your pencils out. After the break , I'll be back with another guess. But this one has tips on how you can combat phone scammers and robo callers. Stick around.
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S2: And now back to the PPE. Yep , yep. Alpaca.
S5: Alpaca. You always doing stuff , but as teachers. Oh , has why ? You don't have to do something for the kids. But you help. Kids.
S2: Kids. Hello.
S3: Hello. Hello. I am your host , Kim Dice , social commentator , musician and connoisseur of fine cheeseburgers. Today we're doing something a little bit different. Instead of movies , millennials should movie , we're going to do movies , boomers should movie. So we're going to kind of flip this episode on his head , and it's going to be movies that we think are older generation our senior community should check out today. I have a guest , Mauricio Recio. Please introduce yourself. Hello.
S2: Hello. My name's Michelle and I am 17 and currently a student at our high school. And one of my favorite hobbies that I love to do is travel films. And I'm a movie geek person.
S3: And I know.
S2: I know a lot about movies in general , mostly like behind the scenes of Before a movie was made or movies that gosh show or movies I was going to happen at the last minute got canceled.
S3: Marissa , you sound like me. That's exactly who I was when I was in high school , but not to toot my own horn. But when I got out of high school , I did a little acting. I was an extra in Alvin and the Chipmunks too. So yeah , I did a few movies , but there was a phase I was going through.
S2: Right out of a question. Did those films , were they like strings of video or.
S3: No , that was a theater , man. I was doing a big.
S2: You doing a big.
S3: Yeah , that was the movie. Went straight to theater.
S2: So no , I mean other films or do you only do checkmarks or you want to do over. Oh , no.
S3: Well , yeah. Let's get into our movies for today. The movie that I have for you is 2021 movie Encanto.
S1: Many years ago , this scandal blessed our family with a miracle. Our house , our casita came to life with magic. Oh , like I said , the. Draws.
S3: Draws. It's the movie that features that song. Your grandkids or your children are playing nonstop. This is why we don't talk about Bruno. It's Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton in the Heights fame. It's got Stephanie Beatriz as Mirabel. One of my favorite actors , John Leguizamo as Bruno. I remember him most fondly as Luigi in Super Mario Brothers , the movie. This is actually Disney's 60th animated film. That's a huge deal. It's about a family in Colombia , and they have a magical house that also gives them magical powers. And our main character is the only person in the family who does not have a power. I think everyone should check it out if you have it. There's tons of songs in this movie that you just won't be able to get out of your head. I'm going to give Encanto in a way. This is the first time I'm doing this. I'm going to mix up the emojis. I'm going to give you four house emojis and one single candle emoji because it's worth it. It's a great film. Mauricio , tell me about what movie you chose for today. For movies , boomers in movies.
S2: What I chose was a film that most people , when they saw it , they did not get it. But it is so beautiful. And it's called Tenet from one of my favorite directors , Christopher Nolan. You really want to know ? It can communicate with the future. Time travel ? No. And version.
S4: Name it and pull the trigger. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. Shooting the bullet , you know , catching it.
S2: But I've seen too much. Well , try and keep the Tenet released. I think it was 2010. Remember the US passed by too fast , but this was a film that we were able to watch because of the pandemic in theaters again and is so beautiful. I'm not trying to like see the full story , but coming from what I know , how can I explain it ? This protagonist played by Denzel Washington. Intense.
S3: John David Washington. Yeah. Yeah.
S2: Yeah. John David Washington. And Robert Pattinson also stars in this film is pretty confusing , but I say that this film is one of the best films that an old house will watch because this will probably make you like , What the hell is this ? This is something that like it doesn't make sense , but if they just keep rewatch that they might love the most of this film , it barely uses only four important elements. Everything was shot. Real car scenes are real. The explosions are real and everything. Yeah , that's it.
S3: This movie also has Ludwig Goransson doing the music , who I know from producing some of Childish Gambino's music with you also did the music for The Mandalorian and Black Panther , which is an amazing soundtrack.
S3: All right , Mauricio , thanks for coming by today.
S2: I'm so sorry for being kind of like to interrupt a little bit late because I'm kind of nervous. So doing this , like I never really talked in the interview before.
S3: I got a.
S2: Little bit nervous and.
S3: Sorry , you're doing great. I can tell that you're excited and passionate about these films , but we're going to wrap it up on that note. This has been our first episode. Really , I'm your host , King Dice , a social commentator , musician connoisseur of fine cheeseburgers and this has been movies boomers should movie.
