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Oct 212020

Nuenen Over the last several years, Russian social media trolls have been skilled in peddling misinformation campaigns to divide the American public.  That’s the message Capital Rotarians heard from guest speaker Dr. Patrick Warren in their Zoom meeting Oct. 21.  Warren (in photo), an economics professor at Clemson University, has been researching state-affiliated propaganda operations.  While media trolls often deliberately provoke others online, Warren said Russia’s effort – housed in its Internet Research Agency (IRA) – uses “friendly persuasion” instead.  “They don’t start fights, but make friends,” Warren explained.  “It causes division by pushing people in a direction they were already leaning.”  The IRA’s trolling components include (1) fearmongers – circulating stories of “fake news” events that never happened as if they were real; (2) newsfeeds – hijacking real news media sites but emphasizing violent and divisive stories over those that are positive or uplifting; (3) hashtag gamers – where Twitter users build an audience by creating catchy hashtags and challenging others to come up with pithy comments; (4) right-leaning and left-leaning trolls – where the IRA amplified the volume of irritating tweets from real Americans of both political persuasions, adding more sarcasm and cynicism.  The key to combatting IRA disinformation is our commitment to be better social media users.  Warren offered a three-fold prescription: (1) be careful about accounts that play to political biases; (2) strengthen democracy by investing in civic, educational and international institutions; and (3) support high standards of truth and fairness for ourselves, for our politicians/policymakers and for media platforms/brands.
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