Dead agenting is an influence stratagem that arises from the espionage and intelligence communities. One of the earliest treatises on espionage explains it this way: “When the enemy agent gives false data, those who believed him but now find it false, kill him – or at least cease to believe him.” In modern practice, it has found its place as a discrediting tool in PR, politics, social causes…and of course, EVE Online.
Dead agenting can also be used to false flag when the claim or idea cannot be refuted normally. Black PR can be used; it can be half-truths or outright falsehoods designed to deter people from listening to what the agent has to say.
ISN’T THAT SPECIAL?
The Church of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs would routinely call a journalist’s place of work and try to convince people the journalist was a dangerous terrorist or a child molester. Paulette Cooper is an author who wrote critically about scientology and as a result faced horrible abuse. Scientologists attempted to dead agent her by stealing some of her personal stationary and using her typewriter to author a fake bomb threat under her name. The dead agenting attempt backfired when the police realized that Paulette Cooper had no idea how to even make bombs, let alone intent to use them. A more extreme case of dead agenting occurred when the Church of Scientology tried to destroy the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) with thousands of frivolous lawsuits against them. In the end the frivolous nature of the lawsuits didn’t matter as CAN was bled dry by legal expenses and eventually bought by Scientology in bankruptcy court.
THERE YOU GO AGAIN
Dead agenting can and often is used widely in political campaigns as a means to negate the power of the opposition. Ronald Reagan was debating Jimmy Carter and effortlessly dead agented him by downplaying all of his argument with the phrase “There you go again.” Instead of refuting any of the claims or facts of the opposing argument, Reagan was able to render the argument moot by disempowering his opponent with charisma and quips.
In a more recent political context, President Obama was able to partially nullify Mitt Romney in much the same way. All politicians change their positions from time to time but Obama found a way to place the full burden of that onto his opponent with a single word: Romnesia. Romnesia was a term that referred to the inconsistency in stances and political agendas to which Romney had committed. Rather than point out that both candidates had different views at one point or another, many voters and political commentators simply became enamored by the suave potency of the term itself.
THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE
Outside of political campaigns and elections, dead agenting sees frequent use in social movements and ideological conflicts. Feminism is one really good example with multiple facets and branches thrown in for extra complexity. Men’s Rights Activists often dead agent feminist causes by making the argument that all feminists are alike and all have radical or extremist views. The reality, of course, is that feminism comes in as many flavors as ice cream. One of the way modern feminists attempted to dead agent MRAs was by creating a social movement called “This is what a feminist looks like”. The idea was to break stereotypes and tropes by allowing anybody to wear a shirt or hold a sign that indicated the above statement. The problem is that dead agenting always works both ways and when more than 2 agents are involved it can quickly become a ping pong match with no clear end. The MRA responded by reinforcing their desired image of feminists with their own members presenting images of themselves wearing the shirt and holding signs.
I am going to try not to dredge too deep into GamerGate because it is a noxious swamp where irony and logic folds in on itself like a Mobius strip. That said, dead agenting clearly played a part. The surface layer is an idea that game journalism has become systemically corrupt and functions by means of cronyist favor trading. The horrible truth that participants in this cavalcade of undying fedora tipping have avoided is that journalism, real journalism, stopped being a thing during the Watergate era. All but a few of the major news companies of today are owned wholly or in part by defense contractors and other major corporate power-players. Those that aren’t take generation donations from them. You can imagine the preposterous irony of a statement like “I don’t browse Kotaku because they have an agenda”, but similar statements are made daily about almost every modern news outlet. Of course every single journalistic entity today has an agenda, most of them monetary.
When the pro-GGers and the anti-GGers clash in an epic battle of beard clippings and self-loathing musk they use dead agenting to try and disempower one another. Those in support of GamerGate will say that those in opposition to it are “beta cuk orbitors” or “white knight SJWs” and those against will say that those in support are “Neckbeards” or “white knight SJWs”. Accusations fly like beads of sweat on the third day of a nerd convention, with substantive discussion of the issues almost impossible to find.
Notice the pattern here? Dead agenting can grow to such a massive scale that instead of angry mobs with torches and pitchforks coming for the man in the windmill, it becomes an ouroboros of hate and vitriol that remains completely unaware of the fact that it’s eating itself to death.
Lychton Kondur, the alliance executor of BRAVE Collective, was the victim of a coup when he awoke one morning April 6th to find that the majority of his CEOs had voted him out of power and replaced his executor corporation with Nerd Panic [NPROB]. Drama erupted on reddit and other social media platforms, and a shitstorm of finger pointing and blame shifting seemed to envelope the entire alliance. A counter-coup was launched with the goal of restoring power to the former executor and swift and terrible punishment meted out to the original conspirators.
Propaganda was a key component of both these coups. Several image macros and dubbed movie clips were made to indicate Lychton as a hero or as a villain. While the creation of memes and image macros is not actually dead agenting, it is very similar to the creation of black propaganda or black PR. Both are born of an idea that may or may not have any basis in fact but are empowered by the crowd psychology of the people consuming them. In short mob mentality and crowd psychology give unwarranted potency to influence stratagems that rely on mass dissemination and believability.
Dead agenting itself was seen in the aftermath of the power struggle. The original conspirators’ discussions were leaked to Zulu, providing additional material to discredit them and shore up Lychton’s hold over the hearts and minds of his Newbies. In response, PL received threats against their forums, demanding they take down the logs – threats that were summarily dispensed with by a single tweet from Grath Telkin that conveyed just how credible the person making the threats wasn’t. Before the dust could even begin to settle, enemies of BRAVE caught the scent of blood in the water. Posts on reddit and other social media offering bravelets a new home in a rival newbie organizations focused on the drama and made their pitches on ‘your leaders are shit’, rather than the strength or weaknesses of the organizations. By hurling mud caked critisims at Brave Leadership, rival newbie organizations were able to scoop up dissenters and other players who felt personally wronged by the coup. All of these, from attacking the conspirators in order to silence criticism of Lychton, to Grath’s dismissal of the threat, to the attacks on Brave leadership in order to negate the appeal of the alliance’s recruitment efforts, are dead agenting – attacking the messenger in order to kill the message.
The actual merits of these criticisms and insults were not a factor, only the perception of BRAVE as ‘dramatic’ – but dead agenting requires no such merits to be effective. An individual can be honest, reliable, and forthright, but if he is perceived to be the Boy Who Cried Wolf, his information, even when supported by evidence, will be much easier to ignore. The fallout from the Brave coup and counter-coup is a strong example of how dead agenting and its various flavors provide a pungent meta with the new players involed becoming collateral damage.
WORLDS WITHIN WORLDS
As I have said many times before, EVE is a microcosm of society. Dead agenting plays just as much a part in EVE as it does in large scale geopolitical social movements. The keys to surviving it are understanding it, being ready for it, and being able to recognize it when it is encountered. As always, trust is one of New Eden’s most valuable commodities.