“Turtles All the Way Down”: What Ethnography Can Tell Us About Fake News

by Margaret Rowley

As a PhD student in a theoretically-oriented department of ethnomusicology (a real word!), I have been searching within my coursework for a mechanism to explain the current political system. I suspect I’m not the only graduate student doing this. I count myself extremely fortunate to not only be able to devote my time to learning, but also to have access to literature within my own discipline (an ethnographic exploration of music), as well as historical musicology, anthropology, and sociology. Recently, my coursework turned up a classic gem which I would like to attempt to apply to a small facet of this year’s political development: “fake news.”

Clifford Geertz, the late titan of anthropology from Princeton, offers the following anecdote in his chapter in Contemporary Field Research:

There is an Indian story – at least I heard it as an Indian story – about an Englishman who, having been told that the world rested on a platform which rested on the back of an elephant which rested in turn on the back of a turtle, asked (perhaps he was an ethnographer; it is the way they behave), what did the turtle rest on? Another turtle. And that turtle? “Ah, Sahib, after that it is turtles all the way down.”[1]

The vivid imagery of this snippet (turtle after turtle after turtle in a Dr. Seussian stack, weaving and wobbling but somehow staying upright) has inspired generations of anthropologists to dig deeper, even while understanding that they – we – will never reach the bottom.seuss

In the fall, when the proliferation of so-called fake news began to be publicly recognized, I solicited opinions on this frustrating phenomenon. “We are not surprised by this,” a brilliant colleague told me. “Academia has always known that the truth is malleable.” I had to shrug and concede that he was correct; in ethnography, anyway, much of what we do is try to re-think older scholarship, and this sometimes results in its partial truths being exposed in their (sometimes deeply troubling) incompleteness. Another solicited opinion, from another friend, held that “fake news” is not fake, because it holds a germ of truth.

After chewing on both opinions for a few days, I had to concede that they’re both correct. I’ll use the following example, which was widespread on Facebook in the months before the election:


This image, intended to appeal to an emotional argument for the well-being of children, seeks to portray Clinton as a monster of a lawyer who threw a twelve-year-old rape victim under the bus. It is designed for readers who don’t know much about the legal system and aren’t prepared (through cultural knowledge) to read critically. At least one assertion on the easily-shareable image is actually false: Clinton didn’t volunteer for the case, rather, she was appointed to it by a judge and was unable to refuse. Other aspects are true, but manipulated: she did laugh about the case on a recording made years later, but was arguably laughing sardonically at the ineffectiveness of a lie-detector test, which her client passed. Snopes presents a thorough takedown, which I won’t replicate here.[2]

The reason I gave this image a second look when it popped up on my own social media feed was not because I knew any details of the case. Rather, it was because of the extremely dangerous assumption it makes: that a lawyer can not only find her own client guilty, but has the singular power to “get” someone “freed.” What about the judge? What about a jury of one’s own peers? I have an admitted lack of legal expertise, but even this graduate student in ethnomusicology has watched enough Law and Order to know that a lawyer is bound to represent her client regardless of “known” guilt (which of course, is not “known” unless the lawyer was physically present at the event). It is the job of the attorney to represent their client, not to determine guilt.

Regardless, this image does contain a grain of truth. My point here is, addressed falsehoods notwithstanding, this image represents the “top turtle,” as Geertz would say. This is the obvious information, floating at the top; easy to see, easy to capture. We can pick it up and take it to someone else as proof of a point, we can share it with the click of a button.

What is less obvious is the turtle underneath: knowledge of the American legal system. Under that turtle are other quiet details of the case: the accused rapist apparently pled guilty and received a reduced sentence (allegedly because the mother of the victim didn’t want her child to be put through anything else).[3] Still deeper in the stack of turtles, somewhere, is the truth about what happened the night of the incident itself.

So what is “fake news” if it is not entirely “fake?” It is the top turtle, the turtle in plain sight, simple and effective and requiring no labor. This turtle is dangerous because it seems so obvious, because it is. It’s not necessarily false, it’s just the most visible information with all other information omitted.

