Technology is both a gift and a curse. On one hand, it’s a crucial tool to spread awareness but on the other hand, it’s also a hotbed of fake news and a dueling ground for debates that go absolutely nowhere. Try scrolling through your social media right now, and you probably won’t even get past 3 posts without encountering a heated political discussion involving opposing sides. Many of these are instigated by a paid troll. This is the magic of an internet troll — sowing discord.
Because social media has become an integral part of our lives, it’s imperative we get educated to protect ourselves from its dangers.
What are online trolls?
Of course, not all trolls can be found in political discussions. These groups of people are hired to make anything trend and to attack anyone – celebrities, politicians, groups.
How to spot a troll
Internet trolls proliferate in comment sections. According to a study conducted by researchers from Cornell and Stanford University in the USA, you can almost always identify a troll if they (1) post a copy-paste message that is clearly online propaganda, (2) they have bad grammar, spelling, and punctuation, or (3) when you engage with them, they keep circling back to one topic.
Their role in online propaganda
Evil surely knows how to keep up with the times and in recent years, it has learned to use the internet to its advantage. Online propaganda, in simple terms, is the method of swaying online opinion using social media advertisements and posts. It’s something that has been heavily used in politics worldwide.
This article published in The Atlantic details how online propaganda successfully crept into American social media at the height of the 2016 election campaign. It also goes into how politicians are harnessing its power even more for the country’s upcoming November 2020 presidential election.
In the Philippines, the use of fake accounts for political operations is widespread. J.C. Ong and J.V. A. Cabañes’ academic paper “Architects of Networked Disinformation” provides a short but extremely relevant discussion on what goes on behind the country’s internet trolls and fake accounts.
They are managed by “disinformation architects”
Paying a hefty sum for troll armies to support a particular politician and tarnish the name of the opposing party is an “open secret” tactic. Even the Los Angeles Times has reported of Manila having hundreds of troll farm dens and how “it’s very normalized in the Philippines.”
The people managing these trolls and hundreds of their accounts are not messing around. They know how to use advertising and PR strategies and how to craft messages that will make you think.
Here’s a tweet that conveniently summarizes the 4 types of misinformation from the “Architects of Networked Disinformation” study:
Four types of misinformation here:
1. In-house Staff (fake account operations)
2. Ads and PR (In short, pabango)
3. Click bait (simple enough to understand)
4. State-sponsored (inciting support for admin policy)
> Details for each, see thread below. https://t.co/85sBKbi6t1
— Jenken Jayveen (@JnknJyvn) April 2, 2020
Professional trolls get paid per response — starve them
There’s a viral Twitter thread that exposed how trolls in the Philippines operate. It claims they are paid per response and that they have a quota to reach. Some of their tasks include getting a hashtag to trend and creating pro-government scripts that they are instructed to post everywhere. Seriously. Remember the iconic post that started with this line: “I’m sad. We have Chinese neighbors sa condo…”? TROLL.
Thanks, @robcham. Starve a Troll Today. #OUSTDUTERTENOW pic.twitter.com/xIs7b2ubEY
— TINO (@yourcupoftino) April 2, 2020
We’re aware that working as a troll isn’t always about one’s political stance. It’s mostly about the money because if we’re being honest, the job pays well. Sure, jobs are difficult to come by, but working as a paid troll for politics pretty much directly equates to betraying your motherland. There are thousands of better jobs out there — spare your conscience.
Block and report when you encounter one
If each one of us refused to engage with an online troll, social media would be a better place. These accounts exist to create virtual disputes, but it takes two to tango. If you don’t respond, they don’t have anyone to fight with. Blocking and reporting can also provide you with that peace of mind.
Go back to being cautious about everything you see on the internet
Why exactly does online propaganda work even though there seems to be a lot of “woke” individuals on social media? Well, not everyone on social media knows what’s right from wrong or has even remotely formed their own opinion on certain topics without some sort of external influence.
Before you share a post or an article, how hard is it to make sure you’ve read through and understood it? Don’t add to the online noise. Follow reliable news outlets and personalities and warn others when their posts seem misinformed.
Keep your eyes peeled and fight smart.
quick note also that this is an entire disinformation system at work (not just a bunch of ppl online), so if you’re feeling frustrated and powerless, then know that that is their goal. take a step back from the screen if you need to, but let’s fight smart and fight the system! https://t.co/P23vJq6Y5l
— rai m (@rai0t) April 2, 2020
In late 2019, Netflix released an excellent documentary on online privacy — The Great Hack. It chronicled how disinformation campaigns are executed and how social media is the biggest tool for its success. There are risks to enjoying the benefits of social media and we have no choice but to scroll past these risks every single day. The best way to keep our morals and our sanity intact is to arm ourselves with education.
Maybe we can’t block and report every single troll out there, but we can all agree to help each other wade through their murky waters of propaganda and fake news.
Fighting back could be done in many forms and it isn’t only found in the streets. It has evolved. If people can come together to mass report a certain government official’s blog (it was a success, BTW), coming together to defeat online trolls is not too far-fetched.
What do you think of these troll armies?