Don't let trolls hijack conversations.
"Refuse to play their game, and insist on a different one entirely—an approach that also helped counter subcultural trolling. George Lakoff suggests reframe the discussion away from what the Trumpists want you to talk about and toward the deeper truths buried within the stories." - Wired
"It is a deliberate strategy. Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. summarized it as flood the zone with shit.” - VOX
Learn to spot these trolling tactics and how to best respond - adapted from the guide EU Vs Disinfo.
- S: Strawmen: Attack views or ideas, never expressed by the target.
- W: Whataboutism: Deflect the discussion away from the subject.
- A: Attack: Use brutal language to discourage the opposition.
- M: Mockery: Use sarcasm to belittle the opposition.
- P: Provocations: A false flag operations
- E: Exhaust: Drown the opposition in details and technicalities
- D: Denial: Flatly deny any evidence
Attack views or ideas, never expressed by the target. The straw man is a verbal where the troll attacks views or ideas never expressed by the opponent. For example the straw man could be “liberalism”. A vague, unpleasantly-sounding label that can be glued on any form of dissent.
Antidote to Strawmen: Stay on track! Refuse to take the bait! Point out what was really said and continue talking about the core issue.
"The Strawman fallacy seems to be one of Trump’s favorite attacks, and he has created a stockpile of them. Some examples of these against the “sleepy” and “stupid” Joe Biden come from his Florida rally just yesterday. Trump stated that Biden “had a plan to eliminate U.S. borders.” Biden however, is only proposing a liberalization of immigration policy, not seeking to get rid of the borders themselves.
He also stated that Biden would “outlaw the private health insurance plans of over 180 million Americans who love those plans.” However, Biden has never even suggested such a thing. He has been insisting under his new plan that people would be able to have the option of choosing private insurance; he merely stated that the public would have the ability to enroll in a Medicare-like government insurance plan with no pressure whatsoever." - LC Spartan
Trolls deflect attention by responding to an accusation by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue. The attacked party is forced into a defensive position and the troll claims moral high ground.
“Not only does it help to deflect your original argument but it also throws you off balance. You’re expecting to be in a civilized argument that doesn’t use cheap tricks like that. You are playing chess and your opponent — while making a lousy move just punches you on the nose", says Alexey Kovalev, an independent Russian journalist - WaPo. Antidote to whataboutism: stay on track, and insist on continuing debate on the core issue.
- “Putin’s a killer? There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?” Trump.
- "Rioters attacked the Capitol on Jan 6th" "Well, what about the ANTIFA protestors" - Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
The goal of an attack is to discourage the opposition from continuing the conversation. Overblown language and exaggerated statements are standard practice. It uses brutal language to discourage the opposition. Democratic discourse involves fair play between participants and refrains from ridicule, dehumanization and abuse. Trolls ignore that and resort to attacks to silence their opponent. Antidote to Attack: Do not respond in anger or go on the defensive, but instead to stick to the real topic.
Example: Tucker Carlson attacks teachers for being concerned about safe working conditions during a pandemic. “They would like less work, no accountability and much more pay” - Media Matters
Use sarcasm to belittle the opposition. Trolls weaponize humor with sarcasm and exaggerations. They use ridicule and sarcasm to defame and belittle. Their satire sites poke fun at various minorities, eagerly joking about gay rights and women’s rights. The joke is not supposed to convey factual information. It’s a joke! Don’t you guys have humor? Do you have to be so politically correct all the time? Antidote to Mockery: Endure it while not being diverted from the core issues.
Example: Parkland student David Hogg, 17, took aim at Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show after the conservative pundit mocked a teenage survivor of the Florida school massacre on Twitter. Hogg took aim at Ingraham’s advertisers after she taunted him on Twitter, accusing him of whining about being rejected by four colleges to which he had applied. - The Guardian
A provocation is an operation performed by the opposition, targeting their own, in order to justify an attack. Trolls spend much of their time making up would be “provocations” before they even take place. They devise a hoax – or manipulate the facts surrounding a real event – in order to either discredit, embarrass, redirect blame, or contain the fallout from a botched operation.
"Far-right media trumpet conspiracy theory that the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings were “false flag” operations. Shortly after the shooting in Buffalo, Arizona Republican state Sen. Wendy Rogers posted on the white nationalist-affiliated social media site Gab that the shooting was conducted by federal agents, rather than an 18-year-old racist." - Media Matters
Drown the opposition in details and technicalities. The best way a military plane can defend itself is by popping out bursts of multiple false heat targets. Trolls use a similar technique to confuse the issue and exhaust the opposition. Antidote: Ignore the distractions, stick to the topic.
An efficient way of destroying a debate is to endlessly bring forward technical details, peripheral elements of earlier statements and simply put effort in to avoid the core issue. The term “sea-lioning” appeared in a comic 2014 where a sea lion with exaggeratedly polite manners intrudes into a conversation, demanding explanations to an earlier statement. The point of this device is to achieve a position as a persistent hunter for the truth.
Flatly deny any evidence. Denials are trolls’ favorite deflective method.“There is no proof” means “no proof we accept”. Any evidence, not in line with the troll’s narratives, do not exist. Any individual, NGO or authority, forwarding data that raises questions about the troll’s accountability or links it to crimes, is biased and the evidence has no value. Antidote: Stick to the facts and point out the credibility of the information source.
- July 19, 2015: Trump says John McCain is not a war hero
- Feb. 28, 2016: "I don’t know anything about David Duke"
- May 4, 2016: Suggesting that Cruz’s ‘father was with Lee Harvey Oswald’
EU vs DisInfo
Much of the information in this blog is abstracted from EUvsDisinfo, a project of the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force. EUvsDisinfo was established in 2015 to increase public awareness and understanding of the Kremlin’s disinformation operations, and to help citizens in Europe and beyond develop resistance to digital information and media manipulation.
Takeaway: Don't be out-played. Learn to spot and counter the trolling tricks.
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