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Reddit Has Become a Battleground of Alleged Chinese Trolls (buzzfeednews.com)
141 points by mzs 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 191 comments

I think right now there are three main kinds of internet trolls in things like this. First would be the government sponsored ones who tend to post in unison or have some theme. These seem to mainly be Chinese and Russian. Second are the freelance trolls, people in it to make money by building an audience for advertisements. A lot of these people are in Macedonia where they can make relatively good money spreading false blogs on Facebook or something. Finally are the home grown true believers who are just posting their honest views in an abrasive, hostile, or threatening manner. I think the majority of trolls belong to the last group, but the first two have an outsized impact at creating new stories and coordinating messaging that is amplified by the third.

If you're going by the original meaning of troll you're missing the fourth category; the people who post something inflammatory because everyone freaking out and arguing at each other is amusing to them

I think that type has mostly gone away/become the third. People "ironically" posting racism seem to all just be flat out racists now. As Kurt Vonnegut said “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

> I think that type has mostly gone away/become the third.

Not a chance. I think that a lot of kids with socialization problems who grew up spending a lot of time on the internet took trolls seriously, and built very strange worldviews from that assumption of earnestness.

But actual trolls are still everywhere, and their trollishness can be measured by the inverse of the ratio of their typing to your typing. That ratio can nearly reach zero with the use of copypasta.

Agreed. I was just stating this to some friends. I used to read the chans and their noxious crap, thinking it was funny anti-authority "rebellious" trolling.

Now you have people announcing their mass shooting on them, and hundreds of posts applauding it while talking about the Jewish conspiracies.

I think that when you troll and joke enough, if it ever was a joke, you can get sucked into it. Especially teenagers and others who are looking for certainty, or apply "logic" to some narrow ideology that finally "gets it."

So yeah, there is some "old school" trolling where people just like to see others get riled up, but that is far less than the first three.

> I think that type has mostly gone away/become the third

I think you underestimate the entertainment value of intentionally posting inflammatory things. It's fun to play devil's advocate. That doesn't mean you believe it.

Playing devil's advocate is not the same thing as posting inflammatory things for fun at all.

You play devil's advocate because you want to test your convictions by making a good faith effort to argue for the other side. You attempt to present the other side's argument in the best light, and really think about your reasons for actually concluding against that side.

Trolling is the opposite of a good faith effort; you are intentionally making an argument you know is absurd, in an attempt to get someone to engage as if it were a real argument. You have no intention of trying to understand the other side or think about why people might feel differently, you are simply trying to confuse and anger people.

You can argue that you think trolling is funny, but you can't argue that you posting inflammatory things is playing devil's advocate.

Regardless of what one believes, posting specifically to inflame or upset people is a form of aggression. Where aggressive debate is a norm accepted by all participants this can manifest as interesting or even productive competition, but where it is unilaterally inflicted on unwilling respondents it quickly generates into sadism.

> Regardless of what one believes, posting specifically to inflame or upset people is a form of aggression.

Serious question: is it possible to play devil's advocate without insincere motivations? For example, say someone holds a strong but simplistic belief on a complex topic, if asking a legitimate question in a straightforward and non-offensive manner upsets the person holding the belief, is it necessarily (and always) a form of aggression?

Of course it is, but one has to have some sort of agreed frame with other discussants. Suppose we were discussing suicide cults and the question arose of why people join them; that's well worth discussing, and even debating if there are conflicting views, but discussions of how cults recruit people should be easily distinguishable from actual attempts at recruitment.

> but discussions of how cults recruit people should be easily distinguishable from actual attempts at recruitment

Hmmmm....can you think of an example of a case where "asking a legitimate question in a straightforward and non-offensive manner" about suicide cults would not be easily distinguishable from an attempt at recruitment?

Yes, I can think of many such examples because misunderstandings can and do occur. However, we are now far away from the behavior I labeled as a form of aggression, to wit 'posting specifically to inflame or upset people,' so I don't plan to proceed any further down this path of semantic possibilities.

> we are now far away from the behavior I labeled as a form of aggression

So, it is necessarily (and always) a form of aggression then?

> Regardless of what one believes, posting specifically to inflame or upset people is a form of aggression.

This is a ridiculous, not to mention untenable, position. I take it you never read Socrates? He saw great value in poking and prodding -- being the proverbial gadfly.

Socratic inquiry and racist trolls are only similar if you refuse to think beyond the shallowest surface description.

People do so very much love to dress up their failings and vices in lofty goals and in playing devil's advocate. I guess it helps their ego to feel like they aren't being reprehensible scumbags.

I'm not going to defend this straw-man. Refer to what I quoted.

> posting specifically to inflame or upset people

That's not what Socrates did, was it? I thought he was just making observations and asked questions he thought had merit, despite knowing it would upset some people. But the objective wasn't to upset people in the sense of them feeling bad, more like medicine that tastes bitter but is beneficial in the long run.

What I do see a lot is that people impute a bad motivation for a question or claim that allows them to dismiss it without actually having to answer or challenge it, so today, Socrates surely would be called a troll by many. Wouldn't make him one though.

Socrates was certainly a provocateur (troll?). I think what the objective of a provocateur is: (1) to get people angry or (2) to create discourse or (3) etc. -- is up for grabs. My point was that claiming it's "aggressive" is nonsense.

> Socrates surely would be called a troll by many

Exactly. I contend that he would be called a troll by the person I quoted -- which I think is wrong.

Your contention is mistaken, I'm a big fan of Socrates.

That's why I gave examples of aggression that could be healthy or productive. A football game or a boxing match is an aggressive competition but one in which all participants contend voluntarily. Likewise, a debate or dispute can be quite heated but nevertheless proceed by mutual agreement. I distinguish these from cases where aggression is inflicted upon unwilling recipients.

> I distinguish these from cases where aggression is inflicted upon unwilling recipients.

That's a clever distinction, but I don't think it's sufficient. It's not clear that, e.g., the Athenian leadership, were "willing recipients" in Socrates' case and so your test would fail.

Further, I think this thread itself is a testament to the murkiness of "willingness" -- are we willingly engaged in a formal spar? We disagree, we're talking, we're debating. If I had thinner skin, I could accuse you of aggression and that would be that. You could do the same.

The "marketplace of ideas" should trump an individual's sensitivities. I will concede that the internet complicates this. Weirdos† -- neo-Nazis, furries, flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, bronies, hoarders, etc. -- can now find like-minded communities that validate their weird beliefs. The danger is the town square turning into a bunch of silos. Weirdos can often be a good thing for a society if their beliefs are validated in the marketplace. But they can also be a very dangerous thing if they all congregate on 8chan.

† By 'weirdos' I mean those that hold fringe beliefs or partake in fringe activities.

Socrates did not follow these leaders of the city round Athens haranguing them while they repeatedly asked him to go away and leave them alone, and while we could mine Plato for examples of rude phrasing or an irascible attitude, I doubt that a modern translation of Plato's ancient reports of Socrates' style of talking will yield any definite conclusions.

I am not trying to reinvent the notion of discourse, but to say something about the patterns of behavior that are readily observable and functionally comparable to real life interpersonal interactions. Imagine, for example, if I had responded to your initial comment with vile personal slurs or similarly inappropriate behavior and then mocked you for getting angry.

