How To Spot A Twitter Troll 400


UPDATE: GCHQ are currently advertising to recruit more trolls to carry out precisely the activity I outline here. As their advertisement puts it:

We are looking to recruit individuals who can contribute to a step change in the UK’s ability to project cyber power against our adversaries, in order to keep the UK safe. You will be at the forefront of the nation’s covert online capability. We want people who can help support and run operations that disrupt and degrade our adversaries’ ability to do us harm, and contest malign activity in cyber space.

I do hope this helps cut through the cognitive dissonance for those of you who found it difficult to come to terms with the truth of the below.

ORIGINAL POST

It is a matter of simple fact that the British government employs a very large number of people whose full time job is to influence the political narrative on social media. The 77th Brigade of the British Army, the Integrity Initiative, MI5 and MI6 and GCHQ all run major programmes of covert online propaganda. These information warriors operate on twitter, facebook, and in comments sections across the internet.

I have long been fascinated by the disconnect by which people, who do know and understand that the security services employ tens of thousands of people and have budgets of billions, nevertheless find it hard to accept that they may come personally into contact with their operations. Therefore when I state that the security services infiltrate groups including environmentalists and the SNP, and were involved in the Skripal story in ways not public, there is a peculiar desire among people to reject it as it is uncomfortable. Equally while people do know the security services are committing huge sums to social media influencing, to point out any of its instances brings derisive shouts of “conspiracy theory”.

It was when I was pointing out the many omissions and inconsistencies in the official version of events surrounding the Skripals, that I first came under sustained attack from accounts on twitter, often making short and very sarcastic comments. I confess for a while this did actually get me down. I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with me, but I find it depressing to encounter unreasonably closed minds.

But in quite short order I started to note a few defining characteristics of the scores of accounts from which I was being attacked. These are false accounts, but they are trolls not bots. There are people from the 77th Brigade, GCHQ or other agencies sitting behind a desk and running scores of fake accounts each. As there is a real human being behind them, unlike bots, these trolls can reply if challenged and attempt to promote a real identity. But there are a number of key giveaways:

1) Many times more “follows” than “followers”.

In establishing a fake identity, the first step they take is to follow other twitter accounts. This is because a percentage of twitter users will automatically follow you back, so if you quickly follow 500 people you will likely get 100 “followers” back immediately. That appears to establish a real identity with followers. There are some interesting consequences of this technique. These troll accounts remarkably often follow sports betting twitter accounts, for example – because those accounts automatically follow back.

2) A tweet record consisting almost entirely of retweets.

This is the most important single giveaway. If you select “tweets” under the account, these accounts have zero original content. Their timeline consists of retweets of pro-Establishment content, leavened with retweets of the single characteristic that was chosen to establish a “character” – eg “Everton supporter”, “gym fanatic”. They never initiate a topic or posit an original thought, but work entirely in “retweet” or “reply” mode.

3) Follow and troll

Accounts which had nothing in common with me in terms of interests or political views, would suddenly decide to post a brief highly disparaging or ridiculing comment, and always simultaneously would start following me. The motivation of somebody who opens with rudeness yet simultaneously starts following is plainly aggressive – and not usual behaviour.

4) No convincing tweet history

A great many of these accounts are very newly minted at the time of first propaganda use. Generally, even those routine retweets are few and far between. Occasionally the troll twitter account claims to be longstanding – dating from 2009 or 2010 – but there is no evidence of actual (re)tweets going back more than a couple of years. This either suggests wholesale sleeper accounts were established, or twitter is actively involved in helping produce fake ones.

5) Lack of a normal “cluster” of followers

On most real people you can look through their followers and spot a little cluster of family, friends or workmates. The trolls don’t have normal roots.

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How normal is this five point profile? Well, I looked through 200 entirely random twitter accounts and found 9 that would fit this profile – 4.5%. Yet surveying the threads from my own tweets, over 75% of the replies which I would characterise as hostile come from accounts that fit this profile. By which I mean meeting all five points. This analysis meets the scientific criterion of being replicable. You can test those figures for yourselves by looking through twitter. That is plain evidence these unusual profiles are being deliberately deployed – and highly probably deliberately created – for hostile intent.

I had spotted the giveaway profile of those attacking me a year ago, and had been mulling over posting on it. What determined me to do so was clicking on the “Mark Field” twitter trend following his physical attack on the female climate change activist. I was astonished by the sheer volume of tweets defending Mark Field. Clicking on them, I started to realise that what I was seeing was a massive deployment of twitter troll accounts all precisely following the profile I have outlined. They were putting out a unified message that the lady may have been an armed terrorist and that Field should be praised for his resolute, even heroic, action.

So here is the fun bit, some examples you can look at. I don’t claim these are all trolls. Some of these may be real identities who just happen to match the twitter troll profile. They may follow many times more people than they have followers simply because they have deeply repulsive personalities or nothing interesting to say. But remember we are talking about trolls not bots, so there is a human multiple account operative to all of the actual security service troll accounts, whose job it is to respond and attempt to portray a real existence. Unlike bots, if challenged, troll accounts will answer.

Look out yourself for troll accounts with these characteristics on twitter in future. Exposure is the simple way to nullify the vast state propaganda programmes on social media.

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400 thoughts on “How To Spot A Twitter Troll

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  • Baron

    The best way to combat the trolls, bots and other vermin, Craig, is to leave the platforms, stick to your blog, there you can have greater degree of control block IP addresses that are not real people or pretend to be many people but originate from the same IP address.

    • Ros Thorpe

      The blog is more interesting than a small sound bite and Craig is good at a longer more considered piece. I hate twitter. It’s a lazy kind of conversation.

      • Ian

        Twitter, if you actually knew it, is in fact a very useful research and networking tool. Of course there are trolls, but depending on your field of interest, they only infest the political sphere, and even then there are some impressive rebuttals, explanations and links. The brevity is its strength, longer conversations can be had elsewhere.
        Far, far more insidious is Facebook and Google, whose data collection is beyond any Orwellian scenario. The opaque and unaccountable nature of what they do is unregulated, and is absolutely a godsend for manipulative agencies. You got a glimpse in Cambridge Analytica, the Bannon, Mercer and other dark money connections, but it was merely a glimpse, and has gone unpunished and brushed aside, by many people who still don’t have a clue how subversive it was. Craig’s list here might be useful for Twitter trolls, but you will not find any such simple guidelines for Facebook and Google trolls, or the armies of them who infest social media forums and comment sections. It is easy to be absolutely opaque and untraceable. Never mind Russia, China is very active, but I haven’t heard any politician whining about them.
        It is far bigger than you think, and typically, the UK government and old media are clueless about its extent and how to combat the spread of disinformation, propaganda and lies. Brexit and Trump are good examples. If you are interested read Shoshona Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism.