S2: Welcome back. In the nineties , we had thousands of call centers filled with people all over the nation trying to sell us stuff. At some point , a conniving businessman figured out that the answering machines that were taking our calls could be used to place outgoing ones. This shift in technology would basically lead to the humans in many of those call centers being replaced by machines. That's how we got robo calls. The weirdest ones I've ever had are always the robots because they feel so real.
S3: But there's always something that.
S2: Gives them away. They never like confirming that they're people. I can't I can't work with robots.
S5: It was a very aggressive male voice saying Your account is delinquent , did it before we cut off services. You must , you know. But they don't say what they're from. They just basically make you feel scared , like you're in trouble today.
S2: They've advanced their hustle , so the machine gets you on the phone and a human operator hops on and tries to trick you out of your hard earned money , selling everything from discount carpet cleaners to renewed car warranties. It's shady business. The shifty is part. You can't hold a machine morally responsible for what it's doing calls and is create a crime with an untraceable criminal or do they will. Maxon is a real life superhero , taking down sneaky cheat and techno creeps trying to badger cash out of good people. I'm legit grateful for the cavalier work he does. He would steer you in I I'm in Washington DC. What's your name and what line of work for you ? It name is Will Maxim and I'm an assistant director in the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection in the Division of Marketing Practices. What does that job entail ? In the division that I work in , we handle lots of different scams deception , you know , companies that target consumers often through the telephone or the Internet. And we investigate cases , investigate targets , and then if we develop enough evidence and can proceed in federal court , then we file cases to enforce laws about deception and telemarketing , deception on the Internet , things like that. Maybe a company is calling people whose numbers on the do not call list and they're not lying about what they're selling , but they are violating. Telemarketing laws often will seek money to try to get restitution for the victim , then will return that money , or at least as much as we're able to recover to the consumer victims. Wow. How'd you get into the field ? So I moved the FTC in 2010. My hope was to work in law enforcement , like all civil law enforcement , not criminal law enforcement , because my prior experience was in civil law. So , you know , normal litigation , not not criminal law. And so there are only a handful of spots where you can practice civil law enforcement and the government and the FTC is one. Civil litigation was my skill set. It was sort of the perfect fit for me. Are your days more along the lines of paperwork ? Or detective work. There's definitely a mix. We have investigators in our division and I'd say their work is often very much along the lines of being a detective. Our attorneys are the same way. You know , a lot of the work that they do and the work that I did when I was a litigating line attorney is detective work. But then also , certainly if you're an attorney , there's plenty of paperwork as well. Absolutely. As you describe it , there's something very dramatic about it. Yeah , it's a dramatic job. You know , when we go in for those , you know , the immediate access where you go in with law enforcement , usually with local police or sometimes federal law enforcement , you know , it's essentially a raid and it is dramatic. And I've been in on those. And it's much more dramatic than normal attorney work. Hmm. Makes sense. Are scams usually made by one person or is it a team ? White supervillains in a cartoon. It's much more common to be filing a case against an actual company. In most of our cases , there is a corporate form. So there might be executives and you know , they have employees. Sometimes it might only be five or ten people , but in many cases you're talking about dozens , maybe even hundreds of employees may have multiple locations to have the bigger scams that reach a large amount of people. You know , it often takes a significant workforce , but that isn't to say that there certainly aren't scammers out there that operate completely solo. But the ones that tend to hit the largest number of people are , not surprisingly , have have some support. Are certain scams more prominent in certain areas around the country ? Like do rural areas get different scams in big cities ? The more common ones that we deal with are our national and in some cases even international , where they don't really distinguish between where you live , you know , they're looking to just hit the largest number of people possible. If it's an Internet scam , you know , you can hit anywhere all at once and there's no regionality to it. If it's telemarketing , it can be regional in the sense that they might target certain area codes at a time. What's one of the biggest cases that you've heard of or worked on a tech support scam ? A company in Florida that would have paid advertisements that would lead you to this software that you can download for free and install it on your computer. And it would instantly , you know , scan your computer for free and fix any problems that might be slowing down your computer. And so lots and lots of people would go and do this , click on it , download the software , and it would run and it would tell you it did some things , but it found some other problems. And if you wanted to fix those , you needed to pay for the full version of the software. And it's maybe like $30 or something like that , so that a lot of people would pay a $30 for that software and then it would tell you , okay , well , to activate the