By Leo Hohmann
According to netlingo.com, “troll” means to allure, to fish, to entice or to bait. Internet trolls are people who fish for other people’s confidence and, once found, exploit it. Trolls vary in nature; here are several types of online trolls:
Playtime trolls engage in a simple, short game. They are relatively easy to spot, because their attack or provocation is fairly blatant, and the persona is fairly two-dimensional.
Tactical trolls take the game more seriously, creating a credible persona to gain the confidence of others and provoke strife in a subtle and invidious way.
Strategic trolls, meanwhile, employ a strategy that can take months or years to develop. They often act with a number of people to invade a list.
There’s a hidden war raging on Twitter between conservative “ants” and liberal “trolls.”
The problem is, the referee in the battle, Twitter itself, appears to be taking sides against the conservatives, according to a group of activists called the Tea Party Fire Ants.
The Fire Ants used Twitter to help spur Congress to create a House Select Committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.
But when a war of words broke out on Twitter with a rival group, the social media giant reacted by suspending the tea party activists’ accounts. Twitter claimed rules were broken while the Fire Ants say Twitter kowtowed to a group of suspected trolls who are allowed to tweet with impunity using sarcasm, innuendo and blatantly false accusations.
The Fire Ants wonder if Twitter has two sets of rules for political activists on its platform – one for conservatives and another for liberals.
The Fire Ants founder, who blogs at Benghazi Truth under the pen name Proe Graphique, is now asking Congress to launch an investigation into Twitter for alleged censorship and other abuses. The charges include shutting down the accounts of conservative users while ignoring reports of abuse by liberal “trolls” harassing the conservatives.
Proe, who asked that his real name not be used due to his employment with a media company on the East Coast, says he created the hashtag #TPFA or Tea Party Fire Ants about 18 months ago. This group of online activists had developed a following of 7,000 in one account and about 3,000 in another. Using a Twitter technique called “swarming,” the ants helped marshal support for Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf’s resolution calling for the Benghazi investigation.
Each night, for months, the TPFA founder and his co-leader, Kathy Amidon, would tweet about the need for a Benghazi select committee, posting articles and comments on the Twitter pages of key House members. Their followers would join in, and sometimes the congressmen themselves would re-tweet the posts to fellow members of Congress. It had a snowball effect.
“We would hit 60 to 65 reps every night for three to four hours. It worked really well and we were making a difference,” Amidon said. “But we haven’t been able to do it for two months now, because Twitter suspended our major accounts.”
The Twitter “swarms” helped propel Wolf’s House Resolution 36 from 30 co-signers to 190 over an 11-month period, said Amidon. She has three letters from Wolf thanking the Fire Ants for their activism, copies of which have been obtained by WND.
One letter said “the Twitter campaign conducted by your members has made a huge difference in helping to get co-sponsors for H. Res. 36.”
The chief spokesman for Wolf’s office, Dan Scandling, confirmed to WND that the Tea Party Fire Ants is a “very legitimate” group and that his office did send out the letters commending the Tea Party Fire Ants for their work on HR 36.
If Twitter applies its rules evenly and fairly, its platform is the ideal place for political activism, because everything that’s tweeted is out in the open and totally transparent, said Proe.
“It is the fact that politicians knew that hundreds of thousands were seeing us calling for them to do their job in a public, open-air Internet forum is what made the difference (on HR 36),” he said. “Emails get erased and no one sees them. Phone calls get answered and forgotten. Faxes go into the round file. But Twitter, uncensored, is the worldwide town square where politicians know the world is seeing what is said to them.”
Proe said that the public pressure has produced a backlash in which his group is “being attacked, defamed and now, it seems, censored by Twitter itself in a pretty obvious disregard for the First Amendment while Twitter manifestly – this is not theory – allows to flourish obvious liberal activists who really have, in my opinion, crossed the line seriously into criminal cyber-bullying on a vast and unconscionable scale.”