        • Northern

          I’m not disputing your analysis of facebook or google’s data collection, I’m just curious who you think’s pulling the strings? If Brexit and Trump were deliberately provoked, who by? By your own post, it’s not the UK government; or are you drawing a distinction between government and the UK’s security services and implying they’re acting on their own agenda? The Russians, the Chinese? How do the mechanics of it actually work? Some Lithuanian bloke takes out some advertising space on facebook and then what, millions of British and American people vote for the wrong candidate? I’m not necessarily arguing with anything you’ve said, I just want to understand your view in more depth.

          I see a lot of people taking a dim view of the proles on here because they’re ‘racist, gullible, stupid’ etc, the implication being that OP isn’t any of those things because they see through the propaganda successfully. The problem I see there being that most of these types of people don’t then want to try to enlighten the masses with their superior knowledge, merely congratulate themselves for being superior to the gullible crowd. Any realistic change in the way the British establishment functions cannot be made without the participation of the working class, so if the votes for Brexit and Trump etc were an aberration of the normal democratic process, do those of you who apparently know better not have some responsibility to explain it in clear terms to us slower folk for the sake of the country? Anything less is just enjoying your own narcissism is it not?

          • Ian

            You have framed it in a prejudicial way, one which I have never claimed. If you are actually interested you could do a lot worse than start with the book I mentioned, a quite compelling account of tech surveillance and manipulation. You could also have a look at this for an overview:
            https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy
            Open Demcracy has been publishing a lot of research on it, as has The Canary occasionally, and academic research at places like the LSE.
            The class distinction you are attempt to make is exactly the kind of impression that the alt-right, who have harnessed the tech in ways that the mainstream don’t understand, want you to have, and propagate. Brexit is full of that kind of false framing, when the majority that leave obtained was largely down to conservative, shire, middle class, elderly voters.
            Tech played a huge part in the financial crisis. Think of this as a development of that tech into the social, psychological and political sphere. It is weird conflation of military and consumer research, in the service of hedge fund billionaires like Mercer, the Koch brothers etc, one which traditional institutions of democracy are ill-equipped to deal with. Which is the point – those who always found democracy inconvenient have found ways of subverting and manipulating it for their benefit. Ignore it at your peril.

    • Jimmeh

      Back in the day (Usenet) the standing advice was to ignore trolls: “Do not feed the troll”. The principle back then was that trolls were attention-seeking narcissists; they’d post articles that were designed to provoke an outraged response from the group regulars, to which they would reply, resulting in an off-topic cascade of articles. This they would consider “success”. If they got no attention, that would amount to failure, and they’d go and find someone else to bother.

      The meaning of the term has now warped; it seems now to refer to a Twitter of Facebook propagandist. Well, I’ve never had either a Twitter account or a Facebook account.

      • N_

        A few quick comments are in order here.

        The Troller’s FAQ from Usenet 1996 is worth reading. (I knew the guy who wrote it.)

        A taster:

        Section 6: Following-Up

        ‘Even if this is true……’

        That represents the perfect response to any troll. The mark of a gullible lunatic that will almost certainly believe anything you tell her […] A total group embarrassment. Award yourself a Troll Gold Star every time you get one!

        Other good responses include, but are not limited to….

        ‘Although this is on-topic…..’
        ‘I disagree….’
        ‘Yes, but…..’
        ‘Can you provide a source for this….’

        Nowadays the world has two leading “troll” armies. The Russian one trains its recruits to count agreement, anger or departure as a successful result.

        Big Pharma by the way was out on Usenet trolling very early.

        “Don’t feed the troll” is still good advice. People shouldn’t worry though if they sometimes don’t follow it. It’s hard to obey it all the time. Just try to follow it at least most of the time.

        • pretzelattack

          and we know there is a russian one how exactly? and that aren’t u.s. and u.k. troll armies how exactly? or are you counting the us/uk combo as one?

  • Northern

    Good to see more information on this subject – did any of your detractors ever respond convincingly? Social media manipulation, and acceptance of it, seems to be par for the course amongst those politically active, but it’s a loony conspiracy to your average person still.

    I would add another giveaway characteristic is a callous, almost enthusiastic disregard for human life when defending the actions of the establishment. Normal people don’t advocate actions and policies that result in the death of innocent people easily. Certain posters in the comments here even display such qualities in spades.

  • Geoffrey

    Craig, very interesting and not so surprising. Do these same twitter trolls or their blog equivalent also post on this blog do you think ?

      • Paul Randall

        Not just yes, but hell yes. Sometimes it seems like there’s more trolls than real people. When the pool of genuinely independent, free-thinking, anti-mainstream idiocy sites are so limited, it’s just logical that a well known establishment thorn like Craig will draw constant trolls trying to knock down his message. The creeps backing these trolls aren’t all idiots- the amount of return on paying some twat a few $’s to muck up sites like this & say Moon of Alabama is outstanding, even if they just clutter things and annoy people.

  • Patsy Millar

    I’m afraid I might skew your figures as I follow quite a few, don’t have all that many followers and do mostly retweeting and replying; very few original tweets. The main reason for this is that I’m not all that au fait with using hash tags etc. I find Twitter useful because not having a TV it is one of my main sources of information ( I don’t trust much of the press in this country either). Because there are often links to articles like your blog for instance I can often go deeper into a subject.

    • craig Post author

      Patsy but presumably you don’t also send rude comments to people and simultaneously follow them? There are plenty of normal people who might meet some of the criteria, but the trolls meet all four and I doubt many innocent people do.

      • IchOdernicht

        Twitter is a toxic platform. Many people go there to have a little fight. In addition to that, you do not contribute to a more loving and friendly environment with your own choice of words directed at anyone who dares to disagree with you.

