How to Spot – and Defeat – Disruption on the Internet

The 15 Rules of Web Disruption

David Martin’s Thirteen Rules for Truth Suppression,  H. Michael Sweeney’s 25 Rules of Disinformation (and now Brandon Smith’s Disinformation: How It Works) are classic lessons on how to spot disruption and disinformation tactics.

We’ve seen a number of tactics come and go over the years.  Here are the ones we see a lot of currently.

1.  Start a partisan divide-and-conquer fight or otherwise push emotional buttons to sow discord and ensure that cooperation is thwarted.   Get people fighting against each other instead of the corrupt powers-that-be.  Use baseless caricatures to rile everyone up.  For example,  start a religious war whenever possible using stereotypes like “all Jews are selfish”, “all Christians are crazy” or “all Muslims are terrorists”.  Accuse the author of being a gay, pro-abortion limp-wristed wimp  or being a fundamentalist pro-war hick when the discussion has nothing to do with abortion, sexuality, religion, war or region.  Appeal to people’s basest prejudices and biases. And – as Sweeney explains – push the author into a defensive posture:

Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule … Associate opponents with unpopular titles such as “kooks”, “right-wing”, “liberal”, “left-wing”, “terrorists”, “conspiracy buffs”, “radicals”, “militia”, “racists”, “religious fanatics”, “sexual deviates”, and so forth. This makes others shrink from support out of fear of gaining the same label, and you avoid dealing with issues.

2.  Pretend it’s hopeless because we’ll be squashed if we try.  For example, every time a whistleblower leaks information, say “he’s going to be bumped off”.   If people talk about protesting, organizing, boycotting, shareholder activism, spreading the real facts, moving our money or taking other constructive action, write things to scare and discourage people, say something like  “we don’t have any chance because they have drones and they’ll just kill us if we try”,  or “Americans are too stupid, lazy and greedy, so they’ll never help out.”  Encourage people to be apathetic instead of trying to change things.

3.  Demand complete, fool-proof and guaranteed solutions to the problems being discussed.   For example, if a reporter breaks the story that the big banks conspired to rig a market, ask “given that people are selfish and that no regulation can close all possible loopholes … how are you going to change human nature?”, and pretend that it’s not worth talking about the details of the market manipulation.  This discourages people from reporting on and publicizing the corruption, fraud and other real problems.  And it ensures that not enough people will spread the facts so that the majority know what’s really going on.

4. Suggest extreme, over-the-top, counter-productive solutions which will hurt more than help, or which are wholly disproportionate to what is being discussed.   For example, if the discussion is whether or not to break up the big banks or to go back on the gold standard, say that everyone over 30  should be killed because they are sell-outs and irredeemable, or that all of the banks should be bombed. This discredits the attempt to spread the facts and to organize, and is simply the web method of the provocateur.

5.  Pretend that alternative media – such as blogs written by the top experts in their fields, without any middleman – are untrustworthy or are motivated solely by money (for example, use the derogatory term “blogspam” for any blog posting, pretending that there is no original or insightful reporting, but that the person is simply doing it for ad revenue).

6.  Coordinate with a couple of others to “shout down” reasonable comments.  This is especially effective when the posters launch an avalanche of comments in quick succession … the original, reasonable comment gets lost or attacked so much that it is largely lost.

7.  Use an army of sock puppets.  You can either hire low-wage workers in India or other developing countries to “astroturf” or – if you work for the government – you can use hire military personnel and subcontractors to monitor social media and “correct” information which you don’t like (and see this), or use software which allows you to quickly create and alternate between numerous false identities, each with their own internet address.

8. Censor social media, so that the hardest-hitting information is buried. If you can’t censor it, set up “free speech zones” to push dissent into dank, dark corners where no one will see it.

9.  When the powers-that-be cut corners and take criminally reckless gambles with our lives and our livelihoods, protect them by pretending that the inevitable result – nuclear accidents, financial crisesterrorist attacks or other disasters – were “unforeseeable” and that “no could have known”.