Setting off the trolls
WND broke the story about liberal trolls hijacking the #TPFA hashtag and Twitter’s refusal to fairly apply its own rules in a commentary last week by Jack Cashill.
Amidon said two things in particular cause the trolls to “go out of their minds.” One is when the Fire Ants allege that Frank Marshall Davis was President Obama’s real father. Davis was a labor organizer and communist agitator in Chicago and Hawaii in the late 1940s through the 1970s. Proe’s suspended Twitter account used the handle @FrankMDavisJR, and he has posted a Youtube YouTube video offering what he feels is “pretty damning circumstantial evidence” for his conclusion.
See the video:
The other thing that sets them off is when the Fire Ants present their Twitter activism as a template for other activists to emulate.
"We're the only ones using this technique on Twitter and they can't stand it because it's been so successful," Amidon said. "They want to shut us down."
Not just Benghazi in the Fire Ants crosshairs
Before their two major Twitter accounts were suspended, the Fire Ants were making inroads on legislation by Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., called the STOP This Overreaching Presidency Resolution (HR 442). The resolution would allow the House to take legal action to force President Obama to comply with laws passed by Congress. Obama's unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act, waiving of welfare work requirements and his refusal to take removal action against illegal immigrants are all targets of Rice's HR 442. It had about 35 co-signers until the Fire Ants started swarming House reps on Twitter in early March.
"We started swarming and took it up to 119 co-signers in about four weeks," Amidon said.
She produced a copy of a thank you letter from Rice that also mentions the Twitter campaign as critical to the success.
That's when the alleged liberals, disguised as conservatives, went to work on Twitter, invading the Fire Ants' hashtag and flooding it with propaganda, accusing them of being "fake conservatives." Using conservative handles like "Patriots4America," the liberal trolls lodged accusations against the Fire Ants and then complained to Twitter security when Amidon responded by referring to a couple of the trolls as acting "like Nazis."
Since Twitter acted in mid-March to suspend the Fire Ants' two major accounts – @FrankMDavisJR and @Kathy_Amidon – HR 442 has not garnered a single new co-signer.
"They've taken our pages down, they've hacked our accounts," Amidon said. "They have not added another congressional rep to the list of co-signers since they shut us down."
The suspensions forced Amidon and Proe to start over with new Twitter handles: @TPFA_KathyA and @TP_Fire_Ants.
A perusal of the Tea Party Fire Ants founder's Benghazi Truth blog shows no signs of progressive leanings.
Other conservatives complain of Twitter abuse
It isn't the first time a tea party activist has suggested that Twitter may be devolving into a cesspool of censorship, subterfuge and infiltration by government-paid trolls posing as conservatives.
The Washington Times reported in April 2012 that the account of Chris Loesch, the husband of tea party leader and conservative writer Dana Loesch, was suspended by Twitter management due to what observers believe was foul play by liberal users of the website that don't like the couple's politics.
Noel Sheppard, reporting for NewsBusters, a website whose mission is to expose the liberal bias in national media outlets, recounted the story.
Chris Loesch was targeted by leftist Twitter users who used the "Block & Report Spam" function to trigger the social media account's automatic spam algorithm, Sheppard reported. Loesch was notified of his suspension via an email from Twitter claiming it was due to multiple unsolicited mentions to other users. "You will need to change your behavior to continue using Twitter," the email admonished, according to NewsBusters.
The Tea Party Fire Ants reported the same type of attack operation from liberal trolls and the same appearance of collaboration from Twitter.
And there's apparently no limit to their nastiness. Amidon said the trolls tweeted out a map of her unpublished home address, implied she had a relationship with Cashill (whom she's never met), called her at home twice and issued veiled threats on Twitter.
Suspected troll "Stan Hjerield" tweeted out a graphic showing a tombstone with the words:
"RIP 2012 – 4/2014
"They claim to be conservatives and then attack us without end. What kind of conservatives attack other conservatives like that?" Amidon said. "Twitter is so big. You don't see other people's pages. These trolls follow us all over the Internet."
Twitter becoming a tool of the White House?
