Lessons I learned Battling, And Beating, Online Trolls

You’ve probably heard people say, Don’t feed the Trolls! This was very good advice…5 years ago. Trolls have evolved. They’re very hungry. They don’t care if you’re offering snacks because you’re the food whether you like it or not. When they attack, they act like wolves.

Wolves stalk large prey, just like trolls, who go after anyone with influence, a voice. Once an online gang of trolls has located a target, they begin cyberstalking. They research a target using social media and other public data, and use that information to mount their aggressive attacks. The pack stays out of sight until it’s time to launch a surprise attack.

World War II history buffs are probably familiar with the term “wolfpack tactic”. The wolfpack tactic, according to the Smithsonian, was made famous by Admiral Karl Donitz, Hitler’s mastermind of submariners. His strategy: to send teams of U-boats against the convoys of ships heading from Canada to Britain, cut maritime lifelines, and starve the enemy into defeat.

According to History Online, so successful were the wolfpack operations that Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, was once heard to exclaim that “…the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” A wolfpack attack.

Just as the U-boats wreaked havoc in the North Atlantic, wolfpacks of trolls create havoc against anyone they want to discredit. The trolls use social media channels to divide us and help spread their misinformation and lies. The tactics are also used to silence people to hide information.

Google “troll farm” and you’ll find a lot of information connected to Russia and our last presidential campaign. But trolls aren’t just Russians. Trolls come from China too. Trolls live in many different countries, including America.

American, Russian, or Chinese, they all have one thing in common: The marketing skills of Nazi Germany. “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Joseph Goebbels.

There’s a very specific script that gets repeated by a pack of online wolves. Specific cards are played to shut down a conversation or to discredit a target. Their favorite cards are labels like mentally ill, liar, conspiracy theorist, racist. When one of those cards doesn’t work, a new card is quickly played and the attack starts again. Some attacks will go on for days.

You know you’re winning, kind of, when the bully card gets played. When trolls accuse you of being a bully, that’s your cue to start taking screenshots of everything (if you weren’t already taking screenshots) because next up is the harassment card. Doesn’t matter if THEY’RE the ones who are harassing you; they’ll delete the accusation so that it appears that you’re the only one talking.

If the bully card doesn’t work, you’ll see something that might be hard for a lot of you to believe is an actual card, but I’ve seen it follow the bully card too many times to believe it’s not a move. That is the dead person card. Someone will throw in a dead baby or a dead mother to create a distraction. You’ve heard of sleeper cells, right? As soon as the dead person card is played watch how quickly an aggressive pack of wolves turn into little kittens to console a stranger.

Depending on how you respond to the kittens, you’ll either see the peace card played or your reaction to anything that is said after the dead person card is played will become a separate post. It will sound something like this: My mother just died and this is how *the target* reacted.” That will trigger a new attack by the same pack who will throw in both the mental card and the bully card at the same time.

The Peace card gets played on social media posts that contain information wolves are desperate to make disappear. Wolves wearing red capes or maybe your grandmother’s clothes often trail a ferocious pack, but these wolves howl about happiness and positivity and beg for posts to be deleted due to all the negativity created by the pack attack. These are tricky wolves.

It’s an exhausting game. But that’s how they win.

A single wolf rarely crosses the line. They get right up against it. They know their legal rights, which is why it’s difficult to get the wolves banned from social media platforms. Damage is done as a collective group. You’ll have to track the pack to collect evidence to prove they work together. That takes time. If a lone wolf does cross the line, the evidence will disappear quickly which is why it’s imperative to be quick with your screenshots.

Repetition is key to a social media wolfpack attack. That’s why you’ll often see people saying the same thing, playing the same cards, over and over. When you see what looks like hundreds of real people repeating the same thing on social media, it begins to look real and that’s when real people begin to share the lies making the lies look even more real.

This doesn’t just happen in politics. Businesses use the same tactics to silence critics. You may spot small packs of wolves in private support groups on Facebook and even on Nextdoor.com policing who says what in your neighborhood. Anyone can hire “marketing researchers” to research a target to protect a brand. It’s a business. Big Business. It works.

That’s why you must always respect a troll, even if they don’t sound very smart at first. Trolls will do anything and say anything to take down a target, including pretending to be someone they’re not just so they can make you react to something, anything, and then use it against you. Which is why you should hold off on accepting new friend requests during or after an attack until the dust settles.

Sometimes trolls will defend you during an attack to gain your confidence and learn more about you. They’ll research you and say things they know you’ll like to hear just so they can get personal information they can take out of context to use against you. Trolls often flatter a target to get the target to let their guard down and share misinformation just so they can play the liar card later.

Gofundme accounts go hand in hand with the liar card. Money is often used against a Target to create distrust. So is skin color. Targets are often accused of getting big donations from Gofundme accounts that don’t even exist. The goal is to divide and conquer using wealth, class, skin color, anything really.

What can you do to stop it? Know there’s a game and learn how it’s played so you can spot it when it happens. When you know how it’s played, you’re less likely to get emotional and react by spreading misinformation before checking the facts.

THE RULES

  1. Respect the troll. Trolls are tricky. Just because you see the word God or Jesus mentioned on someone’s bio doesn’t mean they actually believe in God or Jesus. I was trolled by a group connected to a website that’s known to be associated with white nationalists and almost every troll had the word Jesus on their bio. They want you to believe that theybelieve in God or Jesus.
  2. Stay calm. They win when people react. They win when people curse or yell names. They win when people attack without checking facts. It’s easy to stay calm when you recognize the game.
  3. Pay attention to what they don’t say. Don’t react to their accusations. Never answer their questions. Ask questions. Trolls never answer questions, which is why it’s important to ask very specific and simple questions. They can’t go off script. When you ask simple questions the script will start to appear more like a script. It will be obvious to anyone paying attention there’s something off.
  4. Ask questions: It’s harder to twist questions into a lie. It’s hard to accuse someone of bullying or harassment if they only ask questions. You can’t call someone hysterical or a liar or ask them if they’re off their meds if you’re calmly asking questions.
  5. Don’t take short cuts. Everything you say will be taken out of context so don’t make it easy for them by doing what they do. Be repetitive with your questions and recap conversations so everyone is clear that they’re lying. Always use full names instead of he or she. Hashtags can help stay on topic. Number your posts if you’re creating a thread so if they grab one to twist into a lie it’s obvious by the hashtag or the number taken out of context. It’s easier to prove.
  6. Don’t Delete: When you delete something you shared on social media, their lies can become the truth because it’s your word against a hundred or more people if they doctor the post and share it somewhere to start an attack.
  7. Document everything: Screenshot everything. When something is taken out of context you want to be able to share what really happened.
  8. Look at their social media. Do they follow anyone who isn’t verified? Do they only retweet what other people say? Red flags. If you don’t see anything personal it’s a BIG RED FLAG. Compare friend lists. Trolls often follow each other so you’ll see the same names on their friend lists.

Screenshot below: Advice for trolls from a professional troll in a hate group on Reddit.

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