10.  Protect the rich and powerful by labeling any allegations of criminal activity as being a “conspiracy theory”.  For example, when Goldman gets caught rigging markets, label the accusations as mere conspiracies.

The following 4 tactics from Sweeney are also still commonly used …

11. Become incredulous and indignant. Avoid discussing key issues and instead focus on side issues which can be used show the topic as being critical of some otherwise sacrosanct group or theme. This is also known as the “How dare you!” gambit.

12. Use a straw man. Find or create a seeming element of your opponent’s argument which you can easily knock down to make yourself look good and the opponent to look bad. Either make up an issue you may safely imply exists based on your interpretation of the opponent/opponent arguments/situation, or select the weakest aspect of the weakest charges. Amplify their significance and destroy them in a way which appears to debunk all the charges, real and fabricated alike, while actually avoiding discussion of the real issues.

13. Hit and Run. In any public forum, make a brief attack of your opponent or the opponent position and then scamper off before an answer can be fielded, or simply ignore any answer. This works extremely well in Internet and letters-to-the-editor environments where a steady stream of new identities can be called upon without having to explain criticism reasoning — simply make an accusation or other attack, never discussing issues, and never answering any subsequent response, for that would dignify the opponent’s viewpoint.

14. Question motives. Twist or amplify any fact which could so taken to imply that the opponent operates out of a hidden personal agenda or other bias. This avoids discussing issues and forces the accuser on the defensive.

15. Associate opponent charges with old news. A derivative of the straw man usually, in any large-scale matter of high visibility, someone will make charges early on which can be or were already easily dealt with. Where it can be foreseen, have your own side raise a straw man issue and have it dealt with early on as part of the initial contingency plans. Subsequent charges, regardless of validity or new ground uncovered, can usually them be associated with the original charge and dismissed as simply being a rehash without need to address current issues — so much the better where the opponent is or was involved with the original source.

Postscript:  Over a number of years, we’ve found that the most effective way to fight disruption and disinformation is to link to a post such as this one which rounds up disruption techniques, and then to cite the disinfo technique you think is being used.

Specifically, we’ve found the following format to be highly effective in educating people in a non-confrontational manner about what the disrupting person is doing:

Good Number 1!


Thanks for that textbook example of Number 7!

(include the link so people can see what you’re referring to.)

The reason this is effective is that other readers will learn about the specific disruption tactic being used … in context, like seeing wildlife while holding a wildlife guide, so that one learns what it looks like “in the field”.   At the same time, you come across as humorous and light-hearted instead of heavy-handed or overly-intense.

Try it … It works.

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  • Pam

    Great list! And great strategy!

  • And when those tactics fail to quell domestic reactions, create a batallion sized force and train them to do domestic policing.

  • Yes, labeling someone ‘anti-semite’ or ‘Holocaust denier’ or ‘jihadist’ or ‘self-hating Jew’ are the most effective character assassination tools these days. These victims include Bishop Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Ahmadinejad, Dr. Morsi, Sheikh Nasrallah, MP George Galloway, Gilad Atzmon, Shlomo Sand, Alan Hart, Richard Falk, Dr. Johan Galtung, Miko Peled, Rep. Paul, Ken Livingstone, Eric Walberg, Richard Goldstone – and myself.

    Gild Atzmon said in 2010: “I don’t write about politics. I write about ethics. I write about identity. I write a lot about the Jewish Question – because I was born in the Jew-land, and my whole process in maturing into an adult was involved in the realization that my people are living on stolen land…. You can’t understand the history of Jewish suffering without looking at Israeli barbarism. Maybe fear is also what fuels the Israelis self-denial that every piece of land in Israel is actually Palestine”.

  • gozounlimited

    Along with this blog and Zero Hedge …. Yves Smith always comes through with informed and constructive criticism … this piece is a perfect example ….