> Socrates was certainly a provocateur (troll?). I think what the objective of a provocateur is: (1) to get people angry or (2) to create discourse or (3) etc. -- is up for grabs.

Do you think Socrates' objective was to get people angry? Do you think that's what he was trying to accomplish?

I don't mean to dodge your question, I just think it's very hard to answer. What I do think is that Socrates was trying to point out flaws in deeply-held beliefs. I don't think it's hard to argue that when pointing out flaws in deeply-held beliefs, the subject at hand will get angry -- or at the very least uncomfortable.

So, much like "no pain, no gain," anger and discourse often go hand in hand.

> I just think it's very hard to answer. What I do think is that Socrates was trying to point out flaws in deeply-held beliefs.

I don't think it's hard to answer at all—in fact, you answered it right there. No, Socrates objective wasn't to get people angry. His objective was to point out flaws in deeply held beliefs.

> I don't think it's hard to argue that when pointing out flaws in deeply-held beliefs, the subject at hand will get angry -- or at the very least uncomfortable.

It definitely can, but there's still a difference between trying to inflict anger, and anger being an undesirable possible side effect.

> I don't think it's hard to answer at all—in fact, you answered it right there.

I guess I did shoot myself in the foot there :)

I was trying to reconcile this: suppose Socrates was a dick and actually did get pleasure out of annoying people -- and the pointing out of the flaws was actually the side-effect. Would his execution somehow have been justified?

I still don't think so.

This has nothing to do with the parent's point. Being the "gadfly" may have value, but it's also inherently aggressive. That's why they killed him, after all. You have to be prepared to defend the value of your particular aggressive provocation- maybe it leads to enlightened self-reflection, but maybe it leads to someone shooting up a mosque.

...and he was ultimately executed for it.

That behavior is acceptable in an academic setting, but nobody blithely posting contrarian or inflammatory content on a fansite or Facebook is doing it because they're hoping to inspire Socratic discourse.

Let me put it this way. You have a society and in your society you have an annoying Socrates. He provokes people, gets some people riled up, and gets some people to self-reflect. Some people are angry, most people are indifferent, and some people like him.

You have two choices: (1) execute Socrates, or (2) accept Socrates as part of the Miltonian "marketplace of ideas" and leave him be. I'd like to think we've started to see that (2) is a better choice than (1). Dismissing Socrates as "aggressive" (and implicitly "dangerous") is, from what I can tell, not the right move.

You can't forget Poe's law, though

I've been thinking of this, especially in light with the tragedy in Christchurch today. I think this view is fundamentally mistaken in two important ways. The first is that as I said, when we pretend to be something we become it. When we argue for a position, even as a hypothetical or a joke, we start to empathize with it more. I think a lot of people start out joking about something and gradually begin to seriously believe it.

The second reason it is fundamentally mistaken is that it ignores the fact that there has always been a "trolling" aspect to far right discourse such as Nazism. Think of the racist carictures Nazi's or KKK members draw, they are meant to be taken "seriously not literally" as some have said of Trump. Reactionary politics goes hand in hand with intentionally trying to provoke a reaction, both of them have this shared idea of trying to gain power through provocation and the idea that the status quo is a sham. As Sartre said in Anti-Semite and the Jew:

"Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument has passed."

I strongly disagree. Look at the flatearth communities.

What the heck is with the resurgence of this? Where is it coming from? I remember stuff like this, flat earth sites and the time cube thing [0] in the earlier days of the internet, but can't understand where it's coming from now.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Cube

I wondered the same thing and then stumbled over “Behind the Curve” on Netflix. It was an eye-opener. You’ll learn where it came from and more importantly, how to handle people with these beliefs. It changed the way I will approach the topic for sure. The earth is round! Don’t misunderstand me, but the psychology that drives flatearthers is fascinating and we can help them find the right “path”.

It’s a great watch! Highly recommended :)

It's a trend, like yo-yos or pokemon. People see other people doing it, it looks fun, so they join in. Facebook and youtube have made it easy for people to join in on the fun.

What you need to understand is that for a minority of people who take truth, facts, reason and science very seriously, flat earth is infuriating. But for a lot of people who are just looking to have some fun, it turns out to be a lot of fun. The protests from the first group that you shouldn't joke about things like that, that it's wrong to be wrong, etc just sweeten the deal for the people having fun. It's trolling in the classic sense.

For most of them. Of course when you have people pretending to be idiots inevitably a few real idiots will join in, thinking themselves in good company. But for the most part flat earther arguments are constructed with obvious comedic intent that very serious people seem blind to.

Or you can think of it this way: being wrong is a taboo, and some people enjoy challenging that taboo.

The time cube was the product of a single, elderly, schizophrenic man. People in that demographic post to Facebook these days, I think.

Flat earth, I think, is caused by crazy people finding it easier to find each other with the Internet and social media, and putting together communities on the Internet.

The "main" Flat Earth Society (tfes.org) isn't made up of people that believe that the earth is flat - they are trolls. I'm sure there are plenty of 'True Believers' out there, but they're just as fringe as any other conspiracy theory.

It started as a joke by trolls. It's debatable if it still is

If you ever go to the flat earth events like conferences, you'll find as I have there's two group of people. The first is the real believers. The second group (which I am a member of sometimes) is there to sell stuff and really doesn't believe.

I'm guessing it comes from people who have never been in an airplane, on a very tall mountain or in open prairies. Ya know...all those places you can actually see the Earth curve at the horizon...

My boss Ryan Postma told me back in 2004, and I quote

The real fun is yet to come. The people that believe the really crazy shit haven't got PC's yet.

So not a resurgence: just the emergence.

I think you’re both right. Being an ironic flat-earther is easier than being an ironic racist, especially since sarcasm doesn’t transmit very well over text, especially on contentious topics.

Shhh... people still think they are being serious.

edit: Think about it this way... There are dumb people on both sides of anything, it's tough to say "only their side needs to own their idiots" when lots of stupid and people run around talking absolute nonsense about climate change when it's hot out. That doesn't mean everyone that agrees with them is as dumb or even wrong at all.

If 10% of people believe it and the rest are acting - how could you tell?

Sure, a lot of them are trolls, probably almost all of them at first. But the problem with pretending to be an idiot is that actual idiots will rally around you and take heart.

Have you seen Beyond the Curve, the documentary about flat-earthers trying (and failing) to prove the earth is flat? You'd need pretty strong evidence to convince me that everyone in the film was in on it.

There is also the tendency of mentally unstable people not getting the joke and more or less taking over the meme. Then the profit-seekers and cult leader types emerge, and suddenly what was a joke is a movement. On a much smaller scale the same thing happens with satirist news outlets, and the process is:

Outlet makes a joke (for a real example “Joe Biden is refusing to leave the White House and has armed and barricaded himself.”)

Joke is spread devoid of context, still as a joke.

Trolls get a chuckle by posting it to some extremist group.

Extremist group doesn’t get the joke and adopts the narrative, fitting it into existing ideology.

Pizzagate and QAnon are great examples of this process. The other process is that schizophrenics dig up old ideas to fit their current delusions, such as “Orgone” and “Chemtrails.” Some of these ideas fit into the delusional ideation of non-mentally ill groups and it becomes a widespread conspiracy theory.