software , you have to call this phone number. You would acquire the software , call the phone number , and then you would be connected to a telemarketer. And they would say , okay , well , let me I need to remote connect to your machine. And so then they would use a web based service where they can essentially see your screen and control your screen and get connected into your computer. And then they would run these diagnostics in the background and tell you , Oh yeah , you've got all sorts of problems , you've got malware , you know , you've got all these bad things here. You need a lot of significant support on your computer. You could take your computer and go in to Best Buy or something like that , and they can probably fix it , but it's going to cost you a few hundred dollars and you're not going to have your machine for days or , you know , we offer this service where we can fix it remotely and they got millions and millions of dollars doing that. This is place to have , you know , hundreds of employees doing this all the time. And I think in that case , we got over $10 million back and we're able to refund you know , not everyone didn't get 100 cents on the dollar they lost , but they got a lot of their money back. Give or take to the office. No , but I mean , we certainly have a lot of really dedicated , you know , investigators , paralegals and attorneys that do great work and really dedicated to the mission , and many of which causes people to , you know , take pay cuts to come to this job , to work for the government because they really believe in the work. It's what makes it a great , great job. Do you have any tips for listeners on what they can do to protect themselves from scam artists , specifically for telemarketing scams ? You What I always tell people to do is a put your number on the do not call list. You can do that by going to do not call dot gov dot Jehovah. That is not going to stop all telemarketing calls your number. But what we do see is that the vast majority of legitimate companies. You abide by the do not call list ? Now , that's not going to stop pure scammers because they don't care about the law. But that should reduce the number of calls you get and certainly the number of calls you get from legitimate companies. If you get an illegal call , it's really helpful to us. Certainly if you go to do not call York the same website and report it , file a complaint that we find a lot of our targets and that helps us build our cases. Beyond that , there's also a lot of solutions you can get off your phone. Now , those three solutions have all popped up really in the last four or five years. Some of them are , in many cases , available through your cell carrier. So if you don't have something like that already on your phone , you can reach out to your cellular provider and see if they have something available for free. If not , then you can also get an app. Insider information. Yeah , it's good stuff. These are great products. US. Awesome. Thanks so much , Will. I promise. I really appreciate you taking the time. I appreciate it. Will and Madeline are on the front lines of technological safety. They both use a variety of tools , but when they seem to have in common is compassion and this high speed world of SMS texts , YouTube ads and solicitor emails. Empathy is a necessity. Scammers lacking and in its absence , communication becomes corrupt. Instead of fighting fire with fire , though , both in my guest root their work and compassion. One thing I'm personally taking away from Matlin's interview is that plain old understanding might be our best tool to break through the noise fake news creates. That's kind of deep to me. I might have to sit with that idea a little and let it set in. But I realize that's a pretty heavy note to end on. So let me lighten the mood a little. Let's see what's on the radio. Hey , hey , hey. You're listening to DJ Eddie on the radio. Always playing you the best stuff on earth. Here's something slow for you guys. This is Cry Baby by Fire. The band right here on Fear.
S1: I let you go. Take me back , baby. I didn't know you. Crazy. Now the. You. If you want me to say yes , I. Oh.
UU: Oh. Want me to.
S1: Just don't make me cry. Baby , tell me this is a terrible dream. And wake me up and be the lady with. Wasn't I ? Tuesday.
UU: Was intruding. Is judo going to make me ? Tell me. This is a terrible dream. And with me and. Scandinavia.
S1: Scandinavia. Could you live on in just enough ? We thought about it. Since you guys are worried we're like this. Not.
UU: Not. It's so my. But I'm still.
S1: I'm standing here. Don't cry , baby. Tell me this is a terrible dream and wake me. This can't be the way we're. Started with a. Started with.
S2: Thanks for stopping in. The Parker Edison Project is produced and hosted by yours truly , Parker Edison and the Good People at Platform Collection. Be sure to subscribe and catch the next episode on Apple , Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any comments or questions , visit the Parker Edison Project dot com or hit us on Instagram at the P.E. Project. My guy Kurt CONAN is audio production manager. Lisa Jay Morrissette is operations manager and John Decker is Associate General Manager for content. This programming is made possible in part by the KPBS Explore Content Fund. Hello. Saying that because it reminds me of Sesame Street. Yeah. Stay safe out there.

ep 4 photo.jpg
Parker Edison
A cell phone displays information on the FTC in this undated photo.
Political ads, bot-farms, solicitor calls, and tips on how you can beat them. Plus King Dice and a young film fan discuss movies boomers should movie.

• Thea the Band - Crybaby (demo mix 2.0)

• Madeline Twomey
• Will Maxson, Federal Trade Commission
• Mauricio B, student
• King Dice
• Thea the Band

Show Credits: Parker Edison (Host), Kurt Kohnen (Co-creator), Chris Reyes (Head Editor) and Gene Flo (Score Producer)
Culture As A Lifestyle