Psyops in Social Media
Posted on April 1st, 2015

By Rohana R. Wasala

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

– Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

There is a dark side to the internet. Just as the internet can be easily used, so can it be easily abused. Examples of how social media are exploited by criminals for their activities are too numerous and too well known to need elaborating. We are being constantly bamboozled by antinational misinformation disseminated through the internet. Alert users  are well aware of this. I am not going to write about such criminals here. I am concerned with a less courageous species of hobgoblins that haunt the internet. Hiding among genuine users of the internet there are sometimes cowardly individuals who try to deliberately upset them by making irrelevant nonsensical comments on their posts.  They cower behind their computer screens. Such disruptive characters are generally given the slang name ‘internet trolls’. The word ‘troll’ is from Scandinavian folklore. Trolls are supernatural beings that dwell in caves, underneath bridges, or underground lairs, etc., waiting for prey. They are depicted as  dirty, ugly, angry abominable creatures .

The Wikipedia provides a good definition of the term ‘internet troll’: It is

“Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” A much simpler (if somewhat vulgar but befitting the offender it refers to) definition I found elsewhere in the internet is: An internet troll is Being a prick on the internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it’s the internet and, hey, you can.” Like the mythological creatures in Scandinavian folklore, internet trolls are secretly malicious and troublesome, and they take cover behind their anonymity. They conceal their true identity usually by assuming a pseudonym; but the more intelligent among them can pretend to be normal internet users by assuming not only pseudonyms that sound like real, but also false identities.

The average internet trolls are psychopaths who love upsetting people just for the heck of it; they are ill disposed towards other internet users that they want to harass without any reason. As we all know, psychopaths are mentally imbalanced individuals characterized by amoral, anti-social behavior; they cannot love or establish any relationship with another person; they are narcissistic (full of erotic self-love, egocentric, vain), and sadistic; and they cannot learn from experience. The cyber world is haunted by trolls and their activity called trolling is regarded more as a nuisance than as an offense, though it really is an offence and a danger to other innocent users of the internet. The Carl Sagan quote above can be applied to the troll-haunted cyberspace as aptly as to its original context.

The commonsense response to trolling is to ignore it, and if possible to treat it as a form of diversion provided by sick individuals. To do so without a tinge of sympathy for those unfortunate persons doing the trolling is not possible for normal people, though. However, not all internet trolls are equally harmless. Internet trolls who fraudulently win the confidence of at least the gullible among an internet community can do a lot of deliberate harm to the interests of that community. Their modus operandi is this: Through their posts these trolls let on that they are ardent members of that internet community, and then in that guise they cleverly insert false or confusing information in their own writing or in their comments on others’ posts and project self-incriminatory attitudes, which ultimately defeat the purposes of the original members. For example, let’s think of a popular website devoted to a national cause. Unless the hosts and guests of that particular website have enough intelligence and discrimination to detect them in time, the trolls can continue their nefarious operations unchallenged to the detriment of the innocent.

If opinions shaped by the free flow of information through cyberspace can significantly contribute to the determination of the future of nations and even of the whole world, all of us have a responsibility to be alert to its vulnerability to abuse by unscrupulous individuals. We Sri Lankans must be extra-vigilant about this menace for we are globally far outnumbered by those who are hostile to our interests as an independent sovereign nation, and they seem to have intensified their campaign against the country.

2 Responses to “Psyops in Social Media”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Internet CANNOT make ground changes WITHOUT contributing real life factors.

    USA, China, Russia, Endia, UK, France, Japan, Israel, etc. employ 100,000+ people to troll and hack. They are highly paid (except Russia and Endia). This is BIG business.

    SL govt. should do same to protect its interests. Otherwise others will bulldoze SL interests in the internet.

    But ONE STROKE on ground can make all anti-SL trolls suffer permanantly. SCRAP 13 amendment. Make TAMIL ELAM impossible by doing so and MOST of them will focus their energies on something more worthwhile for them.

  2. Independent Says:

    A very good proof for this type of psychopaths was Ananda – USA who pasted the same abusive statement 100 times.

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