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For Whom the Cell Trolls (foreignpolicy.com)
27 points by rbanffy on Mar 1, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments



> At the core of Patrikarakos’s book is the idea that narrative war has become far more important than physical war due to new technologies that shape public perceptions of conflicts in real time, regardless of what is actually happening on the battlefield.

In The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World, General Sir Rupert Smith repeatedly makes the point that victory in war is about achieving a condition in the mind of the adversary. An opponent who doesn't accept his defeat is still an active opponent. E.g. Japan was defeated at Midway in June 1942, but didn't surrender until August 1945: the U.S. had to convince Japan's government that it had lost.

In this sense, then, digital war is the same as pre-digital war: what matters is public perception. One can only win by convincing the victor and the vanquished alike that one has won.


No amount of military hardware is effective if soldiers won't use it. Live video feed provided by cell phones can provide a way for ordinary people to see the truth, naked for what it is, instead of relying on their government. All that said, cell phones haven't stopped the civil war in Syria


There's certainly been an evolution

In the Boer War of the twentieth century news of conflict came via patriotic print media

In WWII you got video, but in the form of propaganda footage in cinemas

In Vietnam they watched broadcasts by media companies with some limited freedom to show how bad things were and even talk to real people.

In Syria you can watch a 15 year old kid doing his own broadcast about what life is like in Syria.

Trouble is, most bombs and chemical weapons don't come with claims of responsibility attached, footage is easily misrepresented as being something else entirely, and the reality is that an abundance of evidence of war crimes they've committed and the other faction has committed is a good reason for some armies to fight on militarily.

And perhaps if accounts of the Vietnam War had included clearly authentic self-made videos from South Vietnamese civilians expressing their very sincere fear of the Viet Cong in decent English, it might have actually had more success in persuading the American public to continue to back their doomed military campaign than clumsy anti-Red propaganda and a lot of journalists' photos of carnage.


> can provide a way for ordinary people to see the truth

For any truth that's pushed and reinforced enough.


Thusly the Civil War rages.


Trolling isn't relevant to the article. Propaganda != trolling. The title a clever pun, but the usage of "troll" in this context is troubling.

The word "troll" is being used to equate annoying comments online with political propaganda. The problem with this is that trolls feed off attention and go away when ignored ("Don't feed the trolls" works just as well as it ever did) while propaganda is doesn't go away when ignored, because the people spreading propaganda aren't doing it to sway opinion.

This is dangerous for two reasons:

1. Actual trolls are being vilified more than is justified. Not only is this counterproductive (vilification is attention, which is what they want) but it turns the word "troll" into a weapon, where you can call anyone who says something you don't like a troll. Organizations have been quick to seize problems with trolling as justification for policies that hamper free speech. Ironically, when you take away a troll's free speech, they become a martyr for the people who actually believe the terrible things the troll was just saying for attention (see Reddit's crackdown on trolling leading to the cesspool that is Voat).

2. Propagandists are being made to seem less threatening. If you equate internet trolls with highly funded, intelligent, and motivated people, you're going to underestimate your opponent. Calling the likes of Trump or Russian propagandists trolls and pretending he AND his campaign are just unintelligent, childish, or mentally ill, is a grave mistake. Insidiously, using the word "troll" to describe propagandists is a form of propaganda, which masks the power these groups have.

For these reasons you should be deeply suspicious of anyone who uses the word "troll" to describe people who hold any sort of power instead of random kids on the internet.

EDIT: I'd also like to add that bullying, stalking, doxxing, sexual harassment, and other behaviors directed at hurting a specific individual are also not trolling. Lumping these behaviors in with trolling again has the effect of vilifying trolls and downplaying the harmfulness of these behaviors.


Disagree. This presents an antiquated and naive view of trolling as harmless banter that begs rather than illuminates the question.