        People have multiple follows and few followers because they follow famous people or pages which do not follow back.

        Some people simply dislike your content. Them being aggressive might have something to do with you calling people who disagree with you (for example on Iran) “stupid” or other things.

        You have zero evidence for your claim of trolls attacking you. Your admins did something similar to me when I called you out on your Venezuela article, where your main point was that some Guaidó-supporters looked too rich. I attacked you for that, as it is no valid point at all and I also happen to know a few Venezuelans, all of which strongly support Guaidó, who have lost family members to the Maduro regime’s economic incompetence. When I called you out, your admins started editing my posts and tried to connect me to some other random commenters, implying that I was a troll, for the sole reason that these commenters appeared to be german as well (there’s 80 million of us after all). You and your people shouldn’t be too quick with that.

        • WJ

          “who have lost family members to the Maduro regime’s economic incompetence.”

          You mean “who have lost family members to the U.S. Government’s illegal economic war waged against Venezuela.”

          • IchOdernicht

            Until 2019, US-sanctions did not have any significant Impact on the Venezuelan economy. It was Maduro who decided to cut health expenditure in half in 2016. And infant mortality has been on the rise in Venezuela since 2012, predating all sanctions. Source: World Bank Data.

            Sanctions are nothing but a cheap excuse. In fact, the mess is homemade. Venezuelans know that, it’s only ignorant westerners and Maduro’s regime who keep blaming it on the samctions.

          • joel

            Looks like all your regime-change propaganda has been in vain. Condolences to these Venezuelan friends of of yours.

          • Andyoldlabour

            IchOdernicht

            US sanctions on Venezuela started in 2008, supposedly aimed at stopping their funding of terrorism (I wonder where we have heard that before?).
            They have steadily been increased every year since then.
            The US will keep up this economic warfare on Venezuela until the pick the “right leader”.

          • IchOdernicht

            There is no reply button on some comments, so I am going to use this one: No, US sanctions against Venezuela did not start until the end of 2014/15, definetely not in 2008. And then they only concerned very few private individuals. The first sanctions against the Venezuelan government were implemented in August of 2017. The US banned issuing and trading with certain loans with a maturity greater than 90 days to PDVSA and the government of Maduro. But only in the US, so borrowing money virtually everywhere else was easily possible. And it happened, as Maduro borrowed money in China and Russia. Good and medicine were explicitly exemted from these sanctions, so the Venezuelan government could have borrowed money to purchase food and medicine even inside the US. So in short, there was no significant impact on the Venezuelan economy.

            The first sanctions that were actually harmful were the ones implemented in January of this year. They effectively stopped oil exports from Venezuela to the US and fuel imports from the US to Venezuela, leading to two things:

            1) Lack of cash
            2) Fuel shortages

            The impact of those sanctions is quite devastating, but prior sanctions did not have such an impact. The crisis was caused by Chávez and Maduro.

          • Republicofscotland

            Oh give it a rest, Elliot Abrams oversaw the first attempted coup in Venezuela which failed. Abrams was convicted on the Iran-Contra affair.

            Now the known criminal, who Amnesty International claimed had atrocities committed all over South America, hopes that this time his puppet Guiado will succeed, neither he nor the Great Satan look likely to do so. Now that news broke of aid money to Venezuela was spent by the puppet Guiado’s retinue.

            The Great Satan (USA) has a history if keeping its Latin American cousins in turmoil, through puppet leaders, civil unrest, sanctions and sponsored dictators.

        • bevin

          ” I also happen to know a few Venezuelans, all of which strongly support Guaidó, who have lost family members to the Maduro regime’s economic incompetence…”
          Do you define US and Canadian backed sanctions as ‘economic incompetence’ on the government’s part?

          • Doodlebug

            “What you posted is quite literally chavista propaganda”

            Presumably you’re referring to this statement from https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/13405:
            “Libyan leader Muammar al Gaddhafi was overthrown and brutally murdered when he decided to sell oil in euros, and then to replace the euro by introducing a gold dinar currency.”

            Rob Newman’s ‘History of Oil’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIpm_8v80hw) arrives at exactly the same conclusion with respect to the overthrow of Sadam Hussein, who was on the verge of abandoning the petro-dollar in favour of Euros as the fiscal medium for Iraqi oil trading. Was Newman also guilty of ‘chavista propaganda’, do you think, or might the coincidence perhaps be better explained by a common motive on the part of the USA?

        • Deb O'Nair

          “I also happen to know a few Venezuelans, all of which strongly support Guaidó”

          Yes, I’m sure you do but their support of CIA Random Guy is in the minority when it comes to the population of Venezuela, hence the US backed, CIA controlled, regime change attempt falling on it’s arse, even after roping in Richard Branson to sing John Lennon’s Imagine on the border.

          The real reason for CIA Random Guy being ‘selected’ as the ‘legitimate leader’ of Venezuela (even though he has very little support in that country) can be gleaned by reading the article below.

          Hint: “Libyan leader Muammar al Gaddhafi was overthrown and brutally murdered when he decided to sell oil in euros, and then to replace the euro by introducing a gold dinar currency.”
          https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/13405

          • IchOdernicht

            No, Guaidó supporters are the vast majority in Venezuela. Maduro is in power because he and Chávez appointed some 4000 generals to keep the military on their side. Maduro then handed the military PDVSA, so the oil, in 2017 to effectively bribe them. That’s why these people remain loyal to him.

            The people want Maduro gone. There is absolutely no question about that, they have been wanting that for years. What you posted is quite literally chavista propaganda, as venezuelanalysis is funded by the Venezuelan government. It’s state media.

          • Deb O'Nair

            “No, Guaidó supporters are the vast majority in Venezuela.”

            That is complete nonsense, and I’m sure you know it.

            “What you posted is quite literally chavista propaganda, as venezuelanalysis is funded by the Venezuelan government. It’s state media.”

            Says the person spouting blatant CIA bullshit without a hint of irony.

          • Deb O'Nair

            For the record venezuelanalysis is not funded by the Venezuelan government. You are grasping at straws to support the fake statements you make to the point that whatever view or opinion you wish to share has been totally compromised by your ridiculous attitude to basic facts.