Note that this can all be very profitable, if you look at people like Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, and David Icke.

Only people who stop at the headline. If you go to the flatearth subreddit they're pretty clear about what they are doing. They don't quite say it explicitly, but you'd have to be pretty dense not to see the game they are playing.

Though I have charitably believed in the past they are mostly having fun with each other rather than trying to troll the rest of the world.

If you're going by the original meaning of troll you're missing the fifth category: monstrous cave-dwelling creatures.


Well, actually...

In the Internet sense of the word, the trolls in question live under bridges and spring out to surprise those who would cross with unpleasant demands and behaviour. Not cave-dwellers at all.


Hey, this is Hacker News, if we can't bikeshed the etymology of "troll," what use is this medium?

The internet sense comes from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolling_(fishing) rather than the bridge dwellers.

Trolling is a method of fishing where one or more fishing lines, baited with lures or bait fish, are drawn through the water.

I recall this exact discussion happening at various times over the last few decades.

I agree that the verb comes from fishing, but with respect to fishing, nobody calls a person who trolls, a "troll." If the noun came strictly from the fishing use of the word, the people engaged in trolling would be "Trollers," not "Trolls."

I think both etymologies are in play, one for the verb, another for the noun. It could have been that it began with the verb, and somebody punned "Is someone who trolls, a troll?" and that stuck.

But what makes the noun work is very definitely the association with the mythological trolls who are unhelpful to humans.

Well huh, I've been online since, um, 300bps dial up BBS's, and this is entirely new to me.

Apparently I've been living in a cave. :)

This is my understanding, but it appears we're not correct. A cave dweller is a troglodyte, but a troll is not specifically a monster under a bridge. In fact, an old English term for walking is to troll [0]. It would appear that this is where the terms stroll and trolley come from.

[0] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/troll

[1] https://www.etymonline.com/word/troll

A troll is not specifically the monster under the bridge, no. The troll under the bridge is from one fairy tale about trolls, and I find that the closest use of troll to what Internet Trolls do.

But no, trolls in general do not live under bridges. Agreed.

> In the Internet sense of the word

But that's not the original meaning :)

It depends on "how original," stories about trolls under bridges go back a long way, but if we go WAY back, we get the word applyimng to many different mythical creatures:

"The term is used to denote various beings, such as a jötunn or mountain-dweller, a witch, an abnormally strong or large or ugly person, an evil spirit, a ghost, a blámaðr, a magical boar, a heathen demi-god, a demon, a brunnmigi, or a berserker."

I think that over time, and thanks to various "fairy tales," we have settled on Trolls as he mountain/riock/cave-dwellers who are turned to stone if exposed to sunlight.

Sadly, the Internet Troll multiplies when given attention. Sunlight does not disinfect social media.

Back in the day, we just called those people assholes.

I like it, it's catchy!

That's part of the premise of that one South Park episode / season about the 2016 elections[0].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skank_Hunt#Plot

Let me gently disagree. The internet etymology is based on the fishing activity.

How can you distinguish between the 3rd and 4th categories? How do they behave differently?

conflating employees of propaganda machines with "watch the world burn" in bad faith circus-goers is an unfortunate abuse of language. i mourn for our loss of a good word that used to mean something.

whatever they are, they are much closer to shills than trolls.

do words with specific meanings usually become meaningless when they become global mainstream? the world picks up a communities word and doesnt bother to use it in the old context? reminds me of decimate maybe?

That makes me think of Hacking vs Cracking, and the confusion that laypeople have when a programmer refers to "hacking something together quickly"

Trolls are not persons, they are characters.

There were a lot of trolls in the old days of newsgroups, and none of them fit in any of your categories: they were neither in it for the money, and they certainly were not true believers. They were in it for the entertainment. The best way to fight them was to ignore them, hoping that the lack of reaction would bore them.

In 1997, imagine that you are arguing with the user Voldemort on comp.sys.mac, as he is claiming that the Mac is awful, that Mac users are idiots, and that surely Apple will be dead by year 2000. Maybe J.K. Rowling agrees with you that the iMac will save Apple. But that's completely irrelevant because you are not arguing with her: you are arguing with the evil character she created, that wishes death upon the Mac world. What you need for Voldemort to calm down is not to win the argument against him, but to convince the author of altering the behavior of her character. An entirely pointless endeavor...

EDIT: that said, I agree that the internet landscape has massively changed since the nineties.

I think Serdar Argic is possibly the earliest example of a kind of troll that is being discussed in this article, someone who drops in to new places when they are discussing something even tangential to their hobbyhorse and dropping in their screed.

The biggest group of government sponsored trolls is those of US politics related. Go to any "mainstream" politics subreddit eg /r/politics and I guarantee you half the commenters are paid shills. The most "reddit addicted city" is Eglin Air Force base. https://redditblog.com/2013/05/08/get-ready-for-global-reddi...

You vastly underestimate the first group. And they are well paid for it as well, ( I assume because of the English Requirements ).

And since China has a huge population, even a small group percentage of people would be gigantic on Reddit.

https://twitter.com/CraigSilverman/status/110627276452315136... »

Moderators and users on Reddit say they've seen coordinated activity on the site by pro-China accounts. "The pro-CCP effort vastly overshadows any operation by the Russians,” one person with insight into moderation practices told us.

China expert Bill Bishop said the activity fits with the Party leadership's emphasis on controlling the discourse about China outside of the country. He said said it’s hard to know which accounts are simply patriotic Chinese people, and which might be government actors.

We obtained a list of accounts banned frm r/geopolitics for what was described as pro-China trolling or related behavior. Some were burner accounts created just for the purpose of weighing in on China threads. Others seemed to be genuine Chinese ex-pats studying or working abroad

r/geopolitics mods implemented new rules as a result.

"We've had to implement a rule that prohibits posts from accounts less than 20 days old. This has helped to an extent but these redditors seem to be very patient and disciplined, and can ‘wait out’ the 20-day requirement.”

It's simple to work around those time requirements. It's not uncommon to see accounts that are months old with 0 prior activity become super active as soon as a thread criticizing China shows up.

Observe the saddening axiom -

There is no such rule set that a dedicated troll or attacker would be unable to circumvent.

Instead consider every rule as a evolutionary hint for attackers - eventually they reach a point that they can often pass for perfectly normal users.

People are creating accounts now, filling them with karma and health comments in funny subreddits. Then a year later, they will bring it out and use them.

For everything that's wrong with cryptocurrencies and the /r/cryptocurrency subreddit, I really like their approach to tagging users. Main activity outside of this subreddit? You get tagged. A lot of activity in one specific coin subreddit? That's a tag. New account? Tag. Old account with little activity before? Tag. Longer time with no activity on CC? Tag.

It feels weird at first, but it's actually a great way to recognize trolls.

I expect this to become explicit in many other forums based on how I know internal mod tools behave.

This is problematic, because it is effectively the same way as saying "this person is a foreigner", and tribal identities overwhelm the initial intention of a information granting doohickey - see the fate of the upvote and downvote button today.

> the same way as saying "this person is a foreigner"

I disagree. It gives you context for what the person wrote. Everyone has a tag (even if some are positive).