    Criminal Sanctions: How to Save Banks Without Rewarding Bankers

    How to save the banks but not the bankers? This column argues that fines for criminal behaviour in banks are not enough – it may be time to start locking people up.

    read more:


    The Fourth Turning by Strauss & Howe

    Over the past five centuries, Anglo-American society has entered a new era – a turning – every two decades or so….Together the four turnings of the saeculum comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, naturation, entropy, and destruction:

    + The First Turning is a High; an upbeat era of strengthening instutitions and weakening individualism;

    + The Second Turning is an Awakening, a passionate era of spirtual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime;

    + The Third Turning is an Unraveling, a downcast era of strrengtening individualism and weakening institutions;

    + The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.

    read more:

  • Wooten Berston


  • Kevin Parkinson

    Very good article. Thanks.

  • Christopher

    Another technique is to add uncertainty where there should be none.

    • D. G.

      I’m not so sure about that – there are competing opinions – and it’s not possible to prove it either way…

  • I do the hit and run thing not to disrupt, but because i just want to give my opinion and will not argue with strangers who often seem to use one or more of the other 15 points to discredit my opinion.

    • dave

      Agreed. Guerilla tactics are best. They’ll try to tie you down, if you let them.

      • endthefed76

        The most organized posters I’ve seen are on any comment section relating to queer marriage. Hit and run is the only way to deal with them, if there is actually more than one!

    • Call Me Ismail

      If you genuinely believe in your principles, you have to expect to defend them.

  • Blennylips

    Oooh, I found one over on Not Even Wrong!

    • Blennylips

      Comment has been deleted.
      The first comment to is

      Both bitcoin and PGP use elliptic curve cryptograpy. Lately, the
      exchange rate for bitcoin has been soaring. Do you have an opinion on
      whether or not it is really secure?

      and my comment to Tinos was:
      Tinos, I think you scored a trifecta with that first comment!
      A Number 20, followed by a 12 (straw man), and sticking the landing with the # 1 on our list!
      On the other hand, the comment looks exactly like what a social bot
      would output, no?
      A human responded with a gentle correction and one hour eleven minutes later the human chimes in.
      The fancy diacritical mark on “Touché” is a nice touch, indicative of the care that went into the bespoke software tool you must use to handle your share of the NSA feed.
      But, I could be wrong.

  • Eva Colera Bernal

    Very, very useful information, including the links to other articles. I have saved this page to my hard drive.

  • Prison Planet

    I always hit and run. It’s my opinion, not everyone will agree with it and I’m OK with that.

    • Call Me Ismail

      Then you will leave readers to conclude you lack the courage to defend your convictions.

      Are you okay with that?

      • AsleepNoMore

        Sometimes I’ll just drop a bit of truth, knowing how allergic the audience is to it. I don’t stick around for all the above tactics because they’re a waste of time and the people aren’t really interested in the truth.

        • Okay. I have to admit, there *are* circumstances that call for that.

          For one example, a few months ago I ran across a page where a gaggle of haters had ganged up on a Muslim teenager, calling him every name in the book. He tried to respond with reason, but they just went on raging at him from the abysmal depths of their ignorance.

          So I stepped in briefly and ripped them apart for their cowardice, and then simply walked away. I even told them I was going to do that, because there was absolutely no point having a “conversation” devoid of reason with people who plainly couldn’t post a logical argument to save their lives.

  • Interesting Coincidence

    (and see this) broken link in article, please provide new link or upload. PLEASE!!

  • hsxnl

    Slashdot (/.) wisdom: Never feed a troll!

    • Call Me Ismail

      Starving them is cruel, inefficient and dangerous.

      Better to trick them into exposing themselves to the sun, and watch them turn to stone. 😉

  • D. G.

