Disinformation: How Trolls Control an Internet Forum
An Insider’s Guide to Online Disinformation
By Milicent Cranor
You may well wonder about the material we have chosen to present below. For one thing, it has been around for a while, though mostly on obscure websites. For another, its authors are unknown. More important, we cannot say how accurate, overall, is the analysis offered in it.
Nonetheless, it is tantalizing — and raises some important issues, no matter its provenance.
The document claims to reveal the techniques — dirty tricks, really — that are practiced by trolls, saboteurs, provocateurs, disinformants, spies and other government operatives, as well as their fellow practitioners of the dark arts.
One thing is certain: we’ve all experienced the frustration of dealing with this phenomenon. We just don’t always recognize it for what it is.
Without even knowing it, you may have witnessed these techniques in action. Perhaps in a political forum that feels somehow manipulated to suppress certain facts and points of view. Or in the deceptive comments that often follow a controversial article. Or in the disruptive behavior at a town hall meeting that seems oddly choreographed. Or at a meeting of activists where the “wrong” people seem to be taking over.
Like toxic mushrooms, the words and actions of these operatives can look harmless. That is why they can so easily poison the well of information.
You may be tempted to write off trolls as harmless nuts, but that may not be the case at all. We know from experience that some of the less harmful techniques described here are a cousin of a PR tactic called “astroturfing,” a tried and true method of some of the most powerful corporations and private interests in America. It is a classic control technique, wielded by those on top to prevent “inconvenient” facts from reaching the public, and to neutralize any action the public may want to take should they learn of these facts.
You are most likely to see these techniques at work where discussion centers on such high-stakes issues as political assassinations, the destruction of land and lives by oil companies and other corporations, the man-made causes of climate change, and so on.
Before we get to the tricks themselves, we should take a quick look at their origins.
Treachery is as old as mankind, but let’s start with the late J. Edgar Hoover, the old trickster behind the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program, also known as COINTELPRO.
According to www.publiceye.org, Cointelpro was designed to “increase factionalism, cause disruption and win defections” inside the Communist Party U.S.A…. disruption of the Socialist Workers Party (1961), the Ku Klux Klan (1964), Black nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam (1967), and the entire New Left, including community and religious groups (1968).”
The US Senate’s so-called Church Committee (chaired by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho), which investigated Cointelpro, reported, “Bureau witnesses admit that many of the targets were nonviolent and most had no connections with a foreign power.” Such targets included nonviolent citizens against the war in Vietnam, the nonviolent Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and prominent civil rights workers.
The FBI claims Cointelpro operations ended in 1971.
Did they? The Internet did not exist during the period the FBI admits Cointelpro was active, but the author labels the methods described below as “Cointelpro Techniques.” Wherever they came from, they are still clearly in use. (As many of our readers probably know, other alphabet agencies use these techniques, and have greatly expanded upon them.)
Part 1 is about methods for taking control of a news group. These instructions were presumably written by a Cointelpro operative to be used by other operatives — and not the general public, so they are not always clear. We have therefore rewritten some of these passages, and we offer explanations parenthetically when we think they are needed. Wherever possible, we try to preserve the style of the original document.
If you have a better explanation for any of the actions described below, or if you want to add your own observations to this ongoing collection, please let us know. We would love to hear from you.
The bottom line: Our purpose here is to inform you about some of the “dirty tricks” that may be shaping and distorting what you read online. Far from endorsing these attempts to hijack free and open discourse, we believe that exposing them can help blunt their power to confuse and control. Forewarned is forearmed.
Read the rest here: