The Age of Trolls Has Arrived

Samvel Martirosyan

Media researcher

Political trolling on social networks has become a worldwide trend. Living in Armenia, we accept the numerous developments in social media through a narrow local lense. In reality, fake accounts and large-scale promotional activities through social media is nothing new in the world.

Still, a few years ago the journalists of Russian newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” revealed an entire fabrica by trolls, who were carrying out government propaganda through social networks. They were writing posts, mass comments, affected voting and were doing dozens of other tasks, the meaning of which was to infiltrate the maximum social networks. Trolls working in Olgino go to work, have a work plan, and receive a salary.

In China, for example, there are also similar armies of trolls. Here, of course, the internet is much more controlled, but, issues of the human impact, all the same, exist, and as a result several hundred thousand (according to some estimates those numbers can reach two million) users are busy establishing a favorable opinion regarding China with comments and messages throughout the internet. They have been named “50 Cent Army” with a pay-per condition.

The U.S. presidential elections similarly brought about interesting developments. Recent findings show that the team of president-elect Donald Trump actively used the possibilities to shape public opinion via social networks. According to circulating data, Trump’s cyber team spent 150 million dollars placing narrow-targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram. In general, nearly 100 specialists worked in Trump’s e-Team, who had close to a 230 million dollar budget for internet advertisements.

However, Trump’s team was accused on social networks, especially on Facebook, for spreading aggressive misinformation. And the accusations were so serious that even Mark Zuckerberg was compelled to announce that they take the possibilities of Facebook very seriously.

What was more interesting was that even Russian trolls were accused of trying to influence the outcome of the American election through social networks. And, it would seem that, they are also trying to influence the electoral processes taking place in France.

In Armenia trolls are nothing new. We always have by our side government-ordered Turkish and Azerbaijani employee trolls, who, for example, on April 24 on Twitter attempted to “hijack” information streams regarding the Armenian Genocide, using the hashtags to include their messages. Those actions did not achieve success, but every April similar attempts are being made.   

And now the elections are approaching. Therefore, cyborg armies of trolls will soon overflood the social networks. The impact of trolls should not be underestimated. During the months of July and August they were active on Armenian Facebook, and the experience showed that aggressive trolling allows for the “eliminating” of at least five out of every 10 people who actively express opinions.

Since the experience already exists, it is possible to assume, that the method will be used again in spring. What can save us from them? There are several golden rules:

  • a) Do not argue with trolls, 
  • b) Immediately block trolls,
  • c) Do not become upset by every curse on the internet. Most likely, behind the respectable profile picture of the woman cursing you, there is a poor student who needs the day’s money.   

Some of them are trolls, take it lightly.

 Samvel Martirosyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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