Hate For Hire

03/03/2017 04:03 am ET Updated May 23, 2017

Russia is not alone in flooding the Internet with fake news and “comments.” Post something on any reasonably large site saying “You know the Falun Gong isn’t all that bad…” and watch the flood of hate unleashed from China on your comments. It won’t look Chinese. But it is. Governments who are accustomed to controlling the media have put considerable energy into working out how the supposedly open and objective Internet can surreptitiously be harnessed to enforce a political agenda.  

The newest wave of fake isn’t in the news arena but is no less coordinated. Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, In the Name of the Father, Some Mother’s Son) has a new film coming out in April, The Promise, with Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale. The film is on the Armenian genocide. In his usual form, George brings the events to us at bone level by weaving them into a personal love story (see trailer).

The problem with the film is that Turkey doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that in a few years, between 1915 and 1922, they killed somewhere around 1.5 million Armenians; 80 percent of the Armenian population. Some were killed by outright slaughter, some by starvation, some by forcible displacement, including long marches through the Syrian desert without food or water, their own version of the Trail of Tears.

Yes, it was a genocide. And despite it being well documented, even in the American press at the time, few government leaders today will acknowledge it as such. (Obama did before he was elected. He even used the word genocide. Once he was elected he stopped. Someone must have shown him the map of NATO countries). It has been denied, played down, brushed off. Very deliberately.

In the 1930s, MGM tried to make “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh,” a novel by Franz Werfel about a lone group of Armenians defending one of their last territories against the Turkish onslaught. It was set to star Clark Gable. After pressure from the Turkish government, MGM ditched it. Like the existence of Taiwan, no one wants to get stomped by the elephant in that room.

No one except Terry George, who pretty much makes what he wants, and Kirk Kerkorian, who created Survival Pictures to get the story told after decades of denial and cover up. Kerkorian died just before principal photography. But even if he was alive, independent movie producers today don’t have to take calls from governments who don’t like their content. 

Enter the Internet. The Promise has been screened exactly three times. Let’s be generous and say somewhere between 4000-5000 people have seen it.

Yet the DAY AFTER the movie screened at the Toronto Film Festival, a torrent of reviews for the film started appearing on IMDB, culminating in somewhere around 85,000 reviews for The Promise ― 80,000 more than could have possibly attended the screenings. Overwhelmingly, they were horrible reviews, 1 star, calling it garbage and worse. And overwhelmingly, they betrayed a complete lack of knowledge or any specifics about the film. Well of course. Because the people writing them hadn’t seen the film.

Sure there are Turks in the U.S. who will object to this movie on principal, just as there are some snipers in the reviews too quick to point out that it was “the Muslims” who slaughtered the Armenians. But 85,000 is not a few irate people. It is an organized mob. Or more likely a small network on laptops or in a boiler room working to make it look like a mob. Either way it is coordinated. And to coordinate something of this magnitude, you pay for it.  

Some alert readers seem to have tipped off IMDB as the tens of thousands of generic “this movie bad” reviews were pulled down, leaving a more honest mix of 32 reviews by people who seem to have actually seen the movie in place.

Should we be upset that foreign governments are launching cyber-attacks, not only on Presidential candidates but harmless religions and films about topics they don’t like? Absolutely. Covert operations by foreign governments are apparently becoming a part of our Internet experience. No good plan for counteracting it seems to be in place. But angry hateful mobs seem to be the first clue of their presence. 

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