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!

  • Dredd

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

  • Rehmat

    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.

  • Willis Forster

    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.

  • 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.

  • Interesting Coincidence

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