The problem with describing the top turtle, though, is that the next supporting turtle will often change the meaning of the top turtle itself. To carry the analogy ridiculously far, the isolated top turtle appears as if she is swimming on the top of a body of water. We can infer her physical fitness, her work ethic, her character, from her swimming habits. She swims day and night, and that isn’t water on her brow but sweat. How else could she be suspended on the top of the water like this, if it isn’t through her own hard work? – But then we find that there is a turtle underneath, supporting this hard-working top turtle, and this changes the meaning. It is actually this lower turtle that is the worker, supporting not just herself, but her colleague. But wait! Here is another, deeper turtle. And another. And another. Turtles all the way down.

During my master’s research in ethnomusicology, I started fieldwork in Chicago with only my top turtle: the understanding that there seemed to be many fewer female DJs than male DJs working in the Chicago house music scene. I suspected I would find one turtle underneath: maybe a club owner who didn’t like women, or some equipment salesperson who didn’t want to sell turntables to non-male DJs. Maybe women just weren’t interested in being DJs.

As I dutifully began my digging, I found, just underneath the surface, a wide, vertical spread of increasingly disturbing turtles: basic gendered economics meant that most women weren’t able to access their own equipment, and so often relied on male partners to buy turntables.[4] Women DJs were objectified, valued for their appearance more than their music. The perception that women didn’t play as well or as “hard” seemed pervasive. The trope of the DJ as a “god” of the dance floor lent itself to gendered assumptions of what that “god” would look like (read: not like a “goddess”). Book after book used “he” and “him” to describe the DJ. A lyric of a well-known song at the time referenced “Mister DJ.” Women “couldn’t carry” heavy crates of records. Women didn’t want to be commuting home alone at four in the morning. In one horrifying story I was told, a female DJ was raped in the booth by a club employee after the venue had closed for the night.

It should go without saying that I did not find the “bottom” of the stack of turtles. I’m unsatisfied, almost a decade later, with how I dug, and if I could do it again I would dig harder, wider, deeper. I understand, though, that even in my zeal, I would never reach the bottom, and while the lack of a bottom is certainly a frustration, it is also a motivator. Because we can never get there, we must try harder.

Our job, as anthropologists, ethnographers, consumers of news, U.S. citizens, is to search for the deepest turtle we can possibly find. While this certainly means hard work beyond passive consumption, there is also a baseline of knowledge (a permanent deeper turtle) that sets off alarm bells when an analysis doesn’t seem correct. This could be an understanding of the legal system or any other socio-political structure in the U.S. This type of knowledge means that we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel digging for turtles, since we will automatically know that these types of turtles are under the water, propping up the top.

Shortly after the “fake news” terminology hit the mainstream, the President effectively appropriated the term, applying it to any network with a perceived bias.[5] CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post became “fake news” largely because the turtles they dug up were not the turtles that the administration wanted the public to see.[6]  This, of course, is a markedly different definition than the original, and raises a great number of troubling questions for citizens on all sides of the aisle who believe in a free press.

In both cases, “fake news” is often a misleading term (although not always![7]). The first type of media discussed here might be better called “news so shallow as to be misleading,” or “extremely pared-down news with vital details omitted.” This type discredits the reader, giving them inaccurate information under the surface-sheen of truth. The second type might be “news that may have been illegally leaked but is nonetheless solid.”[8] This type discredits the media by labeling something that may just be inconvenient as untrue.

I believe that this whole phenomenon is so uncomfortable because it has exposed to the general public the fact that the “truth,” whatever it is, is extremely difficult to know; the truth weaves and shimmers and changes completely, and there are individuals who are able to take advantage of this malleability. I have been surprised that, in ethnomusicology, ethics are typically addressed from the good-faith perspective that the researcher always wants to do what is right, and this thin protection, the goodness of the ethnographer, is all that stands between anthropology and disastrous appropriation, or worse.

So how can Geertz help us, as citizens? I like to use his turtle anecdote as an inspiration, even if it is arguably simplistic; difficult times sometimes call for simplicity. None of us can be satisfied with the top turtle alone, no matter how much we like the look of it. There are always “turtles all the way down.” We must either find someone we trust to dig for us, or link arms, pick up shovels, and start digging ourselves.


[1] Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” in Contemporary Field Research: Perspectives and Formulations, ed. Robert M Emerson, 2nd ed. (Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 2001), 73.