Ha, for once all of the coin shilling resulted in something productive.

I can't remember where I heard this, but I remember someone talking about creating the process/paperwork for government programs. They were saying that adding multiple steps and verifications atrophies legitimate people way faster than scammers. Scammers just have more patience and resources to spend than people who have a legitimate need.

That and some random news related submissions over time.

Then suddenly the account goes full force pushing a single POV across subreddits .... with similar other users in tow.

You see it a lot more in location specific subs where they stand out as new people who as a group show up, vanish, and show up again.

You don't need to be patient, you just prepare accounts in advance.

Or just buy them by thausands online at 20 cents per pop. Suprisingly I bought bunch of gmail and yahoo accounts for testing at $25 per hundred, and all been working fine some year later.

I’m not so sure Hacker News is free of the same group. Post an article critical of China sometime and watch the comments. People genuinely posting opposing viewpoints is fine and normal but there is something very uncanny valley about most of them.


I appreciate your concern for HN quality, but this kind of comment is the reason why we have a site guideline asking people not to insinuate astroturfing without evidence. If you think you're seeing abuse, the guidelines ask you to email hn@ycombinator.com with specific links so we can look at specific data. We always look. Occasionally we find it and crack down on it hard (edit: but the cases we've seen have basically all been of corporate abuse, not nationalistic).

Much more common, however—by far the typical case—is people accusing someone of posting in bad faith merely because that other person's view is so far from their own that they can't conceive of them having it for legit reasons. This is just a feeling. Not to pick on you personally; this wiring is common to everyone. It is hard for all of us to grasp how large and diverse the community is, and how divided it is on divisive topics. Nationalistic themes are some of the most divisive ones.


Dang, are you able to report statistics on how many accounts have been banned or considered suspicious? I don’t doubt that HN takes this issue very seriously. But, it would be useful to some of us to see how often astroturfing actually happens here (and from which countries it seems to come from).

I don't have anything exact, but we've banned perhaps a dozen networks of accounts for corporate astroturfing over the years. Cases where the issue was nationalistic are much rarer. I recall only one very clearly, and it was years ago. (That of course is not to claim we aren't missing some.)

If we go by the data we actually see, the phenomenon itself is vanishingly rare. Why is there so much commentary then? I can think of two explanations: either the foreign spies are cleverer than we are, or there is something in how human nature meets the internet under current social conditions that is leading to mass projection. And of course it could be both—but how are any claims about the former falsifiable?

If I am understanding his/her comment correctly, its point is that this does happen sometimes, not that it is occurring in any specific thread or being done by any specific users. To that end your response seems to confirm that but asks us not to talk about it, even in the general sense.

The problem is that the people who talk about this have no basis for the claim. It feels like it's happening, so they say it is. Other people also say it is, so there is social proof. Anyone who disagrees is reframed as a shill, puppet, useful idiot and the like, leaving no feeling of uncertainty internally.

As far as I can tell, this dynamic has nothing to do with reality. Reality is that the HN community has millions of people, is diverse in many ways including internationally, and is divided on divisive topics. That is already enough to explain the comments that show up. But none of us is wired for dealing with that. What we're wired for is loyalty to our tribe and needing to feel safe.

It's painful to encounter a sharp opposing view, and people are particularly sharp on divisive topics. Reframing the other as a foreign spy or whatever insulates you from that. It frees you from considering what truth there might be in the opposing view, and reinforces loyalty to your own—at the cost of feeling surrounded by infiltrators and enemies. This inner movement is poisonous to thoughtful discussion, which depends on people being willing to open to differences and consider what truths they may not yet see.

Since the actual phenomenon is vanishingly rare compared to the insinuations people make about it, we have a rule that users not post such insinuations without evidence. A feeling is not evidence. Even the sense "there are a lot of green accounts saying things I disagree with" is usually just a feeling, because we notice things we disagree with far more than we notice anything else [1]. People on the opposite side have just the opposite perceptions, driven by the same feelings.

An important thing to observe is that when people post claims about astroturfing, trolls, and spies on HN, they don't include links; just as when they make claims about "threads about $topic", they don't include links. Why is this? If the perception were of reality rather than a feeling, specific examples would always be available, yet in practice they almost never are. The discussion falls apart when specific cases are mentioned because (a) people never agree about on those, and (b) such data as there is never supports the claim. So the discussion always stays in a fog of generality, which helps breed the bacteria of suspicion.

[1] Does anybody know or have a name for this bias? It's a huge factor in these discussions and it needs a good name.

How are you able to use data to determine whether someone is part of a coordinated disinformation campaign?

I agree that these are probably exceedingly rare on HN, but it seems technically implausible that you'd be able to accurately identify them.

That's in the class of things we can't explain without ruining them, but I can at least offer a couple things. First, we're careful not to say anything beyond what we see in the data we have. For sure a sufficiently smart campaign is going to exceed our ability to detect it. But what can one meaningfully say about that? We have to stick to what our flashlight can show, and trust that it is at least more reliable than no flashlight. I can tell you that when the flashlight does show something related to an accusation of astroturfing, it nearly always tends against the accusation.

Second, some of the analysis can be done by anyone who wants to take the time to do it. When you encounter specific claims of astroturfing or shillage, look at the history of the commenter being accused. Most of the time their track record makes it implausible. If someone has been posting to HN for five years including about, say, garbage collection in Julia, what are the odds that they're really a spy? Far lower than that the other user tossed off an accusation without pausing to look.

Now consider that these demonstrably low-probability cases are exactly like the rest of the accusations people post here, and one starts to have a basis for postulating a common mechanism underlying the whole class. I don't assert (how could I) that there are no cases of genuine manipulation that fall outside it. But after looking at thousands of such claims, I do believe that this and similar tests account for most of them.

Interesting, thanks for the response and the work you do.

"Oh no, now all the coordinated disinformation campaigns will start posting five years of high-quality good-faith technical discussion on a variety of topics to evade your heuristic" /s

>Does anybody know or have a name for this bias?

Uh, confirmation bias? Your description is a bit off, it's not that "we notice things we disagree with", but that we notice things that confirms our previous beliefs, in this case that green accounts post opinions that you think come from spies or astroturfers.

IMO these are distinct phenomena. This one comes more from the fact that pain makes a stronger impression than pleasure. Running into an opposing opinion online is painful.

You say that, but here's a perfect example of what appears to be an obvious Chinese account that is currently unbanned.


Obviously we don't ban people for being Chinese. Presumably you meant it's "obvious" that they're a Chinese government agent. If so, I'm afraid your post is illustrating the very dynamic I was writing about. Your intention is positive, to protect the community, but when you express it this way, the effect is to poison the community you mean to protect.

I'm familiar with that account. Their posting history, and what private data we have, are completely consistent with who they say they are: a former Google employee and startup founder who has lived in both China and the U.S., has a Kubernetes war story, opinions about Python, Go, PHP, software deployment and so on, and who is frustrated by some of the comments that appear about China here because they feel the commenters don't know what they're talking about. It's natural that someone who lived many years in both countries would feel that way. Some of their comments have broken the site guidelines, but that's a separate issue—and who of us wouldn't, having our integrity attacked outright like this user has?

