One of the problems in digital space is huge groups of fake accounts on social media. These accounts can be used for different purposes: to get a lot of likes, for example, or to make it seem like your company or event has many followers. After all, followers attract followers on social media. It can also be used to obtain positive Amazon reviews. Another reason is to spread political propaganda and disinformation, to troll, or to block or disrupt discussions between real people.
The Dutch internet artist Constant Dullaart made an army of thousands of fake Facebook profiles, that carried the names of long dead soldiers from the late 18th century from the small German state Hessen-Kassel. Hessians made up a large part of the German troops that were paid by the British during the American Revolution in the late eighteenth century. Hessen-Kassel had always been poor, but simultaneously lay between two powerful states. The Hessen-Kassel soldiers came to America through soldier-trade: small, German states traded their soldiers to fight for the highest bidder.
Flash-forward to the contemporary time, where we find ourselves in the situation that also the digital space is a battlefield for political conflicts. Especially since the American elections of 2016, online propaganda has been a topic of discussion. But it was already years before that Constant Dullaart played cleverly with the idea of fake political accounts by creating this online army of soldiers from Hesse, that takes up their weapons and goes to battle against Facebook itself. Dullaart didn’t only show the politics of Facebook; this online Hessian army also unraveled the market for fake accounts, and the way fake accounts move around in the digital space.
Constant Dullaart sees Facebook primarily as an American company. The soldiers in Dullaart’s Facebook army each had the name of actual soldiers from Hesse that fought in the American civil war. They came to America with little context: to fight, kill and die in a war that was not theirs. They appeared, they fought, and after the war they disappeared again. And also the fake accounts of the army of Hessian soldiers by Constant Dullaart might disappear over time, as if they’d never been there in the first place. Facebook uses techniques to discover non-human activity, like fake accounts and bots. It is therefore possible that Facebook itself disarms (or better: already disarmed) them.