[2] http://www.snopes.com/hillary-clinton-freed-child-rapist-laughed-about-it/

[3] https://www.scribd.com/doc/229667084/State-of-Arkansas-V-Thomas-Alfred-Taylor#fullscreen

[4] See Mavis Bayton, Frock Rock: Women Performing Popular Music, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), as well as https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/22/gender-based-pink-taxes-women

[5] http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/316723-trump-blasts-fake-news-and-failing-new-york-times

[6] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/02/16/media-escalate-trump-russia-reporting-as-rips-fake-news-conspiracies.html

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/18/us/fake-news-hillary-clinton-cameron-harris.html

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/us/politics/russia-intelligence-communications-trump.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=span-ab-top-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0






13 responses to ““Turtles All the Way Down”: What Ethnography Can Tell Us About Fake News”

  1. Welcome Margaret,

    Your background description and first essay suggest that your contributions will add much to this little online community discourse which I already value quite a bit.

    The essay deals with a topic I have trying to get my head around since I agree that “truth” can be malleable. I don’t think this implies however that anything goes when it comes to the personal application of reason in the attempt to align a world view that has some coherence with locally relevant facts or evidence. I’m the not sure turtles all the down metaphor resonates best for me. It suggests that digging in a particular direction (down) will uncover more ‘truth’.

    I think the problem with that is that we naturally tend to dig in the direction of our pre-existing bias . Then our discoveries can feel like we have uncovered deeper truths when we may just be more deeply entrenching a prior direction of belief from a partial selection of the evidence. I think this is really hard to avoid.

    I think something like the Quinean web metaphor is closer to the real situation if I understand it properly. One where our current beliefs rest on relationships coming from all sorts of directions in various degrees of influence. Maybe if we remind ourself with this metaphor we can be somewhat more neutrally positioned so that the search which continually informs our evolving views can evaluate and receive novel information in a way that widens our pre-existing framework.

  2. Thank you for your kind words and excellent thoughts- the idea that digging down may be digging in one direction is compelling as well as accurate. On reflection, I think I argued this way with the assumption that anyone interested in avoiding “fake news” would be invested in accepting information even if it doesn’t support a bias (IE, would be working toward an understanding of something close to an unbiased truth). Of course, in assuming this, I’ve fallen into the same pit that I’m critiquing in ethnography regarding the presumed “goodness” of the ethnographer.

    I’d be interested in re-thinking this from the perspective of a web- oddly enough, Geertz has a “web of culture” metaphor as well!

  3. Correction: Geertz has a “web of significance” metaphor; Gary Tomlinson coined the “web of culture.” It seems that webs are excellent metaphors all around!

  4. Hi Margaret and welcome. You wrote:

    “I believe that this whole phenomenon is so uncomfortable because it has exposed to the general public the fact that the “truth,” whatever it is, is extremely difficult to know; the truth weaves and shimmers and changes completely, and there are individuals who are able to take advantage of this malleability. I have been surprised that, in ethnomusicology, ethics are typically addressed from the good-faith perspective that the researcher always wants to do what is right, and this thin protection, the goodness of the ethnographer, is all that stands between anthropology and disastrous appropriation, or worse.”

    Not only good faith but critical awareness. Think of Margaret Mead and how she uncritically accepted the stories she was told by the young Samoan women about their sexual practices.

    The thing is, we always have preconceived ideas, including broadly political ideas, which slant the way we see things and often determine the topics and questions we address.

    There are parallels but there are also significant differences between academic research and journalism. Ideally the ideological aspect will be minimized in an academic context. In some technical and scientific areas ideology plays an insignificant role. In the humanities and social sciences it’s more difficult to avoid.

    It would be nice if ideology could also be avoided in news reporting, and to *some* extent it can. But the distinction between news and opinion – always problematic – has been blurred to the point of erasure in recent times.

  5. I think this piece from keenan Malick on ‘Fake News’ is pretty much on point.


    He speaks to how relativism and identity politics, when taken to far can result in a climate that:

    ” is not so much a post-truth world as a world of too many disengaged ‘truths’. A world that is simultaneously both too relative and too absolute.”

    It is a climate without a common trusted institutional source of news. I agree that most receive their information passively, superficially, and If any digging is done it is done in separate informational geographies.

    What makes me sad is that I think there is actually a fair amount of common ground and common interest amongst many who can find no way to see those commonalities.