          • Doodlebug

            @IchOdernicht

            Please see my question above, which has unfortunately appeared in the wrong place!

        • Paul Barbara

          @ IchOdernicht July 2, 2019 at 16:50
          Probably got at least their share of trolls in a population of 80 million….
          As for knowing ‘…a few Venezuelans, all of which strongly support Guaidó, who have lost family members to the Maduro regime’s economic incompetence….’ I would say you have a very exclusive friend base – most Venezuelans had never heard of the traitor until he was sprung on them by the US, after careful training in ‘Regime Change’ camps.

        • Carnyx

          IchOdernicht

          “No, Guaidó supporters are the vast majority in Venezuela.”

          I think you’ll find that if you ask Cubans in Florida everyone is against Castro, if you asked an exile like Ahmed Chalabi about Iraq you’d find every Iraqi wants America to invade, if you ask Ukrainians in America or Croatians in Australia you’ll find the Nazis weren’t all that bad compared to the Soviets, if you ask American-Iranians you’ll find Iran is begging for US bombers, if you ask Libyans in the UK you’ll find that everything will be okay if Gaddafi goes.

          Expats from states at odds with the “Rules Based International” Empire admitted into western states are often admitted exactly because they oppose their original govts and might turn out useful to our govts regime change plans at some time in the future. This is why the UK became a hotspot for Jihadis from the ME. Whatever they tell you about the situation in their country of origin should be treated with a pinch of salt. You need to contextualise their views according to class and family interests, otherwise they’ll exploit your ignorance.

          Just because you know somebody from a country doesn’t mean their take on whats happening in that country is any more trustworthy and representative than any random person from your own country’s idea of what’s happening there. Especially when it becomes counterfactual and has you believing the majority oppose those parties gaining the most votes in elections.

        • nevermind

          Have you got anything to say about Guaido the US sponsored and funded student? No, ueberhaupt nichts.
          Did you mention the sanctions on Chavez when he nationalised the US oil giants who seem to think they are the only one’s allowed to drain heavy oil from the ground, I must have ueberhoert that point.
          No doubt there is fault on both sides, Guaido was too fast to accept US arms and fake food shipments, whilst Maduro and his family have their hands in the till.
          It would be good to know what your hopes are from the current peace talks which Guaido is ‘pre charging’ with demands that seem u8nobtainable. I mean to go and talk peace with the president and demand that he is removed from the peace talks is not a good start, it looks like boy Guaido is still getting his marching orders from Washington.
          Or have Berlins strategists, far too fast to jump on the Trump/Guaido bandwagon, made a colossal error in supporting Trumps calculated moneymaking scenario’s?
          If you do have friends who feel the increasing trade sanctions and repressive measures applied to oust Russian imput, they now own three oil fields, then they will find no Independent leader in Guaido. With him in power the drain of Venezuela’s resources, not just oil, will continue to swell the pockets of US robber merchants.

          That you comments have been moderated out is not a judgement or troll ID, its very likely a human mistake. Immer langsam mit den jungen Hunden.

        • Twostime

          All of those lost in ancient comments be aware, this thread from the some guy supporter for a Venezuelan coup is a complete waste of your life… move further down to save a few moments of your life ; the irony hurts. trying to help

      • Patsy Millar

        Absolutely. I certainly look at tweets from people with whom I fundamentally disagree but have no desire to follow them. It’s useful to know what they’re thinking although in some cases I get the impression thought doesn’t enter into it! Thanks for your reply.

  • Ian

    Funny you didn’t mention the comments on your blog here. there are clearly more than a few such examples.

    • Loony

      Perhaps a further characteristic of troll type behavior would be to identify someone with a penchant for posting comments largely devoid of substance but heavy om insinuation, for example the exact characteristics that are attributable to yourself and exactly captured in your latest offering.

      • Northern

        Exactly this. People do it all over the comments section here. You get the impression they’re not trying to aid the discussion for other participants just make sure everyone reading knows they are correctly informed.

  • lysias

    Why do they pay salaries to people for posting things that will only antagonize the great majority of readers?

    • Garth Carthy

      To lysias:

      Because the things they post are meant to smear, ridicule, undermine and distract readers.
      It’s only a question of time before ordinary decent people who merely ask for a fairer more equal and less corrupt society are arrested for being dissidents and enemies of the State (a bit like Stalin’s Russia, ironically).
      Of course, Leftish supporters and other dissidents may not get arrested in my life time but if we keep going on with the same insane trajectory, it is surely quite possible.
      We obviously need some covert operations to protect us against terrorism (though most of that is self-inflicted by our illegal invasions).
      However, I consider many of the pillocks in the Integrity Initiative (what a bloody misnomer!) and other Intelligence agencies that Craig describes to be overgrown adolescents playing childish games but with often terrible consequences for society.

      The establishment will always play the “conspiracy theory” card but according to Roy Greenslade, a mainstream journalist on Intelligence matters, there are intelligence agents or their lackeys in virtually every mainstream medium.

      • Tatyana

        Garth Carthy
        Stalin was the leader of Russia 1924-1953. WW1 and WW2 .

        If there were WW3 today, I think you’d see many people arrested, for being dissidents. I’m quite sure that no government will encourage liberalism, while being under a military threat.
        And if it was a war (let’s imagine) with the Alliance of Muslim Countries, you would have seen the decrease in civil rights, repressions or even mass deportation of those citizen who support or are suspected of possible support of the Enemy (let’s imagine, muslim migrants).
        Perhaps you’d even agree that this is a necessary measure.

        • Muscleguy

          ” the Alliance of Muslim Countries”

          Is this some Russian talking point or something? because it’s a pretty funny idea which is ignorant about reality. At present Shiites are fighting Sunnis and vice versa in various places including Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States (except Qatar) are fundamentally opposed to Iran who can now count on Iraq and Syria as allies. The Sunni states will fight Shia before almost anyone else, including Israel.

          Speaking of whom they are best friends with Erdogan’s Turkey, a Muslim nation.

          There is no ‘Alliance of Muslim Countries’. There are Shia countries and Sunni countries some of whom are allied but many are not. Many Muslim countries elsewhere such as Libya would rather the Gulf States butt out of their affairs.