This is a classic case of somebody being singled out for suspicion because they have different views, formed by different experiences, than others here. When users do that, it puts us in toxic territory in one hop. Is it ok to accuse people of being government agents, shills, spies, or astroturfing, just because they have a different view on some geopolitical or economic question? Obviously we need to not go there.

It's fine if you're not persuaded—I don't expect that—but please just consider the downside of being wrong. What if this person is as innocent as you are, motivated by much the same things as you are? Can you imagine what it would be like to show up here and see it debated whether you're a spy and a liar? Even a single case of someone being subjected to that unfairly is unacceptable. If the community is to avoid "sinking its teeth into itself without realizing it" (Schopenhauer's memorable phrase) and falling into a poisonous swamp, we need a presumption of innocence. And so we do: the guidelines say Assume good faith. If you stand on the dry ground of that assumption, I see no path that gets you to that user being a bad-faith actor any more than you or I are.

I feel sick about holding up an individual user to some sort of public trial like this (another reason why the guidelines ask people to email concerns to us rather than posting them here)—can you imagine what that must feel like? But since the issue is the integrity of the community and its moderation I feel like I'd better say something.

Thank you for the well thought out response, in that case I am happy to concede I was wrong. Let my post serve as an example of what you were pointing out.

That's an incredibly generous response. Thank you!

You're fantastic dang. Thank you for helping keep HN a great place.

That person is 100% not a shill. I think your comment is a prime example of what dang meant by

> Much more common, however—by far the typical case—is people suspecting someone else of posting in bad faith merely because that other person's view is so far from their own that they can't conceive of anyone having it for legit reasons.

> And now I'm into the 2nd year of my startup. As contrary to popular belief, the Chinese are true entrepreneurs and the society is generally very supportive for changes. And government's stimulus is insane. For example, my company got six million yuan (almost $1 million) fund from the municipal government when it's just established, with almost no requirement and absolutely no string attached. Free money and that's all. Probably the best place in the world to start a company and I'm greatly thankful.

By that measure, founders of YC companies are shills when they comment on their experience with the application process. Being happy about their loose investment requirements is not the same thing as being paid to spread misinformation.

Oh wow! I never knew that existed! Thanks for the email address. Do you all take in temporary email addresses or are those sent straight to spam? I'd love to send some in anonymously.

Also, thanks for all the hard work here on HN. I know it's not a glamorous job, but yall are doing a great job handling all this. You work hard and it shows.

We look at all emails and people can email anonymously if they want to. Some go to spam, but I personally check the spam bin and fish out every genuine email that I can. I'm sure we miss a few, but not for want of effort.

I find that when an article about China is posted on HN, for the problematic posts, there's about an 90/10 split between two groups of trolls:

1. People who disregard everything about TFA, to remind everyone for the five hundredth time about <some unrelated crime by CPC>, and <why are we still trading with them>, and <can't we just build a wall around it>, and <the Chinese come here to steal all our things>. These posts, depending on how inflammatory they are, or what side of the bed HN woke up on, tend to hover slightly positive.

2. Green-named accounts speaking in... Non-perfect English, praising some aspect of China. These usually get downvoted to oblivion.

There's also a lot number of posts that express more-reasoned/more-on-topic pro/anti-China viewpoints. I don't consider them to be trolling, and I don't really care what colors the names of the people posting them are.

Regarding your first point, we see the same sort posts anytime there's an article about C/C++ or a vulnerability that states something about how unmanaged languages should be condemned. It's not restricted to just political topics.

And while they may have a point, they're often off-topic whataboutism. I believe it's a natural outcome of gamifying discussions with imaginary internet point rewards. The first and most eloquent post that's congruent with the hivemind "wins". It's just human nature.

I would add-

3. Instant whataboutism used, even if not appropriate or applicable. If you read about the directives of the 50 Cent Party or the old Soviet propaganda machine, this is one of the universal tools used to derail the discussion from the topic at hand.



Now could this just be normal posters using whataboutism? Sure, but we all spend a lot of time on the internet and listening to arguments, it's basically the language of the internet at this point. And you can just get a feel when something is authentic and when it is not, like a bank teller when they get a counterfeit bill and they can tell something is not right.

It definitely seems to be happening here too, I've noticed it as well. Articles about China get very strange activity, including a lot more green names (new users) than you'd see in any other posts.

Might this just be how ultra-nationalist types work? I’m less familiar with the dynamics in China, but with Indian politics any place where people are mildly critical of the Hindu Right can rapidly get brigaded. And it doesn’t usually seem all that organized or botlike. I think it’s just a country of a billion people with really bad liberal arts education and an extremely sensationalist media culture being unleashed on the web.

The distinction is some of the anti-China submissions on HN are submitted for the sake of being anti-China, not because these posts "gratify one's intellectual curiosity". I do not consider geopolitical stories presented on the front page of mainstream media as something that "gratifies" my "intellectual curiosity" when I visit HN. I still read those off HN and I feel annoyed when I see them here, because they are not what I came here for.

The gross generalizations and shill accusations (mostly thrown against users who actually post "genuinely opposing viewpoints") endemic to these China-related submissions are just icing on the cake.

Whether you post a nuanced view on China or criticize either side someone claims the other is a shill, a sympathizer, or a propagandist. By what mechanism can there be a real conversation online?

At least they're relatively easy to spot, due to how different English and (presumably) Mandarin are as languages. Check out the quotes from the banned user(s) in TFA, almost all of them have some sort of grammatical error. I've seen comments here with similar errors, pushing extremely pro-china arguments while not actually saying they're from China themselves.

I think the recent issue with the harassment of the Tibetan student council president(?) by Chinese students shows that it doesn't matter whether it's government-sponsored "trolling" or not. If your government punishes people who aren't outspoken in favor of the Party while abroad, then those people are still shilling on behalf of the Party, even if they're not actually paid to do so.

This type of comments similar to what you made are the worst and that's why while I tried my best to avoid political "discussions" here (not like there is any room for a two-sided discussion), I still can't stop myself to type this.

I know my comment probably will just reinforce your prejudice/bias, and make you laugh and say "wow see what I said? Another troll started to attack me immediately!!", but I don't care.

> At least they're relatively easy to spot,.. sort of grammatical error

Yeah, because they're Chinese, who are using their second language. It is indeed easy to spot non-native speakers (or Chinese if you will), how does it have anything to do whether they're "government shills" or not? Just because people have a different view from you, and the fact they come from China, don't make them government shills. There are plenty of actual Chinese people like me lurking here (mainly to read tech news).

> while not actually saying they're from China themselves

Since when people need to reveal their nationality to make an argument or opinion on Internet? Should I claim HN are full of "Western trolls", because the anti-China threads/comments here are probably 10x the amount of the pro-China ones (the ratio would be close to 100:1 on some subreddits like /r/worldnews), and 99% never actually "reveal where are they from" (including you)?

Just to save you a click: I'm a Chinese and I often be frank about it. I don't think it should be necessary, since people should judge my comment purely based on what I said, not where I'm from; but because of people like you I have to do so otherwise my comments will be downvoted to oblivion.

