By Jim Kouri
A study that had been commissioned by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) StratCom Centre of Excellence and conducted by scholars with Latvian Institute of International Affairs and Latvia’s Riga Stradins University, takes a serious look at something most Internet users deal with on a daily basis: Internet trolls. The preliminary results were released on Friday and appeared in some news outlets.
Many of the trolls prowling the Internet are part of a concerted effort to demonize the United States, according to the study. The researchers termed these operatives as being “Blame the USA Conspiracy Trolls.” The researchers claim these trolls will post lengthy comments piecing fact and fiction together with the goal of blaming the United States. These trolls may be affiliated with radical groups, Islamic terrorists or a terrorist wannabe, or a member of the Democratic Party’s left-wing. The perfect example is the posting of photographs showing blacks with their hands held in the air shouting, “Don’t Shoot Me!” The fact that such a situation never happened in the Ferguson shooting of a unarmed black by a white police officer did little to stop the absurd Internet posts.
Many Internet political activists are of the opinion that the best defense against Internet news and commentary websites — especially those professing conservative (Tea Party) or libertarian views — is the commenter who ridicules the writers or readers or both, or uses talking points provided by those in power or seeking power. For example, when the Internet was abuzz with stories about President Barack Obama’s forged birth certificate, those seeking to thwart the progress of the stories simply ridiculed anyone who believed Obama was not born in the United States.
They succeeded when the mainstream news media began to denounce those who questioned Obama’s legitimacy to hold office and when conservative pundits and commentators — wishing to display their sophistication and superiority as well as not alienating the Obama administration — joined the “trolls who prowled the worldwide web like roaring lions seeking who they might devour,” said Mike Baker, a political strategist.
Baker also spoke about the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting of a black teen by a white police officer. Trolls circulated throughout the Internet using emotion, hatred and racism to decry American law enforcement’s racism and violence against blacks. In fact, for many trolls the message was police officers are racists who deserve to die for their victimization of blacks and Latinos and members of the New Black Panther Party and other militant organizations are protectors of the black population.
“In Internet slang, a troll is someone who creates or helps to create discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community…either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”
The NATO-commissioned study helps to identify what’s known as “organized trolling” within Internet media and measuring its influence on public discourse. The study’s researchers view trolling as “a manipulative tool in the context of hybrid warfare, the study discovered several new angles, thus contributing to the discussion on vulnerabilities caused by the use of Internet and social network media.”
StratCom Centre’s research team sought to answer a number of questions for readers such as the effectiveness of trolling and trolls in manipulating the public to accept their premise of the issue at hand. They also sought to pinpoint who are the must susceptible to trolling tactics as well as defensive strategies to thwart trolls’ success at influencing the public.
According to the researchers, communication science, social anthropology, political science and information technology expertise were used dissect the trolling phenomena that many believe began during the second-term of President Bill Clinton’s administration.
Researchers — Prof. Andris Spruds, Asoc.Prof. Anda Rožukalne, Dr.Klavs Sedlenieks, Mr.Martinš Daugulis, Ms. Diana Potjomkina, Ms.Beatrix Tölgyesi (UK), Ms. Ilvija Bruge — said that they analyzed “comments on the most popular Latvian web portals both in the Latvian and Russian language, and tested these results on focus groups.”
Jim Kouri, CPP, the fifth Vice President and Public Information Officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, has served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country.