  6. Hi, Margaret, and welcome.

    Very well written piece, this, and raising all the right questions.

    Good research should be life-transformative. And this always results from research over-loading to the point of exploding expectations. Research along a narrow bandwidth of approved quotable sources always leads into an echo-chamber of unchallenged assumptions.

    I was listening to NPR last night, and they were interviewing a Kansas cattleman about the first month of Trump’s presidency. He remarked that he was happy with all the jobs that Trump was creating and thought that any divisiveness here was purely an invention of the media. This tells us that the only source of news about Trump he trusts comes from – Donald Trump (since only Donald Trump not only professes to be creating jobs, but does so despite the evident fact that neither Trump nor the Republicans have as yet instituted policies that might – or might not – help create jobs).

    When we get to this point, we really should begin asking whether the US experiment of a democratic republic has failed, since this requires an informed electorate. But when people of differing ideologies prefer getting their information from ideological sources – regardless of verification or verifiability – What are we going to be talking about?

    The far right in the past was given to spinning all kinds of myths, but they could be traced back to factual bases; American Marxists were not Satanic criminals seducing children, but Stalin’s Russia really was a miserable, oft murderous, dictatorship.

    But the far right of today prefers a total fantasia. Facts don’t matter anymore, and without them there is no basis of argument.

    That has been true of segments of the far left as well, since the 1960s’ so now we have fringes off in never-never-land, as well as a center that has decided they won’t believe anything that doesn’t gel with their already held beliefs. Except now, the far right fringe is in power, and the center is committed to believing in them (until the economy tanks, which is always the crisis that changes minds in America; which is inevitable given the Gang of Fools currently inhabiting the White House).

    Sorry for blowing off a little steam here; on the other hand, I wanted to emphasize some of the problems your essay notes. What to do about it? I don’t know.

    Keep pursuing your research. You may not find what to do about it either, but perhaps you’ll discover better ways of living with it.

  7. ejwinner, thanks for your thoughts- of course you are exactly right. Like I mentioned above, I wrote this assuming that the seeker (within the “web” or the “stack of turtles”) is looking in good faith, and this means both that the good faith is present, and that the seeker is looking at all. If I’m understanding you correctly, I’m in total agreement that many people aren’t even looking for facts beyond what they want to hear.

    My own solution is sort of a half-hearted, limping way of dealing, in which I have to continually remind myself that I can’t expect to change anyone’s views if my own cannot be changed- not that this is easy (I like to think that I have well-based reasons for believing the things that I believe), but I can’t pretend infallibility, nor should I deny the possibility that I’m wrong. This view seems noble to me (polishes fingernails on sweater), but I suspect it’s tragically ineffective in practice.

  8. Hi Margaret, like SethLeon I’m kind of a “web-guy”, but you delivered an interesting alternative vision of how this works.

    I’m wondering if I can accept/concede the notion from your colleague that “Academia has always known that the truth is malleable.” I’d be more inclined to say *beliefs* are malleable, which would be distinguished from “facts” or “truths”. Without that sort of distinction, it seems to remove the class of intentional fictions (lies).

    As you state you assume a “seeker… is looking in good faith, and this means both that the good faith is present, and that the seeker is looking at all”, but in discussing much of “fake news” it is not necessarily the lack of sincerity of the seeker, but information giver who is adept at hitting blindspots and other vulnerabilities to… using your analogy… construct rubber turtles (and perhaps series of them). Thus the more the seeker digs down, they are led off into a totally fabricated chain of turtles, from which it is hard to get back from other than to convince them to restart the voyage, and help find a legitimate chain.

    Trump, who is currently blasting the media for “fake news”, was a beneficiary of it both in the example you gave (which ran off into the whole pizzagate conspiracy theory and an honest “seeker” showing up with a gun at Cosmic Ping Pong) as well as having practically founded (certainly ran) the “birther” conspiracy theory against Obama which grew his fame… until it became a stone around his neck and tried to play that off as his trying to help the black community (one of the most bizarrely deformed turtles I can imagine).

    In his recent press conference, Trump blasted fake news while delivering so much of is own. One of the most amusing was his claim that he had won the biggest electoral victory since Reagan, only to be called on it by a reporter. And as he kept trying to change the parameters to make the statement “true”, he discovered it was wrong “all the way down”, and then passed the buck (the most presidential president ever) to someone else who “gave him the information”, and later mumbling he’d seen it “around.”

