A Guide to Navigating Troll Disinformation
Alarm Bells Ringing
I am a moderator for an Anti-Trump Facebook page called Stop the Donald. My responsibility is to manage and censor the content on our page. During the run-up to the 2016 election, our reach floated between 150,000 to 2,000,000 users/week. So our page activity was relatively high.
On September 26th, 2016, I had just watched the first debate between Hillary Clinton and then-candidate Donald Trump. The post-debate consensus was that Hillary Clinton thrashed Donald Trump. Feeling confident about Hillary’s performance, I was eager to see positive feedback on our Facebook page. But when I looked at our page, what I saw made no sense to me and was deeply concerning.
What they did and how
Dominating the comment sections on our posts were memes and slogans showing overwhelming support for Donald Trump, and crushing contempt for Secretary Clinton. I scrolled through streams of hate-filled, untrue content depicting Hillary as dishonest, deceitful, and criminal while lauding Donald Trump as an unstoppable candidate. I was baffled by how much support there was for Donald Trump. And the content was so hateful and nasty. It left me feeling sick to my stomach.
What’s more, these same users were methodically posting the same hate-filled pro-Trump, anti-Hillary content on all of our posts.
What I didn’t know at the time is that these Facebook users were online Russian trolls using fake accounts to spread disinformation on our page systematically.
The effect on our followers
In 2016 these memes demoralized our followers and stopped them from engaging on our page. It was common to see healthy dialog between many followers on a given post. But once these trolls posted their content, followers just left the conversation and likely left our page.
“Meme bombs” exploded onto our page in large numbers at critical times. They appeared after debates, at times when Donald was at his weakest in the news cycle, and after attacks on Hillary regarding her email server. All on our page that we created to combat Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Fast forward to 2020 – Deja Vu
On January 19th, 2020, a single Facebook user(Troll) strategically posted a series of 30 memes in the comment section of one of our posts. These memes represented 70% of all the content on the post. Targets were Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Michael Bloomberg, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, Ralph Northam, and Jerry Nadler. See the actual Facebook post here: https://www.facebook.com/STDDonald/posts/809964059409136
Take the Psychological Warfare Test
For brevity, shown below are just 8 of the 30 memes from the post mentioned above. (you can see all 30 at the bottom of this article) Please read these 8. Then do a gut check on how you feel about our politics, our government, and the coming election.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does it turn you off of politics?
- Would you engage in a conversation that was mostly this content?
- Does it affect your overall willingness to participate in our democracy?
- How does it make you feel about the general health of our country?
Where do we go from here?
The 2020 election cycle is just starting. I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. We even see some Anti-Trump trolls using the same methods — stirring up liberal anger. They are playing both sides.
As a moderator, it’s tough to keep up with these troll armies. On many days in 2016, I had to throw my hands up and just let it run its course. A fate I suspect will repeat in 2020. My most significant concern is that the very page we created to combat the election of Donald Trump will be used by these Trolls to do just the opposite.
This election season it will be up to all of us, as informed cyber-citizens, to control the impact that troll disinformation has on our election.
So What Can you Do?
Learn how easy it is to report suspicious profiles to Facebook: In 2016, Russia used a cyber army against our country. So in 2020, we need an army of cyber-citizens to fight back. When(not if) you encounter suspicious troll activity this year, report it to Facebook. In their most recent quarter, Facebook said it had removed over 3 billion fake accounts. They make it easy to report profiles and are relying on informed users to do so. Every Facebook user should know how to do this. Here is the instructional link: https://www.facebook.com/help/report
Here are some troll clues:
- No substantial conversations in English on their profile page or conversations make no sense
- Almost everything on their page is political
- Poor grammar
- They only post canned slogans or statements
- Wierd profile pictures
Don’t take the bait: We are in an age of deep social media manipulation. Earnest consideration for what you see on Facebook can be a threat to your mental health(not joking). Take it easy, and do not get worked up about content you see. Treat it like the background noise it is, and stay focused on your own opinions.
A good rule of thumb: Unless the content comes from a trusted source or reliable friend, do not take it seriously — not one bit.
Share this article: Knowledge is real and effective “Troll Vaccine.” Articles like this one can educate Facebook users on the scale, methodology, and impact of troll activity. At this point, its really up to us, the users, to be highly skeptical of all social media content. EVERYTHING!
What can Facebook do?
Facebook, if you’re listening. Does anyone need to post 30 memes? I think 2 is plenty. Give moderators the ability to restrict the number of memes/gifs per user in the comment section. Because of grammatical differences between Russian and English, it is easier to spot trolls when they have to converse in English. I suspect that is why trolls mainly post memes or canned slogans on our page. You do not need to speak fluent English to do that.
The Cliff Notes
How to immunize yourself against Troll activity during the 2020 election season.
- Join the cyber-citizen army and report suspicious users
- Ignore the noise and stay focused on your opinion based on reliable sources
- Share “troll vaccinating” knowledge
How to get rid of Trump on November 3rd.
- Be politically active in your community
- Be politically visible in your community
- Be sure to verify your voter registration
- Vote on or before November 3rd, no matter what!
Stop the Donald