    None of these conspiracies have any bearing on anything, because nothing we do has any effect. We’re doomed because the motives of those who disagree are evil !! It’s time to force people to use their real names on these posts, mandate that people who post have a posting license – and set Federal standards of suitability for the use of that license. Anyone who violates the new Federal troll/spam standards (or who posts comments without a license) should be summarily incarcerated for 30 days. No trial, no appeal, just jail.

    • C

      Comment sections themselves subvert comment. I tried to vote down the pointless idea of federal standards for a commenting license but it got voted up instead. D.G. Is a paid government troll persona using every opportunity to push more Suckerborg trash on FaceBorg conditioned idiots.

      • C

        Of course, I may have missed the irony with which D.G. posted.

        • D. G.

          It matters not at this point. Based on your original comment, your IP address has been added to the NSA anti-terror database. You can expect a visit from Homeland Security this week.

      • endthefed76

        Don’t you just love how Disqus did away with the down vote count. They were the last to cover for the establishment. Or, should I say, they were the last to be threatened?

    • Call Me Ismail


  • MyWikiDisQus

    “Number 2. Pretend it’s hopeless …”

    The political duopoly referred to as the national electoral system in the United States is hopeless, it cannot be changed. It must be allowed to perish completely and irrevocably before America can return to the idealism of equal opportunity and justice.

    To suggest that a measure of the population can choose candidates for Congress or the Presidency that will return the country to its constitutional roots of incipient freedoms is a fallacy because politics throughout the history of time acts in its own best interest instead of serving the electorate.

    Power corrupts and politics is the engine of corruption.

    • Call Me Ismail

      Actually, I think the problem is pathocracy.

      And that really isn’t hard to deal with, once people realize why it’s necessary. This is happening, albeit slowly.

  • A Day For Truth

    I’m writing this to help out general understanding of two techniques that I use extensively when I troll the net. Since 2005 I have been either attempting to persuade or trolling for kicks on the net. Between 05 and 07 I was an especially relentless practitioner of the craft. I have never sought money for my activities for there are many easier and more profitable ways to make money. I seek only the thrill.
    Hit and Run is my all time favorite tactic. Back between 2005 to 2007 I used to practice persuasion and stirring up trouble on the internet. I would spend hours per day, sometimes on one post. I would attempt to anticipate common opposing arguments and just leave a post all over the place. I would never check back to see who responded. I frequently spent hours crafting a post that I would then alter slightly each time I dropped it off somewhere, so that the technique would not be so obvious. (Anyone on their guard will catch this method. Anyone off their guard will fall for it.) Whether I was straight trolling some forum for a thrill or actually trying to convince people of a point of view I used this method time and time again.

    Another good one is to play into your opponents ego. Are they vain? Call them ugly. Are they tough? Suggest that everyone knows they are sooooo tough, and surely they could not lose a gun fight, so bring it on tough guy. Lots of people who swear they are tough are nothing of the sort. They get really scared of the mere mention of a gun or guns being involved in a duel or fight. Don’t give out your real location or the location of someone you hate that they might think is you, unless you are looking for BIG trouble in real life. When they flip their lid, say man I can’t believe you get angry so easily. So much for all your talk about peace and love (or any virtues they claim to advocate.)

    • Call Me Ismail

      It is rare to meet such candor from a vocation that shrinks from the truth. In fact, this post reminds me a bit of a blog called, although I don’t know whether the latter still exists; if it does, it’s definitely worth a look.

  • Breathial

    It’s important to cite direct quotes, such as the last four points, taken from the essay “The 25 Rules of Disinformation. “

  • Howard Treesong

    “label the accusations as mere conspiracies.” So… a conspiracy is an actual thing, right? There are conspiracies, these things exist. If you label something as a conspiracy then you are de facto admitting there was collusion with intent by multiple parties to do ‘something bad’. Because that’s what a conspiracy is. So, saying that Goldman Sachs conspires to manipulate the market is a factual account of what they do. They actually conspire to manipulate the market. ‘Conspiracy’ is not a word that means ‘making stuff up about someone’.