    The disassembly of his false narrative, arguably came from the point I made up top that “truth” is not malleable. In this case there really are voting results which exist and can be used to check one’s beliefs, or others’ claims. Of course if evidence is compromised, then one’s beliefs about facts will be errant… but that does not make truth malleable. It means that evidence is manipulatable, and beliefs malleable. The truth remains the same, even if it become inaccessible, or as you say “the “truth,” whatever it is, is extremely difficult to know.”

    Knowing that you know is one of those demands by some epistemologists that runs off into infinity making knowledge impossible. I sort of settle for consistency in evidence (again the web). Some are easy to draw conclusions (like Trump’s electoral victory). Others not so. And some allow for multiple, valid interpretations of fact. But I’d want to remain confident one can get somewhere “real”, even if the answer is “It depends” or “I don’t know.”

    A lot of fake news being created hinges on people believing or accepting that truth is malleable (alt-facts?) and so it is just as reasonable to believe that expansive conspiracies lie behind the most clearcut evidence, as it is the clearcut evidence. So I’d like to dial back promoting how difficult knowledge is. Much of it is pretty straightforward. And outside of that, Occam’s razor can often be useful.

  9. First of all, welcome aboard, Margaret! For our contributors — and readers — Margaret and I go way back to when she was a wee undergraduate at Missouri State, and remarkably (because it happens so infrequently) and happily, we have stayed connected over all of these years.

    With regard to the subject at hand, if we take the metaphor of the turtles as one concerning confirmation — i.e. as epistemic in the philosophical sense — then it would seem to indicate some sort of foundationalism: if one just can get to the bottom turtle, one will have the ultimate explanation or grounds for everything built on top of it. The idea that the turtles might go on forever becomes a problem, then, as it indicates an infinite regress of confirmation, which means that ultimately, *nothing* has been confirmed. Hence one of the commenters reference to the “Quinean web,” which, of course, indicates W.V.O. Quine’s metaphor in which confirmation is taken to be more web-like than inverted-pyramid like. Beliefs are mutually supporting, which removes any need for a foundation. Of course, one still winds up with a foundation of sorts, in the form of observation statements. If *all* there is to confirmation is mutual consistency and ultimately, the internal consistency of the whole, then one cannot distinguish knowledge from complete fictions.

    But I think it’s a mistake to take the turtle metaphor this way. The point isn’t, really, about how confirmation works. It’s about more homely — and ultimately more relevant, in the practical sense — things: about the incompleteness of information; about the misleading nature of what’s evident on the surface; on the apparent — not literal — endlessness of what lies underneath, waiting to be discovered, and which may change everything, which conveys a constant sense of impermanence, regardless of what one has already found out; that sort of thing.

  10. Thanks, all- I hope it’s not overly saccharine to try to convey how much I appreciate this commentary- I’m so impressed by this community. Many, many thanks, Dan Kaufman, for your kind invitation to write something.

    dbholmes: I may have to rely on my subjective experience here, rather than on any critical theory, so please forgive. I assumed a great deal in this little essay, and may have been better served by spelling it out better, but one assumption was that the “seeker” would be a relatively disinterested individual with nothing material to lose or gain from seeking the “truth.” I think, in the case you mention here, this excludes the President:

    “One of the most amusing was his claim that he had won the biggest electoral victory since Reagan, only to be called on it by a reporter. And as he kept trying to change the parameters to make the statement “true”, he discovered it was wrong “all the way down”, and then passed the buck (the most presidential president ever) to someone else who “gave him the information”, and later mumbling he’d seen it “around.””

    My sense is that, in this case and possibly others, the President is not interested in “digging” without a bias. In addition, the “turtle” he sees at the top directly serves his interests, so not only is he invested in maintaining the visibility of that “turtle” at the exclusion of others, but he’s also invested in stopping others from digging. When, in this instance, the stack of knowledge was inadvertently exposed, the only thing left for him to do was to claim a lack of responsibility for the information he was “given.” In other words, just because the stack is there doesn’t mean everyone wants to dig.