          I know and understand about Russian history and why such an entity might frighten Russians. Everyone seems to need an Enemy. Australia’s defence stance is predicated on the idea Indonesia will invade Northern Australia looking for lebensraum. Here in the UK our govt is trying hard to persuade us Russia is a Big Bad Boy and many of us are not buying it.

          I’m a New Zealand citizen and NZ does quite a lot of trade with Iran. Mainly food and some agritech which are not subject to sanctions. I would quite like to go as a tourist but I would use my NZ passport, not my British one. NZ is friends with lots of places and doesn’t overly worry about military threats apart from getting dragged into something the Australians start. Realpolitik says Australia will come defend us whether we want them to or not because we effectively guard their Eastern flank. But who will come? The Chinese? only bearing trade proposals, investment and development funds.

      • Loony

        Of course there would be no current examples of people suffering arrest for being dissidents and enemies of the state.

        Take the case of Tommy Robinson – a man perpetually hounded and often imprisoned by the state. Now wait for the howls of outrage that will greet that factual statement and then marvel at the power of all forms of media that have made people respond to the name Tommy Robinson in classic Pavlovian fashion.

        Take the fact that Robinson was imprisoned for 13 months for Contempt of Court at Leeds Crown Court. Who would ever know that when this sentence was appealed Lord Burnett, The Lord Chief Justice concluded that “The failure (of the Judge, at Leeds Crown Court) to follow the requirements of Part 48 of the Rules was much more than a technical failure”

        I wonder what “much more than a technical failure” can possibly mean? Here I will be largely alone in my wondering because most people simply do not care – they are content that any rule be broken or ignored if that is what is necessary to lock up Tommy Robinson.

        This is the very definition of state persecution – but with the added advantage that this state persecution is unreservedly supported by the “clever, the classless and the free”

        “Don’t it make you feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game?” Sadly for Bob Dylan then so far as the British are concerned then the answer is an unqualified NO.

        • Deb O'Nair

          Yaxley-Lennon is, by his own admission and as a matter of documented fact, a drug abusing crook, a racist and a thug who deliberately got himself arrested to garner support for his fascistic cause by acting the victim.

          • Loony

            Whether you know it or not you are suggesting that Mr. Yaxley Lennon is so far beyond the pale that he is not entitled to the protections afforded to everyone else under the rule of law. A rule of law that no-one argues should be applied fairly and impartially when it comes to child murderers and serial killers – but not to him.

            Your insistence that Mr. Yaxley-Lennon be treated differently to everyone else and your cheering on his persecution by the Judiciary has consequences. One of those consequences is that you make it easier for the state to persecute other people with whom it disagrees – Julian Assange for example.

            Anyone that does not support the rule of law being applied fairly and impartially to Mr. Yaxley-Lennon manifestly does not support the law being applied fairly and impartially to Julian Assange.

            You are not virtue signaling your dislike of the “drug abusing, crook racist, thug” rather you are signaling your desire for the state to stamp its boot into the face of Julian Assange and anyone else that incurs the displeasure of the state. You are signaling your support for arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and for totalitarianism in all its forms.

            It would be more honest of you to admit your true motives and to spell out the depth of your contempt for the human condition than to seek to hide behind the smokescreen of Mr. Yaxley-Lennon. Allowing for the exposure of people like you is the true service that Mr. Yaxley-Lennon provides.

          • David

            Loony (had to hit reply to post above yours as was not available on your post),

            I completely agree. Justice is a process which must be applied fairly to all. At the end of that process, justice must be done, but the process should not be perverted.

            Tommy Robinson, Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin – it matters not how serious the crimes are, nor how overwhelming the evidence appears to be, every one must be provided the opportunity to hear the evidence against them and dispute it.

            Any argument otherwise is on the grounds that the end justifies the means. And is subject to all the usual flaws of such arguments, the most obvious of which is “who gets to decide, and how do we prevent them making self-serving, corrupt decisions?”

            Perhaps, when we are governed by angels, there will be no need for due process. Or perhaps that was the cause of Lucifer’s fall :-).

            It is also worth questioning why the state goes out of its way to smear certain dissidents and avoid providing them with justice. If the emergence of the true facts would achieve the state’s desired end, then you would think that the state would strive diligently to allow justice to occur and the facts to emerge through a transparently fair process – as that would serve them best. When the state instead appears to deliberately corrupt justice, I usually assume that one of two things is true. Either the individual concerned is not as black as he has been painted, or the state has misbehaved and needs to ensure that evidence of its behavior does not emerge, or both.

  • jake

    Have inquiries into the charitable status of the Auchtermuchy mill been concluded yet?

  • Douglas

    Hi Craig,
    Great article but spotted a typo:
    You’ve got two points labelled 3
    I make the total number of your tests 5 not 4
    Easy slip to make, just thought I’d mention it before someone else did unkindly.
    You are very valued, look after yourself (enough sleep etc).
    Kind regards and best wishes

  • pete

    I have never used Twitter, still this information is useful to help in making an assessment of the authenticity of the voices whose comments can be read. The idea of an army of trolls out there to discredit legitimate expressions of dissent seems sinister, but I have no doubt that it is real. There is no other way to explain how misinformation gets spread so quickly and there have been studies that confirm that it does happen with frightening rapidity. But it is a different thing to abandon Twitter because it can be used by trolls, since it is always useful to spread real news from trusted sources. But we will have to read the comments, wherever they come from in order to make that determination, it should be possible to treat suspect accounts to a pre formatted reply, say “suspect troll prove you are authentic for a reply” and adding the account to a bot list on your blog available for us all to see, so that it can be used by readers with an twitter account to send them the same message.
    Or you could just block them.
    There are web pages on how to spot fake twitter accounts, here are a few:
    https://technology.onehowto.com/article/how-to-tell-if-a-twitter-account-is-fake-9287.html
    https://chrismakara.com/social-media/11-easy-ways-to-spot-a-fake-twitter-account/
    https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/find-and-remove-fake-followers-from-twitter-and-instagram/

  • Dave Lawton

    I came across what must have been a 77th Brigade troll who I was having a argument with on a BBC facebook page.I looked on his page the only ID was some name and pair of standard British Army issue desert combat boots.No imagination.

