By now, you are all familiar with “The Innocence of Muslims”, an amateur “film” produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, that has sparked rioting and perhaps death around the globe. The film, directed by Alan Roberts, a pornography director, originally opened in a rented theater in Hollywood, CA on June 23, 2012 for an audience of about ten people. Trailers and excerpts were uploaded to YouTube in July 2012 garnering little attention. In September 2012, Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-American blogger previously exiled from Egypt for calling for attacks on Egypt, translated the YouTube video to Arabic and reuploaded it. Morris Sadek then sent video links to journalists. On September 8th, the Egyptian TV station, Al-Nas, broadcast a clip from the video sparking protests worldwide.

The cast and crew, about 80 individuals, have all denounced the film and all claim they were tricked by the director and producer into thinking they were making a film about life in Egypt two thousand years ago called Desert Warrior. In a statement to CNN, the crew states, “The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose.”[1] The original casting call never mentioned Muhammad or Islam. The anti-Islam rhetoric was dubbed after filming without the knowledge of the actors. Sarah Abdurrahmann, from On The Media, provided analysis on the film and concluded, “If you watch closely, you can see that when the actors are reading parts of the script that do not contain Islam-specific language, the audio from the sound stage is used (the audio that was recorded as the actors were simultaneously being filmed). But anytime the actors are referring to something specific to the religion (the Prophet Muhammed, the Quran, etc.) the audio recorded during filming is replaced with a poorly executed post-production dub. And if you look EVEN closer, you can see that the actors’ mouths are saying something other than what the dub is saying.”. [2]

Obviously, Nakoula and crew knew they would have to socially engineer the situation to get individuals to assist in making the film. The crew and cast were tricked into producing the movie which was then further manipulated to make things appear differently than reality.

Adding more fuel to the fire, the creator of the movie, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian born Christian immigrant living in Southern California, originally masqueraded as “Sam Bacile”, a 52-year old Jewish real estate developer from Israel. [3] “Sam Bacile” claimed the movie was made with $5 million in donations by “more than 100 Jewish donors”, as reported by the Associated Press. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the Jewish Israeli “Sam Bacile” was actually Egyptian-born Christian, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. [4] Nakoula Basseley Nakoula reportedly wrote the movie while serving a 21 month sentence in prison for manufacturing methamphetamine and bank fraud. [5] Released in June 2011, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula raised $60,000 to make the movie, not $5 million as was reported. [6]

In our most recent Podcast we learned from Ryan Holiday, author of “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” how easy and endemic it is to manipulate the media. We learned from Holiday just how powerful media can be and just how easy it is to beguile the public into acting or reacting. The story of “The Innocence of Muslims” reads just like a play out of Holiday’s playbook. It is amazing that a low-budget movie could spark protests globally. It may have contributed to the death of individuals once “properly promoted” and specifically targeted to an audience with the sole purpose of causing chaos. The movie received zero attention until it was dubbed into Arabic and sent directly, and deliberately to Egyptian media outlets. It was no accident the creators wore an Israeli mask. The entire purpose of this stunt was to cause pandemonium by making the Arab world think this film was Israeli or Jewish in origin.

Looking at studies performed by Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman titled “What Makes Online Content Viral?” [7] we learn that any content that arouses high emotion in people, positive or negative, causes content to go viral. When we witness something, such as viewing a video, it elicits physiological responses in our bodies. Content that puts us into a state of high arousal has shown to make people more likely to share information. Berger’s studies show that the most arousing emotions, awe and anger, when elicited, produce the most sharing of information. It should be noted that actual facts don’t have anything to do with the frequency content is shared. Study into social psychology has shown us that humans bond over strong emotions and these strong emotions foster solidarity and the feeling of connectedness. “If I’m angry, and then you get angry, we can bond over what we’re feeling,” Mr. Berger says.

This incident is a perfect example of the harm that can be done when social psychology and social engineering are used for nefarious purposes.