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Controversial campaign and game of 'Capture The Flag'

Actor's anti-Trump project repeatedly foiled by trolls; and Facebook acts against fake news


Eccentric actor Shia LaBeouf is having trouble getting his campaign against US President Donald Trump off on the right foot, and it's mainly due to an ongoing war with trolls and users of imageboard website 4chan.

Last Wednesday, the 30-year-old film-maker and performance artist announced on his Twitter account that he would be moving his "He Will Not Divide Us" art project to Liverpool. In an official statement, LaBeouf, together with fellow art collaborators Nastja Sade Ronkko and Luke Turner said that "events have shown that America is simply not safe enough for this artwork to exist".

This is the fourth time the project has had to relocate, and it looks like it won't be the last.

The art project features a livestream of a flag emblazoned with the slogan. Initially, the artists also planned to invite members of the public to declare their support for the project to a camera.

American actor Shia LaBeouf (left) during a livestream of his "He Will Not Divide Us" project in New York on Jan 24. The project has had to relocate for the fourth time due to disruptions by 4chan users.
American actor Shia LaBeouf (left) during a livestream of his “He Will Not Divide Us” project in New York on Jan 24. The project has had to relocate for the fourth time due to disruptions by 4chan users. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The ambitious gambit, launched on Jan 20 - the same day as the US presidential inauguration - is slated to run across the four years of Mr Trump's term in office.

But problems began right at the outset.

The first location, New York's Museum of The Moving Image, attracted trolls who pretended to support LaBeouf's cause, but instead uttered pro-Trump messages.

In one example, a member of the public yelled: "He will not divide us and Hillary is a warmonger."


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LaBeouf also got into altercations with people who disagreed with his message. This prompted the museum to close down the installation. A spokesman said it "created a serious and ongoing public safety hazard" and "has become a flashpoint for violence and was disrupted from its original intent".

On Feb 18, LaBeouf and his collaborators moved the project to El Rey Theatre in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

But in just a matter of days, the project was again taken down due to reports of gun violence in the area, reportedly by "neo-Nazis", some observers said, who were against his cause.

"The safety of everybody participating in our project is paramount," LaBeouf tweeted on Feb 23.

On March 8, the artists moved the project to an "unknown location". It livestreamed the white flag, fluttering in the wind, with the sky as a backdrop.

But they severely underestimated Internet users.

On 4chan, a site most recently associated with the alt-right movement, one user posted: "Challenge accepted. He Will Not Divide Us Season 3 is happening. Can we find where the flag is?"

Users were watching the stream continuously for clues, but they caught a break when celebrity gossip site TMZ reported that LaBeouf was seen at a diner in Greenville, Tennessee.

Immediately, users started confirming that the weather shown in the livestream matched the weather in a certain area.

Not only that, the trolls took the time to study planes flying over the flag, and cross-referred it to flight-tracking services.

These users also studied the constellation patterns behind the flag at night, in order to triangulate the location.

Having narrowed down the area, one user also left the comforts of his home to drive around the suspected location while honking his car horn, which was eventually heard on the livestream.

The greatest game of "Capture The Flag" ended in the middle of the night, when one 4chan user stole the flag, and replaced it with a red Trump campaign cap.

The artists gave up, and decided to relocate the flag to Liverpool in Britain, on top of a five-storey building.

But again, they discounted the power of the Internet.

Trolls went to extensive lengths to try to take it down.

It was reported that three men were able to get to the flag by scaling a nearby building, before risking life and limb to cross to the building with the flag.

In one video, a masked 4chan user is seen trying to rip the flag.

The latest string of illegal trespassing has forced the artists to remove the installation, said the Liverpool-based Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in a tweet late last Thursday night.

The official website (http://www.hewillnotdivide.us) stopped streaming the video of the flag last Friday.

LaBeouf has not yet commented on the latest development on his Twitter account, but it can be safely assumed that he and his collaborators are thinking of the next location safe from trolls.

Perhaps they should consider the White House, or space.


Facebook has fired the latest salvo in its battle against fake news.

It cross-refers the links posted on your personal feed, and will let you know if there are issues with the story you are putting up.

This feature, however, is only available in certain regions for now.

Quartz reporter Nikhil Sonnad tested the feature by sharing a report that falsely claims that thousands of Irish people were brought to the United States as slaves.

Immediately, a message pops up to say that the story has been disputed. The message also continues: "Sometimes people share fake news without knowing it. When independent fact-checkers dispute this content, you may be able to visit their websites to find out why."

Should users decide to post the story anyway, the link would still carry the dispute notice on their timeline.

But fake news comes in all forms and through all platforms.

Clear examples were seen in the first few hours following the attack in Westminster, London, last Wednesday.

One official source, Britain's Channel 4, falsely reported the name of the suspect, as the person they identified is still serving his sentence.The network has since retracted its claim.

One tweet that went viral claimed that London Mayor Sadiq Khan said such attacks were "part and parcel of living in a big city" in the wake of the attacks.

While Mr Khan did utter those words, they were taken out of context from an interview done in September last year.

Many social media posts also falsely identified the perpetrator and the victims.

One fake London Tube sign was called a "wonderful tribute" by Prime Minister Theresa May.

The sign said: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON. Whatever you do to us, we will drink tea, and jolly well carry on. Thank you."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Controversial campaign and game of 'Capture The Flag''. Print Edition | Subscribe