Election hackers at it again, Facebook says; don’t help by falling into the ‘troll trap’

Facebook groups created to stir up trouble.

“Hey – Let’s you and him fight!” is a game with two losers and one winner — the instigator who sits back and watches the other two fools fight. That’s what state-sponsored trolls are doing to America right now. Don’t fall for it.

The latest example comes today from Facebook, which announced that it had take down a series of pages engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Most were devoted to stoking the “fire” ahead of a potential Charlottesville-like rally planned for Washington D.C. in August. Facebook said Wednesday it had removed eight suspicious Pages and 17 profiles on Facebook. Collectively, 290,000 real users had followed the fake pages, which had names like “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters.”

The campaign was long-term, and it was well funded.

“There were more than 9,500 organic posts created by these accounts on Facebook,” the firm said in a statement.
“They ran about 150 ads for approximately $11,000 on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in US and Canadian dollars. The first ad was created in April 2017, and the last was created in June 2018.”

The pages were largely designed to incite a left-wing response to the rally, which is being planned by Jason Kessler, who helped organize the deadly  “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last year.

Facebook said it was still investigating the incident, but revealed at least tenuous links with Russian groups that had engaged in such state-sponsored trolling during the 2016 U.S. election.

Psychologist Eric Byrne lays out a series of painful relationship games in his seminal  book, “Games People Play.”  Let’s You and Him Fight is among the more famous.  A character who wants to start a fight says to one potential “dance” partner, “Are you gonna take that from him?”  Then says something similarly meddlesome to the other party.  Then sits back and admires the chaos he or she has started. You probably have a friend like this.

The technique sounds charming in that form — which Byrne points out is copied over and over in the world of fiction. But it’s also used by dictatorial regimes to suppress speech.  Want to crack down on a peaceful demonstration? Hire a few thugs to make their way into the middle and start pushing people around.  It never fails.  Someone overreacts. Then someone over-over-reacts.  Then a big brawl brakes out and “peacekeepers” seem justified in the use of tear gas. Or, hatred is stoked on both sides, creating social chaos that wears down the enemy.

What Facebook announced Wednesday, and what we’ve seen around the world during a series of state-sponsored trolling efforts, is simply this crowd control technique done in digital style. (See my recent story on “patriotic troling.”)

As I wrote this week in my piece on “patriotic trolling,” there’s a cyberwar being waged right now, and you’re in it. Trolling has turned out to be the secret weapon in this war. And many of you are unwitting participants.  Don’t fall for it.  Stop spewing hatred at fellow Americans. Stop passing along rumors and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.  Argue for your point of view with techniques that would make your high school English teacher proud.

We’ll win the cyberwar by showing America’s style of free speech is strong enough to survive these kind of attacks. We’ll lose it by falling for the troll trap.


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About Bob Sullivan 1648 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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