The Troll’s Guide to Internet Disruption

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.


(The person trying to smear reputation may not be a random knucklehead … he may, in fact, be a government agent, or a member of the group he’s smearing.)

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 military personnel or 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 crises, terrorist 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”. After all, it was the CIA itself which created the perjorative term “conspiracy theorist” and gave advice on how to attack people on that basis. 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!

Or:

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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  • unheilig

    Hah, that’s a shitty article from a crap writer … oh, wait

  • Big Bear

    I was going to try to hit all fifteen in one go but I see unheilig beat me to that gag.

    And yes, all this looks very very familiar.

  • kimyo

    you left out ‘forum sliding’, as practiced right here on these pages by none other than ol’ eric ‘column-yards’ zeusse.

    giving him the keys to the front page allows him to control at times 50% or more of the material posted there, pushing key posts down below the fold.

    give him his own section of the blog if you must, but his ‘efforts’ are not front-page-worthy and actually serve to cause readers to miss important material.

    • jadan

      There’s this little thingy on the far right you can tag with your mouse to scroll down to the next article if you don’t like the article in front of you……

      • kimyo

        you know what would be really sweet? a wblog rss feed called ‘everything but zuesse’.

        there’s just no need here for the red v. blue crap or the fdr adoration society. i’ve tried to find value in his work, but the only conclusion is that he’s here to push worthy content down and minimize views.

        • jadan

          Where do you get your news on the Ukraine situation? I appreciate the determination he has to get the US Ukraine gambit before the public, and I think GW wants to help him do that.

          • kimyo

            if memory serves, i read about most of the key developments (nuland, sniper firing at both police and protestors, evidence of air to air missile, arson/murder) elsewhere, before zuesse reported on them.

            also, i don’t think his ‘conclusive’ mh-17 evidence helped the cause.

            in any case, it’s his bulldog-like focus on ukraine which leads me to conclude he’s been embedded here. ethnic cleansing in the ukraine? 57 column yards. ethnic cleansing in palestine? zilcherooni.

            they didn’t just come in one day and turn npr into propaganda central. it happened a little bit at a time.

          • lolana

            But a big turn for NPR came in 2000. That was the big turn the corner moment

  • Medici1

    Now how to work in the Overton Window and Godwin so their names don’t disappear down the rabbit hole

  • Here’s a troll tipoff: they know an extreme amount of detailed knowledge about the post…yet disagree with the post, and you know that anyone who knows great detail about the post would NOT disagree with the post.

    I call it the “HANI HANJOUR SHILL DETECTION METHOD”.

    Hani Hanjour piloted one of the 911 planes (supposedly), and you, for example, post that Hani Hanjour’s flight instructor said he couldn’t fly a small plane, let alone a boeing.

    AND…someone comes along and gives you all the info on Hani Hanjour, how great he could fly a boeing, etc…and the “official story” of 911 is true. AND…usually no one who frequents the blog or post has ever seen this commenter before.

    Shill detection points:

    1. How many people know who Hani Hanjour is? Only someone who DEEPLY looked into 911.

    2. Anyone who looked deeply into 911 easily realizes the “official story” of 911 is bullshit.

    3. Therefore, the commenter who knows who Hani Hanjour is, but yet agrees with the “official story ” of 911, is a TROLL/SHILL.

    RECAP: If a commenter is extremely knowledgable about an “official story” that is total bullshit, yet still claims the “official story” is true, he’s a SHILL or TROLL.

    • lolana

      Very well put…..thanks 🙂

  • davidgmills1

    I get sick of the logical fallacies so sometimes I like to cite this and point out which one.

    https://arrinchapman.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/logicalfallaciesinfographic_a3.png

  • tadzio308

    “Where’s your proof?” is a frequent tactic. Two replies to this can be; 1) Do your own research; or 2) This conversation is not a PhD thesis. Footnotes are not required.

  • Ken Dometriosis .

    “How To Be A Jew and A Zionist Agent Provocateur” is the real title for this work.

  • Bruce

    Barack Obama’s and Saul Alinsky’s play book. Remembering what it was like to have a rational public policy discussion before our Community Organizer President and publicly financed disrupters stole our rights of free speech.

    • lolana

      Yeah, those good old days in the runup to the Iraq war were so lovely compared to this….so …rational…..

  • Hhhmm, I noticed that you never used the typical leftist attack, accusation of racism, as an example. Are you afraid of the leftist disrupters accusing you of racism?

    • John Jones

      That was specifically listed in number 1.

  • Steve

    One technique i have recently seen being used is the guise of the good guy holier-than-thou christian with slipped in jabs about the united states being to blame for all manner of troubles in the world complete with cherry-picked articles. When countered the person differed with my level of response to the islamist crisis and labeled me as immoral and illogical claiming i was trying to divert the argument when showing how islam itself has helped to create this current crisis. Astoundingly, the person uses an arabic name and icon while claiming to be a christian of greater morals. I believe this is a deceitful attempt to minimize islamization and play to lukewarm christianity as a pacifying tool to help enable the islamists. This person on replies has been adamant in accusations towards my religious faith and making claims that i am immoral and complete with references cherry picked to support his game. He has lost face and is angry i believe and is trying to regain face because disqus holds a lot of potential to sway the uninformed.

    • lolana

      disqus holds a lot of potential to sway the uninformed. –It does?

      • kimyo

        although i am skeptical, one argument that disqus is influential is that the pro-gmo/fluoridation/nuclear/two-party-system shills do spend quite a bit of time posting here.

      • Steve

        Yes. In fact most blogs- media do.

      • Bezukhov

        And to raise H 3 |_ |_!

        • lolana

          😀