Former London Guardian investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald reported Feb. 24 on the website Firstlook.com that among the revelations in the Edward Snowden documents was a federal government psychological operation in which paid government agents work to infiltrate chat rooms and online forums, deceive through false-flag online attacks and destroy the reputations of targeted individuals and groups.
In November 2013, Reuters reported that the White House was employing a "Twitter army" to try to shape and control the news being placed in the nation's major media outlets.
This news came on the heels of Obama confidante Cass Sunstein's proposal to plant federal agents to "cognitively infiltrate" online groups the government doesn't agree with. The strategy was exposed by Salon magazine and other media outlets in 2010.
The Salon article, which called Sunstein's plan "spine-chilling," also is online.
When the Tea Party Fire Ants filed safety or security violations with Twitter, they were met with silence, Amidon said.
“We reported them, endlessly, demanding answers and got none,” she said. “Twitter has a legal obligation to do the right thing.”
Twitter was given an opportunity by WND to address the claims made by the Tea Party Fire Ants but refused to comment.
“We don't have a comment for your story but here are our rules, which outline content boundaries on Twitter,” a spokeswoman said in an email.
WND also reached out to Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, through her Linked-In account, but she did not respond to a request for an interview.
Notified of the allegations, WND decided to monitor the #TPFA Twitter feed on the evenings of May 24 and 25.
On the first night, a user named Kathryn Jaco @KathyGoodGirl using the handle @PatriotGirl2014 posted: “truepatriotsforamerica.com exists FrankGet used 2 it. The #TPFA belongs 2 us Udon't have any claim2itFace it nowOr keep whining.”
When Cashill broke the story May 21 about trolls hijacking the #TPFA hashtag, he and WND received an email from a suspected troll who signed her name “K White” and “aka Snow White” demanding Cashill’s story be taken down.
"I respectfully request that the latest article by Jack Cashill, 'How Twitter Empowers Liberal Trolls' be removed immediately.
"The article refers to a 'self-described Wiccan' who made numerous calls to Amidon. I'm that Wiccan. The 'numerous' calls totaled two voicemails letting her know that her Twitter 'partner in crime' @FrankMDavisJR was, in fact, Jack Cashill.
"Myself and several others mentioned in this sladerous (sic) 'article' have asked repeatedly that our likeness, names and modified tweet screenshot be removed immediately. Numerous 'Cease & Desist' demands have been made and ignored.
"Cashill's article does not mention my name. However he links to a video he created a week or so ago. That video directs viewer's (sic) to his benghazi-truth blogspot when he does have my name, pictures and modified screenshots of Tweets.
"I'm not altogether sure how to stop this man, but if I am forced to obtain legal counsel I won't hesitate to do so. I respectfully ask for your prompt assistance with this issue."
Cashill assured WND that he was not the person behind @FrankMDavisJR, did not make the video and did not talk to Amidon until about two weeks before his column was published.
But the trolls have only stepped up their attacks. They tweeted vicious accusations about Cashill over the Memorial Day weekend and beyond, calling him a fraud and a liar and posting photos of him with a Pinocchio nose, demanding retractions and apologies.
Just after 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 25, this message was tweeted on the #TPFA hashtag by a suspected troll using the handle C.W. Silkwood @ClarenceSilkwow: "I must say I'm enjoying watching @jackcashill & his FireAnts being flushed down the toilet."
That touched off a virtual cyber war of words on the Twitter hashtag #TPFA as Proe Graphique hit back with the tweet: "HEY LIBERAL TROLLS. Keep looping in .@jackcashill. You did the Tea Party Fire Ants #TPFA a huge favor."
He reposted the WND story by Cashill.
Meanwhile, the Fire Ants have started swarming again. They engaged in their first swarm Tuesday night, the day after Memorial Day, since their two largest accounts were suspended in March. For Amidon, there's no question what's at stake.
"I was a little rusty. Not as fast with my tweets as before," she said. "But I'll get back up to speed. We won't quit. It's too important. You lose your media, you lose your country."