    Because many people don’t read a lot anymore, they tend to forget that words have an etymology. They originate somewhere, they have a meaning. ‘a mere conspiracy’ is not a fabrication of events. It’s the actual thing.

    • endthefed76

      They usually add nut, or theorist after conspiracy. Sometimes whacko’s or crazies. I love to see the extreme descriptions. That means it some gov. employee(maybe a professor on a gov. run ‘puter who’s job scared!).

    • John

      Yeah, the author meant to say “conspiracy theory”, not ‘conspiracy’.

      Most conspiracy theories that have any traction are nonsense, and don’t relate to any actual conspiracy.

      Thank you for pointing out that mis-use of the word conspiracy.

      • AsleepNoMore

        Actually, it’s the ones that have traction that merit investigation. The bogus ones tend to die on their own.

        • John

          Wait, are you saying that you think the echo chamber of idiots is a useful filter for selecting which conspiracy theories merit investigation?

          Just look at the anti-vaxxers, alt-med fanatics, and the chemtrail morons.

          No, it looks to me like the popularity level of a conspiracy theory has nothing to do with the likelyhood that it has any validity.

          • AsleepNoMore

            Turns out those three you mentioned are among the real ones.

          • John

            I didn’t mention three conspiracy theories, I mentioned three intersecting communities of morons. Sadly, each community promotes numerous (often mutually contradicting) conspiracy theories.

    • Call Me Ismail

      I’m pretty sure the author simply left out the word “theories.”

      However, for the benefit of those who aren’t clear on the difference between conspiracy theories and actual conspiracies, your point is well taken.

    • AsleepNoMore

      When someone claims facts are conspiracy theory, I usually ask if they really believe that the wealthy and powerful never conspire to hang onto or increase their power and wealth.

      • Howard Treesong

        The default state should be to assume that they will conspire, precisely because they want to preserve their power and wealth. It makes the most sense that they will conspire to do so. These are people who were willing to do whatever it took to get where they are, inherited wealth notwithstanding, it would be ludicrous to assume that kind of personality would then not go through great efforts to preserve their wealth and standing. These are not coincidences. It didn’t ‘just happen’.

        Remember when they said people were ‘paranoid’ because they believed the government was spying on them? Boy, that must have been embarrassing: it’s actually true and on a scale that is so wildly over-the-top invasive that most users don’t understand what’s happening.

      • John

        There is no doubt that humans conspire to sustain and achieve power and wealth. But that doesn’t mean that we should believe any arbitrary accusation that is consistent with this premise.

  • DarkStarAz

    I’ve always had a vague idea what a troll was, never realized it went this deep though.
    After reading this article I think some of the worst cases of trolling I’ve seen are on HUFFPOST GREEN. As an example, if you point out that the temperature hasn’t gone up in 17 years, or the antarctic ice shelf is near its all time highs about half a dozen ppl will shut you down with the denier allegation etc. Its fine to have a different opinion and discuss those differences, but these trolls on Huffpo simply do not want to have the discussion.
    Seems I always get jumped pretty badly if posting anything regarding the ACLU

    • endthefed76

      That means you’re dealing with NYC types who will profit from carbon taxes. With the ACLU, you’re dealing with civil rights lawyers who profit from attacking whites.

      • Call Me Ismail

        Thank you for demonstrating technique #14: “Question motives. Twist or amplify any fact which could so taken to imply that the opponent operates out of a hidden personal agenda or other bias. This avoids discussing issues and forces the accuser on the

    • black swan

      “If you point out that the temperature hasn’t gone up in 17 years”

      Then they know that you don’t understand that the temperature has, indeed, gone up.

      From Scientific American Mag:

      “This year will likely be the hottest on record for the planet, with global temperatures 1.03 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 1961-to-1990 average, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization.

      This would make 2014 the 38th consecutive year with an anomalously high annual global temperature.”

