Manipulation 101: The ultimate Art of Trolling

Monday woke us up with a massive news story on Russian coastguard vessels ramming and shooting at Ukrainian boats before capturing them and 24 sailors on board. The issue itself is more complicated than it is possible to grasp in a short news article or a blog post. What is more interesting, is the video released by the Russian side and shared by the Ukrainian Interior minister of the collision.

The video itself looks like one big joke if taken out of context and without knowing, that the sea is considered to be international waters where both Ukrainian and Russian ships are legally allowed to move. The video was filmed from a Russian coastguard vessel that rammed at least double the size Ukrainian boat, filming the moment of collision. It looks like one of those video games, where you have to ram or crash smaller battleships/ cars/ bubbles/anything to get to a higher level. Just as if somebody said – let’s ram that ship, it won’t survive the collision, but isn’t it fun? Also, mocking the other side and smaller ship all the way, encouraging and getting heated over the hitting or missing the ship. Pure comedy. (Read that with ironical voice, please)

On the other hand, the act itself is a clear provocation, screaming for reaction, military – from Ukraine’s side, and political or diplomatic from the rest of the world. It’s a clear statement, that Russian marines can do whatever they please and there is no way of stopping it. And finally, it is all just to make people frustrated, angry, divided, just for laughs. 

Provoking frustration over a minor thing, mocking and straight-forward bullying are the core features of the Art of Trolling.

“I once sent a dozen of my friends a telegram saying ‘flee at once – all is discovered.’ They all left town immediately.” – Mark Twain

Trolling was always part of the society, but instead of a mean way of making people frustrated and angry, it was more light pranking and joking with people, making them feel a bit silly but not in a mean way. Trolling culture as we know it developed with the rise of vast fields of internet and different chat and conversation channels – Reddit, 9gag, different forums. What first started as “defence mechanism against stupidity” using irony and sarcasm, has grown to become mean, rude and ill-willing tool for fostering the culture of anger, divide and clash between different opinions, in the worst possible ways.

Now the so-called army of trolls spread on all possible platforms, in form of massive numbers of fake accounts, used only to make people angry on the internet, in order to spread the anger to the real world. Invading conversations, usually even not in their native language, using extremely bad Google Translated sentences but simply exploiting the emotionality of any dividing topic. And everything is just for laughs. And control.

Image result for troll army
Credit @ Vaaju.com

The Internet has become so powerful and uncontrollable, that anything can become possible – even dividing and polarising people over issues that should not even be polarising – like child abuse, violence, war, Nazism, Communism, racism, immigration, you name it. Because of how much empowerment Social Media at large gives to people who would not openly raise their opinion in public sphere, and especially misinformed part of society, become a key source for the trolls to stir the melting pot to infinity. 

But can it be considered an actual act of warfare?

The answer is not that simple. I will not repeat the same stories I told in the rest of the blog on manipulating the narrative and history, that has already been discussed. Trolling, instead of staying an integral part of comedic side of the internet culture, has been used as a tool to censor and silence any voice of liberal reason, sponsored by alien and not very friendly powers. 

The disruption of constructive discussion and straight harassment of anyone who speaks up differently bars people from voicing their opinions from fear of being attacked by trolls, disguised as their friends or friends of their friends, who can get access to their content. It’s even easier on Twitter, when all content is public and accessible – following certain hashtags or people, trolls can get access to any conversation and completely ruin it. It is less about the content of the messages they use, as any reasonable person can see how plain stupid they are, with terrible grammar and no basis, but reading those attacks over and over again leaves one violated by one’s own argument – thus stopping for voicing reasonable and, in most cases, educated opinion. 

Inducing self-censorship, shutting down opinions and conversations, spreading hatred, harassment and simply disrupting society are seen as an integral part of psychological warfare. The main difference from the types of warfare that were experienced during previous conflicts is that there are no ways of stopping or combatting it on governmental level – it is impossible to prove where the trolls are coming from, how are they operating and who is sponsoring them – it is all speculation with strong intuition rather factual information. The Wild West of the Internet has turned against itself.

Even though there are efforts put into fighting the trollfareit is usually like fighting the Lernaean Hydra, where one gets banned, 5 others will take its place. And it is spreading to the real world, as it can be seen in the latest attack against Ukraine.

In addition to the actual physical attack, there were articles released in Kremlin amplifiers about how Ukraine has occupied the Southern Russian lands without any consent or reasonable explanation. It is the ultimate act of trolling in combination with war. 

It is scary to think about that the next war if it will happen, will not be noticed because we will never have the real information or we will not be able to share it because of massive pour down of aggressive trolls coming reasonable voice’s way. 

Until then, stay awake,

and keep away from trolls.

Cartoon credits @ Skeptical Raptor

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