> those people are still shilling on behalf of the Party, even if they're not actually paid to do so

Wow. Brilliant, now we don't even need any evidence to proof these Chinese people are shills (not like there is any to begin with, besides they are somewhat pro-China in SOME ASPECTS), they AUTOMATICALLY are.

I had the same thought as you about English. As should go without saying, non-native speakers of English are as welcome here as anyone. Indeed, we should all be grateful to them for the extra effort they're taking to be here. The idea that this is somehow incriminating is obviously absurd and shocking. So shocking, in fact, that I'm sure people don't realize what they're saying when they say it.

Reddit has been rife with brigading and manipulation for years. At this point, it's been this way for longer than it was an idyllic place to discover cool nerdy stuff. This is precisely why there are so many very active and hyper-strict moderators now. Not all, of course. It depends on how much "heat" the community contains and how much the subject matter attracts. They have to act like police in bad neighborhoods, because that's just the reality of the place.

Throughout the 20th century, the Eastern Bloc had to deal with western media eroding the narratives of their society. Now, it seems that the tables have turned through social media. But instead of creating images, stories, and music of the wealth and richness of life brought by self determination, it's far more effective to simply sow chaos and jam our society's means of information exchange.

EDIT: We are in years numbered such that they appear widely in science fiction. In objective terms, we are doing better than we ever have in all of history. In 2019, we need to embrace the normal. We should be suspicious of the lurid and the outrageous. We should be skeptical of the accusation and the conspiracy theory. In 2019, these are all the viral pathway to easy money and influence. We need to start looking at these things like we now look at the products of medicine shows. Not all of these things are necessarily bad. However, we always need to be mindful of the incentives.


> This is precisely why there are so many very active and hyper-strict moderators now.

Actually, the reason moderators moderate now is that moderated forums outperform unmoderated forums on just about any conceivable metric, and always have. The subreddits that don't keep up have all their membership migrate to ones that do.

Who wants to drink at a pub that won't throw out rude patrons?

There are still some good ones, but they tend to be smaller and rarely political. For instance, r/homelab is still pleasant. (Though it might inspire negative effects on your credit cards)

Conservative readers might be surprised at this, but I find /r/stevenuniverse to be quite tolerant and accepting. I've even called out sexual-orientation based identity politics there and had some substantive discussions. Other times, I've been downvoted to oblivion, though. There is some activist brigading there, but the general culture of the place seems to reflect the culture of the show. (Politically left, but if you are a good person who accepts others, we will accept you. You won't be judged by how you were made, rather by the quality of your relationships.)

Isn’t Steven Universe some American cartoon? Why would the sub for it be relevant to discussions of any kind of politics? What am I missing?

Note that I haven’t seen the cartoon, but from adverts it seemed pretty banal rather than political.

Why would the sub for it be relevant to discussions of any kind of politics? What am I missing?

The show has been pointed at by conservatives as an example of gender/identity politics. However, the ethos of the show is that we really should accept people no matter how they were born, and judge them on the quality of their relationships. What's more, this isn't transmitted by saying it, rather by showing it. IMO, more careful observation shows that it's actually the opposite of identitarian media, despite surface appearances.

Occasionally, some identitarian rah-rah comes up there, and I feel the need to point out that we're all in this together, and isn't that what the characters show us?

from adverts it seemed pretty banal rather than political.

It transcends the political, like all good, honest art should.

I recently started watching this with my wife, we're up to episode 30-something. I've been enjoying it very much so far, due to the deeper messages and "grown-up" subplots. The exploration of its themes of acceptance and personal growth very much resonate with me. Thank you for bringing it up in a thread like this where there's a lot of anger, fear and hate below the surface.

Huh... well I live and learn, thanks for the detailed answer.

There's one episode that on the surface, or to a child, would be a completely banal story of a kid helping his dad clean out the garage. There's of course, an emotional subtext of people thinking about the past, and past relationships, and people they've lost. Then, there's another subtext, invisible to a child, where there's the story of a widower who has an affair with the friend of his dead wife.

It's one of those cartoons that's one thing on the surface, but has other things for the adults.

For those interested in discussing how to make the rest of the world a toletant place, join us at /r/stupidpol

In my years on Reddit, I've found the magic number to be 10k. At around 10k subscribers the community is big enough to be found by people who actually care about the subject matter, but small enough that it's not worth it for people who are just looking for karma.

Obviously this is just a guideline and not a rule.

Smaller subs are still awesome. I avoid large subs like the plague because they start to enforce group conformity through either downvotes or over moderation as the sub grows. I think this begins at around 2000 users, but thats a subjective figure.

r/selfhosted is pretty good also.

And r/datahoarder . I mean they're cool subreddits if you remove the addiction therapy, loss of relationships, and eventual crippling depression.

Totally worth it though! :D

/r/sysadmin might be the most depressing job related sub besides maybe /r/consulting

There's a lot of burn out and bitterness that goes along with being a Sysadmin. The stereotypical "shouted at that you are incompetent when things go wrong, shouted at that you are lazy when nothing goes wrong" comic is very true.

/r/sysadmin reflects that thankless nature of the job. I'm lucky to have gotten through my ~20 years of being one without any major health issues from stress.

Oh thanks for this. It's like a treasure trove!

> Throughout the 20th century, the Eastern Bloc had to deal with western media eroding the narratives of their society. Now, it seems that the tables have turned through social media. But instead of creating images, stories, and music of the wealth and richness of life brought by self determination, it's far more effective to simply sow chaos and jam our society's means of information exchange.

That's not new. Even in the 20th century, Eastern Bloc countries were working to "simply sow chaos and jam our society's means of information exchange":


They've just updated their techniques for the web, where it turns out they are much more effective.

It honestly wouldn't shock me if, taken as a whole, over half of reddit comments and posts are either paid shills, bots, or propagandists.

>This is precisely why there are so many very active and hyper-strict moderators now.

It's my understanding that moderators can't see votes though. They can stamp out antisocial behavior, but it's my understanding that looking at the data to detect brigades/manipulations is the purview of the admins. (A much smaller set of people)

> This is precisely why there are so many very active and hyper-strict moderators now.

Or because shills make a focused effort to become mods as soon as they start posting in a sub.

What does the word shill mean exactly? I know what it used to mean, but it seems like the last decade of internet culture has made it similar to the word "cult": most of the usage I see just means "person at the median of intellectual honesty whom I disagree with"

The flip side is that every non approved opinion is now a “troll.” I responded to someone on Twitter saying that I didn’t think the Mueller investigation would amount to much and I got called a Russian troll. It’s a way of pretending that opinions you don’t like don’t actually exist.

If you ever meet someone from mainland China, such as university students, they take criticism of China very seriously. For example, mentioning Taiwan as an independent country is an offence and will shock most Chinese mainlanders. But this is similar to foreigners criticizing the 2nd amendment or similar parts of American culture. It will create the same passionate response in most Americans.

The more Chinese students learn about websites such as reddit, the more you will find these responses. You can't just expect them to just sit idle. The fact that English is not their native language will however make others qualify them as trolls/bots

I work with a lot of people from mainland China and I have not once gotten the impression of any generic sensitivity to criticism of China.

> I work with a lot of people from mainland China and I have not once gotten the impression of any generic sensitivity to criticism of China.

