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Whether it is paid NSA agents, extremist ideologues, extremist ideologues in the pay of the NSA or just plain internet trolls out for lulz, there are people out there who know this game and how to play it. Here is how it works.|
The goal is either to disrupt a particular discussion board or perhaps just a subforum on that board. The goal might also be to isolate a particular poster and run him or her off the board.
Here is an entirely fictional scenario to show you how it works. We will call our team of trolls “Maggie and the Moos”. The Moos might actually be separate individuals or just Maggie posting under different user names.
Maggie’s target is going to be a forum at parawhatsits.com. Her motivation in this case is ideological. That forum discusses many topics, one of which is granfalloons. Maggie wants everyone to know that granfalloons are actually part of a conspiracy by the Shriners. Her goal is to run anyone off that discussion board who does not agree. Fun!
First, Maggie sends in the Moos. They register under several user names. They have two goals: to befriend members of the community while not saying anything controversial and secondly, to datamine anyone who appears to be an obstacle to their evil plan. Datamining is about finding any personal or other details the poster has revealed in past conversations to use as ammunition in the upcoming flame wars. Have they ever expressed different views about granfalloons? Any personal connections to the Shriners, perhaps a family member in a fez?
Meanwhile, Maggie must register as well and her posts should also start out uncontroversial. After establishing herself a bit she can then begin her serious trolling.
Now here is the tricky part. Maggie can say all kinds of outrageous things that a reasonable person might see as red flags. Her tone might seem a bit more hostile than an online discussion forum would seem to warrant. But because the Moos come along and already have a reputation as reasonable people and continue to reinforce the idea that those who oppose Maggie are the real trolls, bystanders lose perspective.
I saw this in abundance on the Democratic Underground forum around Andy Stephenson.
Here was a guy who introduced not only the Franklin coverup themes with all the Larouche spin but also was actually acting as intermediary between DU and conman Delmart Vreeland. At one point, Stephenson even posted a warning that Minnesota was about to get nuked. Reasonable people might wonder about someone who would only post a warning about impending nuclear holocaust in an obscure subforum of a political discussion board. Maybe calling the FBI would have been a better approach?
But Andy had his Moos, and any who doubted the man were met by a hail of histrionic hagiography. Who would dare question the motives and veracity of this blessed saint?
But what, ultimately, did Andy do? He connected legitimate activism around electronic voting reform with such rather discrediting theories as the idea that GOP gigolo Jeff Gannon was actually kidnap victim Johnny Gosch.
But back to Maggie. Let us remember another powerful weapon of forum disruption, the private message. Maggie and the Moos will see who is on the fence about her enemies and provide gentle nudges via PM and complaints to the s about the disruptive activities of her targets. (Keep in mind this is a beginner lesson, in advanced trolling, she would BE one of the s.)
Another nice touch might be for Maggie to toss in stories of her own personal difficulties to gain further sympathy. Meanwhile, of course, anytime anyone voices any criticism of Maggie, however mild, the Moos are ready to express astonishment that someone would dare question her honor and integrity.
Played correctly, well meaning posters and even reasonable s are stymied. To oppose Maggie, who has ingratiated herself with the community, is to cause even further disruption. So Maggie’s target(s) leave the board altogether.
This is not quite enough, however. From time to time, The Moos (not Maggie herself) will need to start a thread or two about how horrible the former posters were and how much they harmed the community and how much better off the place is without them. How dare these Shriner Shills attack our forum family!
At that point, the lesson has been learned. If you don’t think the Shriners run the granfalloon conspiracy, you have no place on this board. Take your fez and funny cars and go play somewhere else.
Well, that is how it works, folks. Over and over again. And in the hands of paid professionals or even serious hobbyists, inexperienced forum s don’t have a chance.
Oh, and by the way, these tactics work pretty well in the real world, too, where they are called COINTELPRO, or at least used to be called that before so much of that activity was outsourced to various cults. Who can resist free labor?