This Is Not An Article - How Journalism Has Gone Post-Modern

"Plaster Surrogates" by Allan McCollum
"Plaster Surrogates" by Allan McCollum
Jonas Pulver


GENEVA - Have you ever heard of Dan Rollman? If so, you are spending way too much time on your computer – just like me.

Dan is a Canadian native who now lives in New York and works in media. On May 28, he caught the attention of Internet addicts when he went viral with a nicely packaged little nugget: a tweet of a vine of an Instagram of a Tumblr post of a Facebook post of a tweet. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” as Mary Poppins would say.

This is a tweet of a Vine of an Instagram of a Tumblr post of a Facebook post of a tweet:

— Dan Rollman (@snerko) May 28, 2013

Rollman says he created an “Inception-esque tweet that integrates all major social media platforms.” On Vine, users can share 6-second video clips, while Instagram and Tumblr are fixed image platforms. He created a communications tumble and roll, an origami folding on itself, a tweet (-y bird) chasing its own (feathered) tail. A Droste effect pointing at the accumulation of social networks, and showing that while these platforms allow us to share information, they also result in its circularity.

“This is a tweet,” Dan writes brazenly. His crypto-artistic confidence is somewhat reminiscent of ready-made art, and French artist Marcel Duchamp. Who knows, surrealist Magritte might even have replied, “This is not a tweet”.

Have you ever heard of Allan McCollum? If so, you must be spending a lot of time in museums – at least more than me.

I found out about this American artist on my last visit to the Pompidou Museum in Paris. One of McCollum’s creations is exhibited in the 1980s section. It consists of a multitude of little black canvases in framing mats. Typically the kind of work that people allergic to conceptual art would hate, but which turns out really interesting and significant once you have read the explanatory notice (which was very helpful in this case).

Shapes by Allan McCollum - Photo: Lian Chang

Plaster Surrogates (1985) offers to replace paintings with castings of paintings, which are then reproduced on a large-scale basis, in order to question inspiration, artistic reference and remaking, art after art. It highlights the dialogue between plastic creation and everyday objects, institutional art and industrial products. In other words: “This is not a painting.”

Writing about a tweet of a Vine of an Instagram of a Tumblr post of a Facebook post of a tweet in a newspaper (or on the newspaper’s website), is like exhibiting a multitude of “fake” paintings with no “real” image in an art museum. At first, you’re not sure that you understand, but then, with explanations and context, the whole thing suddenly springs into focus.

In the 21st century, most journalists do not create content anymore, they are more like curators, like those guys at the Pompidou Museum who write the explanatory notices on artworks. Nowadays, the world of media is expanding in multiple directions, becoming faster and volatile as any user can share information through networks.

Consequently, the added value of journalism not only lies in the (verified) facts, but now also depends as much on how they are connected to each other, put into perspective. Being critical about the facts is now as important as reporting them – in content as in form alike. In a nutshell: journalism has become postmodern.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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