For context, my working definition of trolling is 'malicious shitposting.' Where shitposting is 'posting nonsensical or absurd content for general amusement' trolls do it specifically to rile up people for the entertainment of the troll's peers. This has absolutely become weaponized in recent years and there is a significant overlap with propaganda, like it or not.


> This presents an antiquated and naive view of trolling as harmless banter that begs rather than illuminates the question.

It's unclear what you're disagreeing with. Are you disagreeing with my definition of the word "troll"? Or are you accusing me of not thinking trolling is harmful?

Note that I do think trolling is harmful. It's just not "manipulating a presidential election" harmful or "hiding a genocide" harmful. And when you refer to manipulating a presidential election or hiding a genocide as trolling, you're downplaying the gravity of those very serious problems.

> For context, my working definition of trolling is 'malicious shitposting.' Where shitposting is 'posting nonsensical or absurd content for general amusement' trolls do it specifically to rile up people for the entertainment of the troll's peers. This has absolutely become weaponized in recent years and there is a significant overlap with propaganda, like it or not.

Can you point out an example, preferably from the article, where one of the people described was doing this? Were Israeli Defense Forces posting to entertain their peers, or were they posting to affect view of their conflict with Palestinians? Was the Kremlin disrupting Ukranian relief efforts and spreading misinformation for the entertainment of their peers? Do you think that the IDF or the Kremlin were just posting nonsensical or absurd content, or were they posting content carefully crafted to support a narrative? Please explain how either of these so-called-trolls fits your definition.

If you really are concerned about the behaviors you describe as "weaponized", why would you insist on describing them with a word you assume people associate with "harmless banter"? That seems like an inept usage of the English language to achieve your goals. Referring to propaganda as trolling definitely does not communicate the gravity of the problem.


I think my comment is quite clear.


Your comment is not clear on how the groups mentioned in the article fit your definition of trolls. The only thing clear from your previous post is that you didn't think your definition through to its logical conclusion.


"The mark of victory in Russia’s new narrative war was not to convince the enemy of its position, but to heighten the level of doubt about all news among the target population."

Mission accomplished.


Russia's narrative? It's the narrative of Trump and the liberal media.

With trump calling everything he disagrees with "fake news" and the liberal media calling everything they disagree with "fake news", it's disingenuous for the media to blame russia. It's a scapegoat. Throw in foxnews and the conservative media and their attacks and accusations of "fake news". And you have modern america.


Someone didn't read the article. That's about how Russia weakened Ukraine to soften them up for invasion.


>...to heighten the level of doubt about all news among the target population.


And trump and the liberal media are the main culprits of causing that doubt. As I said, the russia is just convenient scapegoat. And that in and of itself isn't helping people trust the media.

Everytime I see an article about russia now, I can't help but roll my eyes.


So you're saying that regardless of the quality/reliability o the article content, you pre-emptively dismiss it? Sounds like this is a you problem rather than a media problem.


It is a media problem, though. For my part I have a serious case of fact-checking fatigue which has lead me to just opt out of reading news media altogether.

Reporting the news is only half an outlet's job. The other have is to convince the public that they're presenting a factual, relatively unbiased view.


I was actually sort of poking fun at the apparent intent of your comment.

But whatever floats your boat, I guess.


The problem is centralized sources of information like televsion stations and newspaper companies.

Wikipedia is the answer. It's already the definitive place where the battle for ideas takes place, and the results are generally excellent. We need to force the dictators and manipulators onto the people's turf, so they can be beaten in the war of ideas.

We need a #WikipediaOrItDidntHappen meme to take hold across the world. No one should trust anything they hear or see that doesn't cite Wikipedia directly.


This sort of issue is exactly where Wikipedia fails, actually, and as a devout user and lackadaisical editor of Wikipedia, I'd like to see it get freer of propaganda wars, not more embroiled in them.


Why do you think it fails? The articles seem to disprove that idea. It may not be easy/simple/straightforward but it seems self-evident that it works.



That's a pretty good headline.




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