  • Simon

    I’m following 70, and have 3 followers. My personality is clearly a problem. @simon_boddy

    • craig Post author

      No it isn’t Simon! Unless you meet the other characteristics as well. Even then it isn’t.

      • Simon

        Ah thanks ! It could be that I’m a lurker. Facebook as well. Just there absorbing all this crap and banging my head quietly against the wall.

        Speaking of lurking, are you listening to and enjoying Pod save the world? I’m regularly amazed at the candour of all these ex-obama guys.

        • nevermind

          I am also addicted to banging my head against the nwall, but as yet have not needed twatter for that, Repent Simon, get some real head banging somewhere. Try XR, they do it with conviction and a smile, every day, again and again.

  • Chris

    Craig – a few years back, CGQH (sic) has a internal document that explains the whole ‘anti narrative’ tactics. It was about the time that Cameron launched 77. It contained information on the use of ‘sock puppets’, where one person could control ten social media accounts. Much of these tactics came from a certain Middle East country. I think I’ve got a pdf of it somewhere?

  • Mark in Mayenne

    Well spotted. You could probably use this observation to create a “back analysis” to discover the state narrative on various subjects – just observe which ones they troll.

  • Sharp Ears

    Any defenders of Field on here against this criticism? He has said that a homelessness charity, by the name of The Passage, in his constituency (Westminster and City of London) is attracting undesirables.

    Mark Field calls homelessness charity ‘a magnet for undesirables’
    Exclusive: MP said in leaked email it was time charity started to take responsibility for its ‘clients’
    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jul/02/mark-field-calls-homeless-charity-a-magnet-for-undesirable

  • Douglas

    Thanks Craig. Your article is very helpful.

    I’m sure that this manipulation is going on (I’m also sure that there will be an avalanche of disparaging comments about conspiracy theories).

    An even more sinister feature that I spotted in the National recently was a commentator countering someone by stating that their car had been spotted at an Independence rally without tax and querying if the person was still claiming sickness benefits.

    The comment was very clearly from someone collating personally identifiable data. I challenged this by reporting it and adding a comment pointing out the data protection law and suggesting the target of the attack might be entitled to send a Subject Data Access Request to the attacking person/organisation. I also queried whether this was ‘77th Brigade or amateurs collecting data’.

    The attack was deleted, I don’t know if this was by the attacker or the National. It’s none of my business whether or not the victim of this threatening comment did follow up with a Subject Data Access Request.

    There is also a concerted effort to derail, poison or divert discussions in the National. Those posting poison respond suspiciously quickly. One might suspect that there is a watch-keeping system 🤔

    P.S. To her relief my wife failed your Troll Test because she doesn’t Follow and Troll 😁 -I don’t use Twitter

  • Aidrian Williamson

    “This either suggests wholesale sleeper accounts were established, or twitter is actively involved in helping produce fake ones.”

    Surely the latter.

    Jack Dorsey is a total shill puppet state agent whatever you want to call him.
    No question he would stoop this low (and a lot lower)

  • Merkin Scot

    Well said, Craig.
    I regularly had the same problem with the GIYUS mob on my own blogs.

  • Ros Thorpe

    One of the sinister things they do in the Guardian comments is report you multiple times so that your comments are seen as offensive in some way and removed even if the moderator is not sure, the sheer volume of reports will incline them to remove your comments. I’ve had an account shut down for using the word troll when the accounts were obviously troll accounts.

  • George

    One thing that intrigues me is the comment section on Breitbart. No, I don’t go there usually and have only been on the odd occasion out of curiosity. But most websites pick up comments sporadically at perhaps the rate of twenty or so a day. I just checked Brietbart’s latest – an item called “Donald Trump Announces Massive $105 Million Second Quarter Fundraising Haul” set up today (2/7/19). It already has over 3,000 commments and the number goes up even as I watch. I suspect they employ a team of professional “acting” commenters each of whom adopts a number of personas. And all they do all day is constantly log in comments.

    • Mighty Drunken

      There are other factors at play too. A story can be picked up by another website and all their followers can pile in too. Unfortunately many trolls are actually real people with awful logic, knowledge and views. Even if a topic and narrative is pushed by fake accounts and their sock puppets, many real people join in. Anthropogenic climate change denial is an excellent example. Shurely the ultimate aim of these campaigns is to create your own real troll army.

  • David

    I have long been fascinated by the disconnect by which people, who do know and understand that the security services employ tens of thousands of people and have budgets of billions, nevertheless find it hard to accept that they may come personally into contact with their operations. Therefore when I state that the security services infiltrate groups including environmentalists and the SNP, and were involved in the Skripal story in ways not public, there is a peculiar desire among people to reject it as it is uncomfortable. Equally while people do know the security services are committing huge sums to social media influencing, to point out any of its instances brings derisive shouts of “conspiracy theory”.

    Unfortunately, to use the vernacular, human psychology is a thing. And the emotional reactions of unwillingeness, discomfort and aversion you describe are the result of sophisticated, finely honed, multi-faceted propaganda machines which employ a host of techniques to manipulate human psychology, refined over centuries to produce precisely these reactions.

    It is astonishing how successful these manipulations of our psychology actually are. William Casey, while director of the CIA, actually said on record: “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false” and yet people carry on accepting all the lies that are trotted out, and further act as part of the system to shut down, ridicule and ostracize dissenters.

    Still it is possible that the purveyors of propaganda may have over-estimated their own power. It does feel to me, perhaps more in the US than the UK as yet, that there has been a degree of over-reach and the consequence is that more and more folks are beginning to understand the nature and extent of the problem. Of course it is entirely possible that I am just engaging in wishful thinking and my subjective analysis of the situation is entirely the result of confirmation bias (which is also a thing) – but I don’t think so.

    And you, and others like you, are a huge part of the solution. Your admirable willingness to challenge the official narrative in such a principled and credible way is shining a light in dark places. Please keep up the good work.

  • Soothmoother

    You must have been bored! I have avoided Twitter and left Facebook some time ago. I enjoy this blog but post infrequently. It is clear there are many posters with some kind of agenda. I admire your honesty and insight. I also find Loony very entertaining, so please tell me he’s not a troll/bot!

    PS Vote Tulsi!

      • Loony

        Is that right?

