That inflammatory news blurb in your Facebook feed that’s got your dander up? Or the one some acquaintances are circulating that’s got you thinking they’ve lost their minds? Hold up a bit. There’s this recent column in The Atlantic:
“We’ve since learned that Russian trolls organized anti-immigrant rallies in two states, and posed online as Black Lives Matter supporters in one instance and as members of a Muslim American organization in another. They hoped to spark discord among factions of our fellow citizens. So if you’ve ever felt at a loss to understand how some of your neighbors could possibly reach certain conclusions, consider that they could have been targeted by teens in a Macedonian village bent on duping them.” Source: Don’t Forget to Adjust for Russian Trolls
What is going on here is a good deal more sophisticated most of what is commonly thought of as activity by trolls. These are full-on disinformation campaigns by a hostile foreign power. The objective is destabilization, and as such, they don’t appear to be all that picky about the side of the dispute they happen to be stoking.[*] The content being disseminated is divisive propaganda intended to set Western Europe and the US on fire.
Garden-variety trolls, in contrast, are merely sadistic anti-social misfits who are still single (or ought to be), probably addicted to porn, and are 30+ and have been living with a parent since birth. They are like that tomato that’s been left on the vine in the greenhouse a bit too long. A bit squishy to the actual touch. In another context they might be tormenting a neighbor’s cat. Or shooting out streetlights. Or using a drone to peep in your bedroom window. There is not much difference between the online behavior of this type of troll and some idiot keying cars in a parking lot.
But the effect both types are rather similar. Fires are being set. Some with a malevolent, well-considered purpose. Others because the arsonists are addicted to the chaos they create. And we react rather to readily to the rumor and hoaxes being served up by both. And find ourselves at war with each other.
So step back from that incendiary comment thread and take a breath, particularly if you can’t independently verify what is being asserted.
It is best to just move along. Or better yet, just get off Facebook and go get coffee.
[*] For actual examples check out this post at The Verge: Here are the Russia-linked Facebook ads released by Congress.