    I think you are exactly right in saying that, in this case, the stack of turtles (or the web!) was relatively short and to the point. Perhaps in this case, the truth is a thing we can know (which might make the President’s claims that much more disturbing), and is not malleable. There really isn’t much that could unseat this truth. In other cases, the truth may be less clear and more subject to opinion- I’ll use the example of my fieldwork from above. Why are there so many fewer of X than Z in Chicago? Maybe for one of the reasons I listed, or maybe for several of them, or even all of them together. Or maybe for a reason I never found. If there is a truthful answer to that question, perhaps it’s plural, or maybe it doesn’t even exist.

    While vastly imperfect, the turtle analogy serves me (subjectively!) because of its hidden aspects. A web might work better (for me, subjectively) if part of it was obscured, or underground, or inaccessible, or requiring a warrant or a Freedom of Information Act. There are times when only the top turtle is visible by accident, and other times when it is visible by design, but there’s almost always something hidden under the surface propping it up, and which, when revealed, alters the meaning of the visible turtle. Turtles aside, I love the “web of culture” metaphor, and would be very interested in any thoughts about how a web might function when parts of it are unintentionally, intentionally, legally, or practically obscured.

  11. Hi Margaret, the strength of a web-style concept of knowledge is that it describes the necessary links between past, present, and future beliefs (including criteria for judging beliefs to be knowledge). It was not as clear how that works in the stack of turtles concept, where an explanation appears as more or less a unit.

    For webs, new information has to be fitted into the existing structure, where conflicts with prior beliefs (including trusted methods of knowledge building) generate a reshuffling of the overall structure.

    So the cases you are talking about are when one has no direct, trusted sources of information (from experience as being reliable*) such that new beliefs can be placed with confidence into the structure. In those cases, one has to begin establishing contacts with others who may have had direct, generally reliable forms of experience with the object of study. By comparing info between contacts one starts to gauge reliability of these contacts as secondary and tertiary sources of events.

    Then, with some tentative idea of facts, one tries to assemble the facts into a picture about events in a way that fits into one’s prior structure (web), and (if worthy) becomes a useful predictor for future experiences/beliefs on that subject. Over time the web builds outward to cover areas one did not “know” before.

    One problem with web concepts (esp. Quine) is that they tend to treat knowledge building as a purely rational exercise and related to fact, when they also contain emotional content and influences that can “filter” or provide subjective shape to information. With that in mind, one can have conflicting “webs” that match base facts accurately, but takeaway messages that are quite different. For example the winners saw a great victory that saved the world, and the losers saw the end of their civilization and so not much worthwhile to come. They could both be right.

    But filters (esp.ideological) can work to discount useful sources of information or downplay facts, which can result in webs that are very consistent within a group, but have little relevance to those held by broader populations, or a full account of “real events”** in the world. These (filters) are the things one has to get past as a researcher, including one’s own filters.

    And of course there are liars, or areas where no information is accessible. I’m afraid a web isn’t going to help one get past those, other than to accurately label areas as “unknown” or “no go” for making judgments.

    “Rashomon” is a movie that has been copied to death, but shows how a single event may have so many different visions. Here a single interpretation is being tried for and fails. Always good to keep in mind.

    More important (for researchers) might be “Footnotes in Gaza”, which is a graphic novel by (comic) journalist Joe Sacco, where he explores the difficulty of determining what happened during two real world events (massacres) a long time ago and witnesses are scarce. I highly recommend “Footnotes” by Sacco, because it shows the problems with such investigations (most of those you mentioned), as well as caveating the relevance of these problems to delivering a useful (if not 100% accurate) model of events.

    *consistent predictors of future experience, and so less need to reshuffle the web.

    **what we are (theoretically) trying to map with our webs.

  12. I have no comment on the ethnography part here, but I would like to emphasize that “fake news” really does originally mean intentional forgeries and hoaxes, not just embellishment, omission or editorializing. The most infamous historical example from before true mass media was the “protocols of the Elders of Zion”. The same geographical area where it originated is still very prominent in forging news stories today, which I think is an indication of cultural differences, just like the practice of “disinformation” was during the previous cold war.

  13. @milesmutka- you’re absolutely right. Although I wasn’t totally focusing on that phenomenon, it does seem fairly widespread, and happens inside and outside U.S. borders. The only example I wrote on is footnote #7. Perhaps an extension to the analogy could be (as dbholmes suggested) a “rubber” turtle.