Have you ever read something on the internet that boils your blood to the point where you have to put your phone down? There are people on the internet who purposefully do this to wreak havoc on social media, and we call them internet trolls. According to Urban Dictionary, a troll is someone who “deliberately pisses people off online to get a reaction.” Internet trolls have the full intention of provoking online communities, and they can do this by saying something controversial in order to get a reaction. Some trolls are even ideologically driven and want to draw attention to political issues and groups.
Internet trolls have a big presence on the internet all around the world, and there are currently many trolls in Central and Eastern Europe. A troll farm in Poland was recently discovered, and a journalist went undercover as an employee in order to learn more about what occurs there. Katarzyna Pruszkiewicz spent six months working for Cat@Net, a “PR company” in Wroclaw, Poland that essentially specializes in trolling. Paid employees run fake social media accounts, where they post various things to influence voters. Each of the employees run dozens of accounts and are given specific instructions on the issues they need to promote and who they should praise or criticize.
Katarzyna’s first assignment was to create a social media account for social and political content. She was also told the number of followers she should gain, which was 500. These fake social media accounts have the intent of influencing many people. Some of the posts on the fake accounts have reached up to 15 million views. The employees post about both left and right-wing topics and are not restricted to one viewpoint. They typically oppose each other which causes controversy and gets more views; this then draws more attention to the candidate. Cat@Net denies it is a troll farm and it is still open today.
Troll farms also are also prevalent in Russia. Troll factories in Russia employ skilled researchers who speak multiple languages, which is helpful in reaching a wider audience. They post political content, but do not take it seriously, and they post about controversial topics in order to provoke people. Political trolling has been seen to have a huge impact on the online community in Russia and around the world.
The term “neutrollization” was coined to describe how the regime adopts trolling to change societal viewpoints. They create an online public space with various posts and spread fabricated political opinions. They essentially flood users with information so they do not worry about finding a distinct answer or a solution because it would be too hard to find. It diffuses the dialogue through contradictions and an overflow of information. Users are drawn in to the online communities and posts but are then confused about politics which causes them to question their own beliefs. It leads them to withdraw from politics altogether, all on their own terms. Neutrollization is unlike traditional forms of propaganda because it is not obviously supporting the regime, and in a way, it promotes skepticism. However, it has a huge effect on the Russian citizens because it changes their political views.
Unfortunately, there is not a simple solution to this problem. Facebook claims to have deleted fake accounts, but the EU commission disagrees with this statement. While they have deleted some accounts, trolling and disinformation is still out there and will continue to keep popping up. There was still a large amount of disinformation during the European elections in May despite Facebook deleting fake accounts. In Germany, 20,000 accounts that were promoting the far right candidate had two letter first and last names, which is illegal in Germany. This should have been an obvious indication to Facebook that they were fake accounts. Clearly, we have a long way to go when it comes to eliminating trolling altogether. It is difficult to prevent because there is so much of it and there is no way all of it can be caught. The most effective solution is education and making people aware that this is a prevalent issue. Internet users need to be more skeptical about the information they are reading online.
Homepage image via “The People Speak”/ Flickr.