Those kind of reactions often, but not always, get muted the longer the person is exposed to more diverse perspectives outside of the mainland.

There's also a cultural trait in China where you strongly defend your in-group against criticisms from an out-group, even if those criticisms are valid. I have a Chinese friend who considers his mom to be kind of lazy (and tells her so), but if someone from outside the family made the same criticism, he'd strongly defend her as a hard worker. The same thing is true of criticisms made by non-Chinese of China.

Chinese people can have different opinions from each other.

There are staunch defenders of CCP and China in general, there are people with more nuanced views, there are ones who are super critical of CCP, and there many who are apolitical.

That being said, even as someone with mixed opinions of CCP, I definitely am careful at sharing pro-China ideas in non-Chinese spaces, due to the likelihood of causing arguments or inviting personal attacks; but I feel much safer expressing criticisms of China.

mainland china is pretty big. you two should be a little more specific.

I've met foreign exchange students from China that believed the control of free information online was a good thing.

Just wanted to share this of article because I think it applies to both sides: http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html

Just as there are ideas you can’t discuss without being called a communist/socialist/authoritarian/nazi/racist etc in American discourse, so too are there touchy topics in Chinese discourse. They’re just different so we can clearly see them.

I wish people still lived by the idiom "Don't believe everything you read". It's like social media stopped all forms of critical thinking in society.

There are too much information these days. We literally don't have enough time to fact-check everything and therefor we pick the most believable version of a story and with that new info we shape our future selves.

"But you don't have to pick a side, just ignore this information altogether." For most minor info this strategy works, but when the same piece of info appears repetitively over and over again you start to believe it subconsciously or it moves from "minor" to "major/important info" group which we can't simply ignore.

I don't see why repetition requires one to arbitrarily pick a side, why can't one hold a position of undecided indefinitely? Almost no one seems to do that of course, but is there a good reason you see why people couldn't do it if we made a genuine societal effort to educate people on how to read the news critically?

> I wish people still lived by the idiom "Don't believe everything you read"

When did they ever?

> It's like social media stopped all forms of critical thinking in society.

Human society as a whole is irrational and does not engage in critical thinking. Small groups of highly focused individuals, or individuals themselves sometimes can, but it takes too much effort most of the time.

II remember as a youngster in the early 00's our teachers and librarians constantly reminded students, "Don't believe anything you read on the internet. Always check your references."

This was an inherent precursor when using the early internet, and is even more relevant today.

We trust our friends and family, our tribe. Something shared on Facebook by an uncle is more trusted than a maliciously researched article on the New York Times.

Trust implies a lack of critical thinking. When we trust something we don't think about it deeply, we just accept it.

The timing of this is interesting as just about a ~month ago there was a mini protest because Reddit accepted significant investment from the Chinese company Tencent and users began pushing Tienanmen Square Massacre images to the front page.

The number of gov-backed trolls is overestimated. Majority of those are simply real people using VPNs. It may sound hard to believe, but think twice about the huge size of population and high rate of Internet penetration.

Chinese population is largely nationalistic and conservative, and some hawkish groups are very active online. There is a joke that Great Firewall is not for controlling Chinese people but protecting Westerners from Chinese netizens.


I usually only post when I think a story is too one-sided or some key facts are unmentioned. For my posts related to China, you may find a similar post history from some other HNers who have worked for years in Asia.

Thanks for mentioning it. It's the kind of thing that everyone suspects, but reminding people that the history is right there is helpful.

The above user (zackguo) comments seemingly exclusively on China, including ... "Results won't change even if [Uyghurs] are able to participate". Yikes!

I'm bewildered that you are upset about the post, because I genuinely think it's a sound inference if you do the math...

In Germany, there is only about 212k Chinese people. Since that's less than 1% of the German population, I guess they should just throw them all in jail since their opinions don't matter (mathematically, of course).

In the event that Germany indeed imprisoned all its Chinese people and a survey found that average life satisfaction was still pretty high, whether the opinion of those people was included in the survey wouldn't change the result. That doesn't mean that minorities don't matter, just that averages don't tell you anything about their situation. Sometimes you need to know the context of a statement to understand it.

Yeah, Germans did something similar in the past, right? And those in jail, or something similar, their opinions didn't actually matter, did they? /s

"throw them all in jail" is your sensationalized interpretation, which BTW is what I hate to see on HN. I was just talking about the poll results would not change.

Shills/trolls pretty much have the freedom to do whatever they want on Reddit. Vote manipulation and simulated conversations between groups trying to steer the discussion seem to be fully sanctioned by the mods and admins.

If you look at the comment history of the accounts involved, there's often a pattern of accounts that used to only discuss US sports teams before going dormant for a year or more and coming back with a strong interest in defending some corporate or government entity 24/7.

All upvote/downvote based social media is inherently toxic to public discourse and extremely manipulable. Something major was lost in the transistion from BBS and forums to this insanity we have now. It used to be that long form discussion and nuanced viewpoints were the norm. If someone had an opinion you disagreed with, you could either refute it or ignore it, not make it dissapear. Now everything thoughtful or balanced in any way is buried under a mountain of “gotcha” quips, and moral certitude, bot or not.

It's not just upvotes and downvotes. Twitter doesn't track karma, so people just compete on number of followers or retweets or other measures of "reach" instead. Upvotes are only one way to trigger that dopamine hit.

That's the way the Chinese Communist Party rolls. If it can't control individuals, it controls the platforms, either directly or through proxies. It started with mass media (https://freedomhouse.org/blog/media-control-china-model-comp...), social media, the Internet (https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/great-firewall-of-china), and telecommunications in the PRC, expanded to "overseas Chinese" communities in Southeast Asia, Australia, and North America (https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/monitoring-0327201811...), global tech companies (https://money.cnn.com/2018/04/05/news/economy/china-foreign-...), and now global social media communities (https://mashable.com/2016/11/22/facebook-censor-china/#PGexF... and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19121882).

This forum may well be next.

Genuinely curios, since I believe Reddit is banned in China, so can't Reddit counter this by simply blocking traffic from China?

Or, perhaps Reddit doesn't think this is a problem, or at least not a problem they want to tackle given their recent funding from Tencent.

That's not really how the internet works, because of VPNs.

I feel like this is one of those ideas that sounds good to Chinese, in China, but will inevitably produce backlash and the opposite reaction in the West.

> I feel like this is one of those ideas that sounds good to Chinese, in China, but will inevitably produce backlash and the opposite reaction in the West.

IIRC, in both China and Russia, state-actor trolling was perfected domestically control the local population before they started to export it.

The problem is,the ideas of the Chinese people are actually backlash against the Western hostility. Why do the Chinese people care about backlash when the Westerners don't care about it at all?

Are the Chinese people less equal than the Westerners because their government is more dictating?

Here I am in my nice and warm bed made by HN, where n00bs are marked green, and unless you're active you can't down vote. This, coupled with consistent moderation, HN means that we don't see this noise. It seems such a simple solution to vitriolic trolling. (Thanks guys!)

It'd be interesting though, to see the metrics of signups and their origin to see if they even bother here...

This idea of a world with chinese and russian trolls with no mention of other state actors seems to be missing a rather big part of the picture.

