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Army of trolls

Cong Corrales .

I ADMIT I was overwhelmed by how troll farms and their handlers took social media platforms in the 2016 national elections by storm. It was anything short of “shock and awe.” They dominated discussion boards, bullied thought leaders and mainstream news media into virtual silence, at least for a while.

But like my friends and colleagues, I was unprepared then. I didn’t know that there were people who would go to any lengths just so their principal would win. I didn’t know they would co-opt and sully free speech on the Internet. I admit I was naive.

With the mid-term elections just around the corner, we can be sure trolls will come out of the woodwork and go into hyperdrive again as they are wont to do. Even though its main handler has yet to come out (pun intended), we need to be ready for the expected coming onslaught of trolls in our social media accounts.

So, for those of you who have been hiding under a rock, this is how these vile creatures operate on social media platforms.

Trolls and their handlers employ a two-pronged approach against critical discussions — stifling dissent through fear and scripted messaging through fake news and black propaganda.

They stifle dissent through fear and intimidation. It got to a point where people were afraid to register their critical observations lest they would be the subject of a coordinated troll attack and be branded “delawan,” “adik” or terrorist protector. Obviously, there are people who have been exempt of this fear. Some of my colleague-friends fought toe-to-toe with these trolls. Still, a significant number of them just resigned not to engage the trolls.

They drown out public discussions with their slew of ad hominems, non-sequiturs, and other fallacious arguments that don’t have Latin names.

You may be tempted to dismiss these trolls as a bunch of uncouth and unloved creatures, most of them may well be but that’s not the point. Never make the mistake of underestimating these trolls. If there’s anything these trolls have been doing, it is anything but disorganized and uncalibrated.

My friend BenCyrus Ellorin has encapsulated their modus operandi on his wall quite brilliantly.

Step 1. Trolls would populate Cagayan de Oro social media groups–they have already begun. A case in point was when a Facebook user suddenly engaged my sarcastic comment on a thread at Bantay Kagay-an Facebook group.

I got this troll’s panty in a twist because I like the critical thinking La Viña brother over its principal. For context, this troll asked me to prove that I’m a real “real” Kagay-anon because it took my sarcastic quip as questioning the lineage of its principal in Cagayan de Oro.

I replied that I didn’t have to validate my lineage to something that is called a “Flick-g Spot.” It has since changed its handle to “Taga CDO Ka.”

When I first checked out the troll’s account, I found that it joined Facebook on Oct. 7, 2018. However, when I checked it again yesterday, it somehow turned the social media clock and now appears to have joined Facebook in July of 2015. It has 119 friends, all of whom (I should say “which”) have dubious names and equally suspicious profile photos.

Of the 12 pages it “liked,” eight were Cagayan de Oro-based and one page of a government official, Pompee La Viña.

Although I have responded to his attacks about me being an “impostor Kagay-anon,” it has nevertheless used my account as click-bait to create online noise.

Step 2. These trolls will create “click-bait” posts to generate traffic. This will then lead to the propagation of fake news.

So, despite my knowledge of trolls, I admit I fell right into its trap. I am now its click-bait to generate traffic since I am a legit netizen of Facebook with real people as friends. As my friends react to his ridiculous post on my thread in the group, this legitimizes its account, and by extension its dubious network of friends.

This troll can then start propagating fake news on the different Facebook groups of Cagayan de Oro City. Aside from Bantay Kagay-an, Taga CDO Ka has now joined Ang Baruganan Region 10, Ang Baruganan Philippines, and Iligan City “a walk to be remembered” v1.

According to Freedom House, the Philippines is among the other 30 countries across the globe that has deployed “manipulation to distort online information” (read: fake news).

These trolls don’t operate out of loyalty or dedication to their principals. Troll farms are big business.

A study by Chay Hofileña entitled “Fake accounts and manufactured reality on social media” shows these trolls are getting paid.

“In one page for commercial purposes, for example, repeated call-outs were made for ‘business partners’ who were required in 2015 to spend three to five hours daily on Facebook. Payment was supposed to range conservatively from P1,000 a day to P10,000 a month, with training provided,” Hofileña’s study reads in part.

There are even reports that some trolls even get paid as much as P2,000 to P3,000 a day just to copy-paste content. As Rappler has uncovered recently, trolls have uniform posts or comments on social media platforms.

“Different versions of what is supposed to be the one true fact can be manufactured, creating confusion and deep-seated schisms among groups who get to believe that their version of the truth is what is real and correct,” Hofileña’s study further reads.

So, how do we combat these trolls and their brand of twisted reality?

  • Be critical with every post on social media. Use Google to vet, validate, and corroborate what is being asserted in a post or comment.
  • Expose and oppose fake accounts, trolls, and bots. Bots are bits of code designed to mimic human users. They sound high-tech but believe me when I say these have been deployed in the country’s social media platforms as early as 2014.
  • Actively reclaim your social media space by using apps that automatically label fake news and fake news websites as such. Let me plug the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines’ award-winning “fakeblok.”

Fakeblok is an extension app for Google Chrome web browsers and calls your attention when links from websites that tend to post fake news appear on your Facebook newsfeed. The app uses the database by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Again, let us not fall for fake news and reclaim our social media space. Good day and good luck, Kagay-an.

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