I have an idea of what might be causing the troll problem. Way back in 2008 I was told by a friend I trust who has a long history of working in advertising that almost 3/4 of a million dollars a day were being spent on sock puppets who were working online to obfuscate issues related to healthcare reform, and he wouldnt tell me any more. Going back almost 30 years he was working, for a long time on tobacco industry projects (he used to be stick thin) He was a very talented artist — also a nice guy despite the fact that he’s worked on what later became globally infamous projects. Now he no longer smokes, is of normal weight and clearly was sympathetic to my feelings about healthcare dysfunction. (please see some of my stories, especially my most recent ones which I can document well to see what I am worried about. Its literally the cause of our current mess.)
Anyway, I want to throw out there that there are entities who want to make it so everyday people, non celebrities cannot openly contact journalists. They want to artificially increase the level of “atomisation” (as Hannah Arendt puts it in her seminal work The Origins of Totalitarianism) — basically separating individuals in society, isolating them. They do this because increasingly we are descending into a very dangerous territory- a world where a great deal of whats in the news is based on phony premises and phony logic. This is being done to prevent democracy. So they set up a state of affairs (my SF friends and I used to call it) a “reality distortion field” that is costly in many ways to maintain- the more lies the more difficult it gets to suppress the truth. And the more brazen the truth suppressers must get.
Hannah Arendt writes about this — its a common theme in her writing, and its definitely true.
So here is what I am getting at. Since the success of whatever agenda the would be totalitarians are hoping for depends on isolating people, they are generally against things that help people transcend isolation.
So maybe some of the trolling is not being done by trolls, maybe instead its being done systematically to make it impossible to have fora that allows the better more intelligent kinds of online civilization to exist and progress.. naturally.. This has resulted in the Internet actually regressing in some ways. Despite the progress in technology.
Maybe the people being attacked are attacked because of their ability to discern truth, or it could be something else, their goals and methods are rarely so obvious.
But there is likely something. Anyway I go out of my way to avoid those kinds of people and I think most of us do but at the same time, because I want to actually discuss an important issue which needs honesty to discuss it, Ive been attacked.
I can handle that as I know who I am and have a grounding that I think many others may not (hard earned over the years) but I am particularly worried about younger people, many of whom seem gullible.
With the goal of trying to help people sometimes I’m sarcastic but not in a way which is intended to attack anybody. I think the situation we live in today sometimes calls for it, actually. That said, Ive felt as if Ive been misunderstood — or just as likely- attacked using — or misusing- Twitter’s moderation system, by some people (or they may even have been bots, a situation seemed designed to elicit a response, which can then be mischaracterized — taking advantage of their lack of time to check out each reported incident) Sometimes when Ive been sarcastic or have been trying to explain some concept, people have blocked me. Sometimes ive been blocked by people Ive never interacted with.
I could see how some likely want to suppress inconvenient information that is factual because it does not fit in with some narrative they are promoting — for purposes which are not constructive.
So I posit that there are fake trolls and they are created by firms that also do major sockpuppetry. Their real goal is likely 1. eliminating all of our ability to have intelligent conversations in open social spaces about anything everywhere. 2. Targeting people who have figured some aspect of our nation’s problems out and silencing their voices, because their real target is democracy.
To go back with the conversation I had with my friend, it was fairly short but he did leave me with this reference when I asked him what thought processes went into this industry of trying to swing people’s opinions.. he pointed me to this paper. (This was in 2008 or 2009, I think probably 2008, during the heart of the first health care “debate”.) Another thing he said “they argue both sides of issues” He didnt give me the paper he described reference but I Googled the story he told me and am certain he was talking about this paper.
So its likely to be a real challenge to prevent the use of a medium like twitter to sway people but some kinds of protection are necessary.
But there must be some way to do it that doesn’t ruin Twitter for smart people acting in good faith. Warnings might be useful just reminding people that some people are fake. Also, there needs to be better ways for people to talk to a real person to resolve the occasional difficulty that isnt resolved through their incredibly frustrating customer support — which as far as I can tell is among the worst Ive ever seen. Nothing is carved in stone, everything is evolutionary.. So it can be fixed.. if you want to fix it and you should. Because your users are every bit as important as your investors and the two groups likely overlap a great deal.
We’re all in this together, figuring things out as we go along.