Is anyone aware of tools/research on instrumentation of such activity on social media? I don't mean text mining or semantic analysis of trolly content but the patterns of activity and interaction. At present I use directed graphs with k-means type clustering/community detection algorithms but that can lead to difficulty seeing the forest for the trees.

Imagine, for example, that Hacker News members were grouped in different teams - red, greeen, yellow, and blue - and that the teams competed to dominate discussion threads and grow their own discussions as semantic 'territory'. Imagine further that you had to represent this without any text, using only the time, post size, and threading structure, but with prior knowledge or manual curation of team membership. I'm particularly interested in how a thread could be represented spatially, but not as a time series (ie viewing progress over time would require animation). It's easy to visualize the ebb and flow of territorial conflict on a geographic map, with armies crossing borders and territories expanding or shrinking over time, but how to do that for emergent 'territory' like the expanding and branching threads of a busy discussion topic? I sometimes imagine it like a growing plant or tree with different colored leaves to represent competing affiliations, but there are surely better approaches.

tl;dr how can you visualize evolving discussion threads without using text?

I think this is an interesting subject, but I would remind everyone of Hacker News' excellent discussion policies on this subject: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Post anything even remotely critical of the chinese government and your reddit post will be downvoted and spammed with whataboutism and FUD.

I posted a comment about the forced labor camps of Muslims in china and the same username replied two different times arguing two different things. In one reply the Muslims in these camps were terrorist and had to be arrested for the protection of the chinese civilians and in the other reply saying they're not labor camps they're trade schools to help them get jobs.

Somewhat silly question: can we build a firewall around china from the outside?

yes, geo ip ranges can accomplish close to this

But they already use VPN to hop over their own firewall. Double firewall will not change a thing.

I can spoof my address in 1 second. Are you saying that Chinese hackers and trolls cannot do the same?

"close to this"

According to this article and comments here I should be getting paid simply for disagreeing with the pro-USA nonsense everywhere. Where do I apply?

We need authorship attribution plugins for Firefox/Chrome. Identify propaganda and submarine advertisements/shilling.

You should have a look at https://www.reddit.com/r/Sino/ it reminds me of a communist times I was living years ago.

Fascinating. Almost every comment is either outrage or blaming Western media perception of China.

Are these real? Professional trolls? Probably a bit of both? Can we even tell them apart?

I guess we just to be skeptical of everything you read online, but damn is it exhausting. Easier to just cut off these data streams and just live life ignorant. "ignorance is bliss"

I saw here a pretty good pattern of anytime a story about Uyghurs was posted there was a post or two about: "I just traveled through there and it's nothing like the article says, it's quite peaceful."

There were even some hilariously worded posts about how: "At least unlike the US I don't have to wear my backpack on the front for fear of thieves." That almost seemed like the height of communist era type poster propaganda...

That kinda came in went pretty quickly.

its funny for buzzfeed to complain about trolls or really anything on the internet,them being a perfect example of internet cancer


I responded to your other post about that: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19403358.

Please stop this now. It breaks several of the site guidelines.


Chinese/political Trolls have been on Reddit forever. I noticed it in full force when Obama was running for president.

But, it only seems to matter now because Trump. I still wonder if Hillary would have won the presidency, if all of this foreign meddling with our elections would have been swept under the carpet.

Foreign meddling happens every single time. It's normal in any election.

This time, since Trump won he won not because of people voting for him, but because of Russian trolls.

It's just that the other side doesn't want to admit defeat.

This may be a silly, but I have been kicking around this idea of creating a politics based lobste.rs of sorts; the users would need to go through a vetting process to be able to contribute. Possibly even crazier; users would need to go through some further vetting process to discuss a particular topic. Maybe this is already solve-able via Reddit, but i would prefer it to be off reddit. Any thoughts? There seems to be no place for very well informed and educated individuals to discuss politics that is publicly accessible imo and something like this could address that.

Can we really trust BuzzFeed with any kind of reporting?

This might or might not be true, but the fact that reality mirrors what BuzzFeed says is purely coincidental.

You mean can we trust the Pulitzer Prize winning staff of Buzzfeed News or can we trust the two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist organization Buzzfeed News?

Because I don't know if you know this, but many members of the staff of Buzzfeed News have won Pulitzer Prizes and the organization was a finalist in both 2017 and 2018. The accuracy of their reporting is no more suspect than any other well-respected media organization.

Yes. That actually makes me wonder about the Pulitzer Prize, if what you're saying is true.

From https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/buzzfeed/: "overall, we rate Buzzfeed Left-Center Biased due to story selection that tends to favor the left and Mixed for factual reporting based on poor sourcing and a few failed fact checks.".

They're also selling their own brand of kitchenware if you're not aware of it (see https://www.buzzfeed.com/samanthawieder/tasty-kitchenware-wa...), which is a perfect indication that not even them believe their journalism will get them anywhere.

They're a biased, failing enterprise that spins news to cause outrage and get a few clicks.

Someone at BuzzFeed won a Pulitzer Prize..? That doesn't mean that BuzzFeed's journalists don't generally spend the whole day writing listicles or biased articles to try to avoid bankruptcy.

The author--Jane Lytvynenko--has bright red hair and might identify herself with news reporter, but has no track record and not even a LinkedIn profile. Her tweets read like "Hello happy Thursday here's a selection of memes from a pro-Bernier channel plz enjoy". I mean, "plz"? Give me a break.

>The author--Jane Lytvynenko--has bright red hair and might identify herself with news reporter,

Is this some kind of ad-hominem attack? I don't see how it is necessary.

It's not, I'm just saying that journalists usually look decent to inspire trust, while she has bright red hair and uses "plz" instead of "please" in her tweets.

And I reiterate that you are using ad-hominem and no-true-scotsman attacks to discredit someone instead of using their words or actions. Btw her hair looks a pretty normal shade of red/brown in all but one google image search result...

This article is purely innuendo and quotes from reddit posts that insist that there is an army of Chinese trolls specifically arguing against things that they are personally opinionated about. This article contains no actual information or evidence about what people in China may or may not be actually doing.

I don't mean to imply that there are any fewer than 50 people being paid by the Chinese government to post on English-language websites full time, but Reddit is a cesspool of paid posters.

It's just a particularly US/Western neo-cold war paranoia that it's somehow mostly or even largely the Chinese and Russian governments. The evidence usually cited is that somebody is agreeing with the Chinese or Russian government, and since no one could possibly agree with the Russian or Chinese government Q.E.D.. For Russia, it doesn't even matter whether the poster agrees with the Russian government, because what the Russian government wants to do is foment strife and confusion in order to weaken the West, therefore both sides must be Russian.

I also don't mean to imply that there any fewer than 50 people being paid by the Russian government to post on English-language websites full time.

I'd just put those into perspective by trying to imagine the number of people employed by the governments of English-speaking countries to post on English-language websites full time; then add the number of full-time posting shills from private companies, including that person about 3 cubes down from you.

China's published propaganda is improving, though; they're starting to get that Anglo-American reasonable liberal tone down. That sometimes make me think that a lot of posters who are pounced on for being Chinese shills are just Chinese people expressing Chinese opinions, but without the trained skill of wrapping them in some circular argument about practicality and respect.

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