        Do you have any evidence to support that particular suspicion?

        Some may say that inane comments, devoid of evidence, and designed only to smear and to impugn the integrity of others serves the purpose of providing cover for government funded agents to spread misinformation and to generate a climate of confusion.

        So perhaps a more informed suspicion would relate to your particular motives. Are you in fact a government funded troll or do you work on a pro bono basis to facilitate the work of those who are paid to disrupt and to confuse?

        • Soothmoother

          I think you alt. views have a lot of merit and make the entrenched mindset bloggers uncomfortable.

  • Phil

    Craig-

    I’m sure I’m one of many who fit 4 out of your 5 criteria – the missing one being ‘Follow and troll’.
    We just dont feel we have huge amounts to say, but are interested in a wide variety of topics.

    Please dont obsess about trolls though – just ignore them and take them as a badge of honour that they feel the need to attack you

  • Ex Pat

    NOAM CHOMSKY

    “After September 11th I gave interviews everywhere, except the United States of course. And on Irish TV and BBC back to back. I said this much (holds hands a foot apart) on Irish TV – ok, discussion over, everyone understands what I’m talking about. Try to say it on BBC you have to go on for like about an hour to explain to them what you mean. The Irish Sea is a Chasm (of understanding) and it just depends who has been holding the whip for eight hundred years and who has been under it for eight hundred years.” – HA! –

    Noam Chomsky on why some countries, and some groups, ‘get it’ and others have a much harder time.

    – Noam Chomsky – @ Minute 50:00 – ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ –

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wneThOUcpsQ#t=50m08s

    FYI

    HELLO CHELTENHAM

    In ‘Hello Cheltenham!’ an audience member at the Radical Independence Conference (Glasgo 1st October 2016) suggested that departments of the UK government controlled cyber media, as they had previously controlled the Muppet Stream Media (MSM) as a Cold War tactic.

    Anyone know his name?

    He also said –

    1. This talk – video and audio – will be in Cheltenham this afternoon and sections will forwarded to other government agencies by tomorrow.

    2. News in the UK was completely managed as a Cold war strategy. And is now too.

    3. As was Anti-colonialism managed by the UK media for 200 years.

    4. Q. What should be the reaction of Scottish Independence campaigners to these facts?

    To which Mike Small of BellaCaledonia replied ‘Hello Cheltenham!’ to laughter from the crowd. And ‘carry on doing what we’re doing’.

    Adam Ramsay said that after surveying people he was astounded that many in Scotland still equated likely surveillance and infiltration of Scottish Independence with ‘tin-foil hat’ conspiracies, despite millions spent having the police infiltrate – and impregnate, and father children with, women from – soft environmental movements. (Which is the problem that Noam Chomsky alludes to in Rebel Without a Pause above, previously. Who has been under the whip for 800 years – who get it – versus those who have been holding it for 800 years – who are hopelessly naive – or willfully ignorant?)

    Video – ‘Hello Cheltenham’ –

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnJl4hwlchs

    The livestream contains comments on the question from other audience members – TIME ?? –

    – Event Livestream: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLn02mwm8pc

    The livestream does not begin at the start of the event. But video of it was recorded and is presented – They had a backup plan. Excellent. No muppets at Radical Independence’s video department –

    – From the very start – Adam Ramsay Talk: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFh7vo4ygbA

    It turns out that John O’Dowd has summarised the talk, but also expanded it with lots of very useful background information which makes it a much more coherent and informative article.

  • Ex Pat

    THE USUK REALITY DISTORTION FIELD

    Thankfully the USUK Reality Distortion Field (Tm Steve Jobs) only bamboozles the US and UK peasants, not the rest of the world !! (*)

    While lots and lots of people in the UK don’t buy the USUK Muppet Stream Media blizzard of disinformation, it does help if they are politically aware. Or have been educated to see throught the MSM Bull$hit.

    > It’s a tremendous breath of fresh air to this reader to discover that there are entire organizations not buying the UK MSM blizzard of disinformation – Radical Independence, openDemocracy, Bella – after spending decades as a lone – and lonely – ‘atom’ not buying the ridiculous MSM consensus reality. If you think the UK is bad, you should experience the US. If the UK’s Reality Distortion Field (™ Steve Jobs) is aimed at the reading age of The Times reader – twelve – you can subtract five years for the US. ‘Moronic’ doesn’t cover the imbecility.

    a comment by Ex Pat to ‘New Media Futures’, by John O’Dowd, 5th October 2016 – Bella Caledonia –

    https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/10/05/new-media-futures/

    Outside of the USUK however, the majority have the ingrained distrust of ‘those who have been under the whip for 800 years, versus those who have been holding it for 800 years’ – the US and UK – as suggested by Noam Chomsky – @ Minute 50:00 – ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ –

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wneThOUcpsQ#t=50m08s

    India in particular had hundreds of years of murder, torture and genocide from the British Empire and today apparently has _zero_ problem recognising the latest USUK Bull$hit. Funny how that works, eh?

    “The UK at that time proposed Free Trade to export opium to China while they would not accept opium coming in. So that was Free Trade, which was really Free Loot” !! @ 12.13 –

    Indian ambassador MK Bhadrakumar with Prabir Purkayastha, 29th June 2019, Newsclick –

    https://www.newsclick.in/g20-time-crumbling-global-governance

    MK Bhadrakumar – former ambassador of india – Twitter –

    https://twitter.com/BhadraPunchline

    Blog –

    http://indianpunchline.com/

    (*) MORE PEASANTS

    “There’s some lovely filth down here!” – The Anarcho-syndicalist Peasant – Monty Python – Youtube –

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2c-X8HiBng

  • Goose

    It’s a sad indictment of our once proudly independent MSM that you and a few others attract all this venom merely for posing what are fairly obvious, basic questions that millions are asking; along with pointing out the glaring inconsistencies in official narratives. It’s something major media outlets used to investigate, with their budgets and big legal teams backing investigative journos up.

    As for the sock puppets; no doubt, the people who run these would say something like: just be thankful you don’t live in China, Iran or Russia where rubbishing an official narrative online results in worse than being called a ‘conspiracy theorist’ or a ‘moron’ on twitter.

