On Wednesday, news broke that Russian hackers of unknown origin have been targeting specific users of automotive websites, including Autoblog, Jalopnik, The Truth About Cars, and Hooniverse, among others over the span of decades.
These indiscriminate attacks have taken complex forms, but typically include character assassination through the creation of multiple “Alt” identities who then cyberbully the user under the guise of social justice. Other attacks have taken the form of actual assassination as retribution for controversial comments such as “Wagons suck,” “I think the Venza was cool,” and “The Civic Type R is gorgeous.”
Using the power of the “Overton Window,” a political tactic that seeks to shift common consciousness through the repetition of often nonsensical ideologies, many attacking commenters have attempted to drive away attempts at topical humor, political discourse, or opinions on whether cats or dogs are better.
“Rather than a lighthearted exchange of ideas and amusement among friends, sites like Jalopnik – and their new owners, LOLWYPIPO, LLC – have quickly become ensnared in the same thin-skinned reactionary attitudes that pervade much of the modern media,” explains Max Hardibro, one of the former editors of Jalopnik. “What used to feel like a bunch of friends having a beer together has suddenly become a contentious gathering of political pedants and wanna-be Social Justice Warriors. Suddenly ‘dragoning’ is considered rape. A car can’t say ‘no,’ but I suppose it’s true it can’t say ‘yes,’ either.”
Justice Department investigations have traced much of this shift to Russian bloggers and hackers, who have worked for years to sow discord among American internet users. One source even provided a lineage that dates back to the ridicule of Russian car tuner Dartz’s use of a whale penis leather interior, something the Russians took very seriously as the pinnacle of homegrown luxury.
Investigators only had tenuous connections between Russia and American car blogs until this past week, when it was uncovered that a St. Petersburg-based group was paying Jalopnik commenter Ash78 to earn “Comment of the Day,” or COTD, over 200 times in a decade in an effort to bolster his reputation. As part of a long strategy called “Operation Cotomer Sevis,” they used this commenter to slowly turn against everyone and everything in popular culture and society. However, this contentiousness was truly fostered by those “Alt” identities who pretended to be offended, thus creating an artificial controversy.
Further research from these investigators has revealed that Jalopnik only consists of 12 actual users, despite having over 20,000 registered screen names. None of them actually owns a brown manual wagon.
Ash78 did it all for some Autozone and TJ Maxx gift cards. WORTH IT.