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NEW YORK – WND Internet forum moderators have conducted extensive studies of leftist, pro-Obama “trolls” who post misinformation.
In the process, the moderators have blocked from WND forums participants who post abusive language aimed at angering or otherwise insulting forum members, WND authors, management and staff.
Trolls appear to perform a “disinformation” function typical of counter-intelligence efforts by intelligence agencies to confuse political enemies and refute or deflect opposing political views that are less susceptible to refutation by more traditional methods of debate and argumentation.
Typically, trolls operating on WND forums attempt to defend Obama by posting specious and diversionary arguments with the goal of changing the subject and obscuring topics that could damage Obama, such as his birth records, life narrative, political history and policy preferences, including his current positions as president.
Particularly offensive is the proclivity of trolls to use obscene or blasphemous language mixed with personal invective.
Trolls operate on WND forums under various identities, often using the same IP address but with different usernames and email addresses.
One troll who was banned from participating in WND forums, was found to have posted more than 4,794 comments over 664 days on a wide range of websites in addition to WND.
Another posted 3,575 comments over 560 days on website forums in addition to WND that ranged from CNN to Fox News.
A third troll posted more than 10,000 comments on various user forums, including 4,306 on Fox News alone.
A fourth posting under different usernames used various email addresses and nine different IP addresses to post 15,200 comments over 787 days on WND and Fox News, as well as several smaller news websites, some of which had a local focus or interest.
Many of the trolls banned from participating in WND forums appear to have been operating on a professional level.
Some could be leftist “plants” whose purpose is to damage the reputation of WND by posing as supporters and utilizing offensive language and making obscene claims or suggestions.
Categories of abuse
Trolls use a wide variety of strategies, some of which are unique to the Internet, including these:
- Making outrageous comments designed to distract or frustrate. This is a Saul Alinsky-style tactic employed to stir emotion and angry reactions.
- Posing as a conservative and making comments that discredit the movement. After claiming to be a member of the movement, such as a tea party organization, the troll then proceeds to post long, incoherent diatribes to appear either racist or insane. In some cases, these “Trojan Horse Trolls” have been known to make posts that advocate or incite to the use of violence in an apparent attempt to provide evidence to leftist critics and government sources that the right is comprised of “radical extremists.”
- Dominating discussions. Trolls may attempt to throw a discussion off course and frustrate participants whose purpose is to engage in a serious and respectful exchange of views.
- Posting prewritten responses. Many trolls appear to have been supplied with a list or database of pre-planned “talking points” designed as generalized and deceptive responses to honest arguments. When trolls post prewritten responses, their words typically feel strangely plastic and rehearsed.
- Making false associations. In this technique, the position of honest posters is characterized in derogatory terms. For example, a troll may call advocates of Federal Reserve reform or abolition “conspiracy theorists” or “lunatics.” Or, by suggesting certain political arguments are “racist” or otherwise outside the accepted confines of serious political discourse, trolls attempt to dissuade readers from examining the evidence objectively.
- Exhibiting false moderation. By pretending to be the “voice of reason” in an argument with obvious well-defined sides, trolls attempt to move readers to relegate the argument to a “gray area,” such that holding or seriously considering the argument is a leap away from reasoned judgment.
- Raising straw-man arguments. Here a troll will accuse his opposition of subscribing to a certain point of view, even if the argument is irrelevant and never actually raised.
WND moderators have developed criteria for helping to identify a professional troll:
- The person’s posts are usually short and snarky, with reasonably correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, suggesting both intelligence and education.
- The posts are on the edge of acceptability, with little or no profanity or vulgar language that would get the post flagged immediately.
- The person has a high ratio of posts to the number of days on the site, suggesting he’s posting comments nearly full time and is getting paid to troll.
- The person posts politely on progressive websites but nastily on conservative websites, using the same username and IP address.
- The person’s posts are consistently belittling, rather than intelligent objections and points.
- The person’s posts address a broad spectrum of topics rather than focusing on one or two subjects of particular interest. The consistency is in the support of leftist policies and positions taken by the Obama administration.
Once the person is blacklisted, the WND moderators do not receive a complaint. Instead, the person quietly returns to post on WND forums in a different incarnation, perhaps using a different username, IP address or email.
WND moderators have concluded the purpose of a troll is not to intelligently discuss various issues but to minimize the importance of dissenting opinions by ridiculing serious participants expressing political views the troll finds objectionable.
Sometimes trolls appear to needle serious participants with the goal of inciting irrational retorts that can embarrass them, perhaps even to the point of being reported to employers or to the government.
WND moderators frequently experience waves of troll attacks that they suspect occur in response to a “call to arms” from a progressive website or blog.
A person identified as “AMA” posted a comment on the website Above Top Secret that apparently offers insight into how professional trolls operate.
I was a paid Internet troll
For almost five years, I was a paid Internet troll. Yes, I admit.
But first let me state that I never performed my job here on ATS, though I believe I have occasionally seen a handful on here who were using a script similar to what I was assigned.
I cannot and will not name names, but after an internship at a firm with government and political party (Republican) contracts, I was offered the position of “Online Communications Associate” at another company by someone from the original firm for which I interned. My contract completed one year ago, and I have since moved on.
Utilizing six artificial personas, I was active in social networks and bulletin boards. But since I came to love and respect this site, as I stated, I never performed my functions here. Each week, I and presumably several others, were provided with information to use in our online postings. At first the information was comprised of fully conceived scripts, but as I became more and more experienced, it eventually became simple bullet or talking points.
At first I needed to provide links to my postings, but when the company name changed (never knew the real names of any people there), that requirement stopped.
The pay wasn’t very good, but since I was working from my apartment, I suppose it wasn’t bad, and I was able to do several other writing assignments on the side.
WND will maintain an open posting policy on its forums, but will continue identifying and removing trolls who abuse the privilege.
WND staff member Janet Falkenstein contributed to this article.