    Ultimately, it comes back to politics, Minister for Security and former soldier Ben Wallace seems very keen on this information warfare ,based on what he’s said in the HoC. These days it seems they feel they can do anything so long as they present it as countering Russian ‘disinformation and propaganda’ in some way. Russia has become the useful bogeyman of choice for western authoritarians.

    • Baalbek

      It’s a sad indictment of our once proudly independent MSM

      The MSM was never independent. It always represented the views of its owners and/or the state. It’s true that the BBC and other public broadcasters, such as Canada’s CBC and Australia’s ABC, were not always quite as slavishly subservient to the prevailing ideology but they were never exactly a thorn in the side of the powerful.

      Propaganda was always a ‘thing’ and people have been writing about it and exposing for ages, e.g., George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language from 1946 and Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s book Manufacturing Consent from the mid-1980s.

      Widespread economic uncertainty and American led global capitalism’s subsequent crisis of legitimacy is causing formerly complacent people to take notice of the lies and distortions they are being fed, but the propaganda was always there. It’s you that’s changed and become more aware of it. People who still ‘trust’ or ‘believe’ in the status quo will never recognize it no matter how comically blatant or absurd it gets.

      • Doodlebug

        “The MSM was never independent. It always represented the views of its owners and/or the state.”

        Ben Bradlee Snr. (Once executive editor of the Washington Post) would, I think, have taken issue with you over that statement.

  • gyges01

    I think it was Cass R Sunstein https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585 who came up with the idea of the infiltrating the internet with government finks to corrupt the democratic process under the guise of fighting terrorism.

    Your tell-tale points are fantastic … I doubt you know anything about kaggle (https://www.kaggle.com/) but I post this here in the hope that some of your readers do and have an understanding of kaggle and not only that, but are able and willing to post this as a project on that site.

    Lastly … whenever I read things like this I think of what it must be like to work at these sort of places. What sort of KPIs (key performance indicators) do they have? What do these people talk about in their coffee breaks? Do they believe that they’re doing the right thing, the decent thing? I could go on …

    • Goose

      I’d imagine it’s a lot like it’s depicted in the ninth episode of the sixth season of Homeland titled ‘Sock Puppets’. Talking points for the day etc.

      If you haven’t seen this season on Netflix it’s well worth a watch.

    • gyges

      Something I forgot to mention … this also goes on in the private sector. I know someone who was paid GBP 5,000 for one tweet by one of the big agri-businesses. I appreciate that this post will be buried under the sediment of all the other comments this blog receives but I thought I should mention it anyway.

  • Joe

    I like the guide however while reading how to spot a ‘ troll’ i suddenly realised i fit in almost every description and i’m definately not a troll. I do have anxiety/ mental health issues and that prevents me posting because i always self censor and end up deleting 90% of my posts before i hit send. I prefer to just follow people and read their posts and occasionally drop a like on something now and then rather than be a contributor.
    I guess what i’m saying is the guide is probably helpful but there are other reasons why people might appear to be a troll account when they are not.

    • Soothmoother

      You should post what you think. Just because the reguposters believe what they post doesn’t make it true.

    • Soothmoother

      Just to add, if you think you have mental health problems, you’re probably OK.

      • Twirlip

        If only that were true!

        Ironically, I wanted to follow up Joe’s post, but I self-censored!

        I was only going to add that I also have mental health problems (pretty severe, in my case). In particular, I have no friends, I’m an almost complete recluse, I barely interact with people at all, even online, and all of this must lead to a pretty odd Twitter profile (under my real name), including some but certainly not all of the characteristics listed as belonging to trolls.

        One reason I didn’t bother posting this was that I only used Twitter for a few months in 2011. I thought it was a very educational medium (has it changed since then?), but I had to stop using it because I was using Windows 98. (Proof of insanity, no doubt!) 🙂

        The reason I felt I had to post, after all, is that it is perfectly possible to be well aware that one is mentally ill, even severely so. “Mental illness” isn’t just a label that people slap on other people. (This doesn’t mean that I believe in the “medical model” of the concept – I don’t, at all. But that subject is such an enormous can of worms that it is almost impossible to have a rational conversation about it – mainly, I think, because the “medical model” controls the very language used to talk about it, in a quite Orwellian way.)

        I’ll get me coat. (That’s kind of my catchphrase, for painfully obvious reasons.)

        • Jimmeh

          Being reclusive isn’t a sign of mental illness. Having no friends is a misfortune, nor a sign of mental illness, but a likely outcome of reclusiveness.

          For some people, reclusivieness is a rational response to a distasteful world and community. I am largely reclusive. I have about two good friends (depends on what you mean by “good friend”). I’ve never had more than three. I am, however, happily married.

        • George

          I don’t think you can separate “mental health issues” from the environment around you and such matters as e.g. the technology used and the various trends etc. The internet has created a whole new “virtual world” – I think of it as a vast dark space where you hear many voices but never see anyone. You don’t know who you are talking to and I reckon it must be easy to set up various websites that claim to be one thing but are something else. (I’ve often clicked on a site which gives the impression that it’s some kind of peer reviewed academic organisation only to encounter frankly juvenile attitudes.)

          Allied to this is the strange anxieties that seem peculiar to the net where you don’t know how a comment you make is going to be taken. There are even times when I have seemed to win an argument but end up feeling bad about it because the person I’m talking to really seems to take it badly and I even wonder if I’ve been talking to a child. (Sometimes I even wonder if I am talking to an actual person at all and not a piece of software. There are people on the net with very peculiar modes of communication so it’s hard to tell.)

          And then there is the addictive side. You leave a comment and, while doing something else, continually wonder if it’s been answered yet. And so it goes on.

  • Jack

    Craig

    I would advise you to report every harassment or smearing, it is very simple and actually works pretty good – Twitter is good on this, either the user get warned or the account gets suspended.

  • Walter Cairns

    It’s called “cognitive dissonance” – oooooh no, our people would NEVER even consider behaving this way – we’re nice, we’re civilised, not like those evil-eyed furriners. That’s the whole problem.

  • J R Tomlin

    Craig, there is one other pattern which is very common. I find many troll accounts that, rather than being new, were created 5 to 10 years ago and never used, apparently put in ‘cold storage’ to be used when needed.

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