    • NancyDL

      Ha ha. You’re illustrating a type, alright. If you point out that the temperature hasn’t gone up in 17 years, they will instantly know that you are either ignorant of the facts, or are a troll. 😎 You are especially easy to spot, if you make these statements completely off topic, as you did here.

      • And yet if anyone does a search for “change in weather 17 years”,
        they’ll find articles in respected publications talking about it. So who
        are the trolls now?

  • joachim

    I like to see who I’m replying to by checking on their account name, Eg; on You Tube when their home page comes up with “NO RECENT ACTIVITY” or “NO VIDEOS” , time to just tell them to FUQ (Frequently Unanswered Questions) OFF…….they’re probably working the 5 cents per post Hasbara job.
    Here’s a great example of hebrew Propoganda with counter Hasbara as most know that Al Jazeera is controlled by Israel….

    • Call Me Ismail

      It is? News to me.

  • ace

    What if your just having fun with different internet personas? If one is trying to cultivate a more cosmic view of the world one needs to try to see issues from the point of view of factions other than his own.

    • Call Me Ismail

      There are many ways to do that that don’t involve deception.

  • GRgal

    Oops I am guilty of number 2. I sometimes see reality as hopeless. There IS strong evidence that integrity, truth and logic rarely win.

    • Call Me Ismail

      Well, I have to admit, that has certainly been *my* experience.

      But that, too, is an easily foreseeable consequence of pathocracy.

  • Charles Kafka

    i’ve been guilty of 2, 3 and 4.
    some times it is hopeless ,
    but i always add, that one never knows until they try.
    in complex matters, i love over the top solutions,
    they get everyone laughing, and make everyone realize, you dont’ have to cut the ball of string in half with your damascus steel to untangle the knot.

  • Think Zinn

    Thank you so much for this list. We are experiencing this first hand In Canada with our governments paid gang of trolls and misinformation monkeys. Our national broadcaster CBC is particularly infested with them.

    • JJJFFF

      “Misinformation monkeys”? That’s you, Think Zinn!!!

      – Telling me that a report was published before the oil downturn when it was actually published following a drop from $100 to $50/barrel.
      – Citing a blog post written by a senior economist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) as “factual evidence”.
      – Failing to recognize that data coming from an unbiased source does not mean that the *interpretation* of that data (by a CUPE economist in a blog) is similarly unbiased.
      – Cherry-picking your data.
      – And then there are your pejorative epithets (“Harper baby momma cheques” and “mouth breathers”)

      • Think Zinn

        Wow, my personal troll even followed me from the CBC to here. You are remarkable turd.

  • Thanks. Good stuff.
    I have been trolled on Twitter for years. Quite flattering, as the same trolls abuse Dr Helen Caldicott, who is a genuinely famous anti nuclear activist, (whereas I am but a small amateur.)

    I can see that these trolls are part of a 24 hour 24/7 pro nuclear campaign.
    At present I am working on just outing the trolls on Twitter.
    My real name is Noel Christina Wauchope. That’s actually no secret – but they keep trolling me on my real name, as though they’ve made a big discovery. Rather funny, as “Thomas Huxley” “Brendan” “Marcelina” #Ocker O’Reilly” “Max Silk” do not reveal their real names.

    You can learn quite a bit about trolls from their language etc.
    For example “Marcelina” is surely not a woman – judging by ‘her’ sexy picture and ‘her’ occasional misogynist language.

    “Brendan” and “Thomas Huxley” are not young, yet are ageist as well as sexist in their language.
    “Brendan” has had serious health problems – possibly accounting for his enthusiasm for nuclear power producing medical isotopes.

    I had “John Randall” shut down for abuse. He reappeared as “Thomas Huxley” almost immediately.
    So reporting to Twitter is not all that effective.

    Dr Helen Caldicott just ignores all their abuse. That might work. I don’t know – as others read these repeated vilifications of her.

  • #12 is the method Obama and the Supreme Court used to get the ACA upheld