Thursday 24 July 2014

Blog Commenters: Just who is it you are talking to and why?

Нашихбот тролл (St. Petersburg Times)

Though I am not at all convinced by the use of the verb 'troll' here, is reminds me so much of the portable antiquities debate: Sergey Chernov, 'Leaked Correspondence Shows Agency’s ‘Trolling’ ', The St. Petersburg Times June 4, 2014 (Issue # 1814). Correspondence published last week seems to show that paid pro-Russian bloggers and commenters, some of them posing as westerners, have been heavily used to infiltrate the Internet forums of Western media outlets and blogs, and their aim is to influence people's opinions about events. This activity was increased during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and the pro-Russian separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine:
The Western media has expressed concern about pro-Kremlin commentators. In April, The Guardian newspaper ran a commentary by its readers’ editor Chris Elliott, called “The readers’ editor on… pro-Russia trolling below the line on Ukraine stories,” where he said that Guardian moderators, who deal with 40,000 comments a day, believed there was an orchestrated, pro-Kremlin campaign going on in the newspaper’s comments section.
This corresponds with the rise of pro-Kremlin youth movements such as Nashi. In recent years extensive pro-Kremlin activity began on the Internet.
Groups of paid bloggers were created in order to flood the Internet with pro-Kremlin and anti-American comments as well as to harass the critics of President Vladimir Putin by posting hateful comments and offensive, and often pornographic, images. However, in the last few years, these paid bloggers have moved on to the international media and blogs. [...] According to the website, the Internet Research Agency employs 300 people who write 100 comments a day each, mostly in Russian but also in English and Ukrainian, resulting in 30,000 postings daily.
On 7 February 2012 the Guardian reported:
"A pro-Kremlin group runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media, according to private emails allegedly hacked by a group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous. [...] it was obvious the trolling on Ukraine-related issues was organised, as the trolls "are given talking points" and certain phrases were used again and again. The complainant to the Guardian said: "They still post only extremely biased, offensive, trolling commentary [...] Guardian moderators, who deal with 40,000 comments a day, believe there is an orchestrated campaign.
More here:
'Guardian has deleted almost 500 comments from pro-Russia trolls
'The Trolls on Putin's Payroll'
'Controlling the Trolls: American Websites Battle Against Pro-Russian Trolls'
'The truth about Russian trolls'
''Orchestrated' Pro-Russian campaign underway in Guardian comment sections, say moderators '

In the area covered by this blog, two similar phenomena may be observed. The first are the orchestrated campaigns organized by the dealers' lobbyists mostly from the USA (in which the ACCG leads, but is not the sole culprit) which aim to flood the CPAC/DoS with comments opposing the US goodguys cracking down on illicitly exported material coming onto the US market. Anyone looking at what these several hundred people produce will see that the opposition on coiney-related issues is organised, as the commenators quite clearly have been given talking points and certain phrases are used again and again.

Also repetitive are the comments of UK metal detecting sock puppets/shills which infest sites like Heritage Action's blog. Tracking indicates that these posts are produced by a very small handful of individuals, some of them with clearly identifiable style, others hiding behind adopted styles and names - some even trying to pose as archaeologists. I think they divide into two groups, the sock puppets - people writing under assumed identities (or trying to use the internet's facility for this to communicate while being anonymous) who like Putin's paid stooges are trying to manipulate opinions. Then there are the trolls (sensu stricto) whose main interest is creating a fuss and drawing attention to themselves by aggressive and infuriating behaviour. Neither of these groups are welcome as commentators on this blog. 

Oh, by the way, calling somebody a "troll" on the Guardian website will get your comment deleted. They consider it an abusive term. British Museum, please note.

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