Who Is This Guy?
Last month I tweeted that a Nevada school district didn’t close schools unless the air quality index from wildfire smoke was over 400. It was noteworthy because the bottom limit of ‘Unhealthy Air Quality’ is 150. The 400 threshold is deep into what is considered hazardous to healthy adults, let alone to the small lungs of children. To my surprise, I had an odd response to my tweet. His/her tactics were interesting and exposed themself as likely a Russian Troll.
Signs of a Disinformation Agent
The response to my tweet was innocent enough. She/he asked me what was the difference between the air at home and the air at school. The question simplified the issue and ignored the complexities of children being exposed to hazardous air multiple times between home to school. I offered my response to the question and instantly he/she responded with another tweet that ignored my response and ask the same question but in different words. That was when I became suspicious.
The Priority of a Russian Troll
A Russian troll is not seeking to argue but rather to sow the seeds of doubt. Their primary goal is to establish a political division between people. They work subtly and use simple questions that ignore the complex realities of a problem. If someone counters the response with an answer that exposes the complex issues, they often counter by asking a similar question that ignores the response. They will then keep this strategy up. This tends to rally those that like simple solutions to problems, typically the uneducated social media cohort.
Another strategy Russian trolls use is to post a meme that is ‘uplifting‘ but leaves the audience with of feeling that someone or some group, typically a middle-class caucasian is struggling against an insensitive or arrogant government or liberal. They often highlight the little person waging against the oppression of ‘intellectuals.’ It’s a common theme in Soviet Russian history.
How Did I Know It Was a Russian Troll?
After researching his/her Twitter account it became apparent that this was likely a Russian Troll. Here are the indicators I use to identify a Russian troll:
- The response to a tweet or posting is out of the blue and the responder is a complete stranger. A hashtagged tweet can have unknown people respond, but a responder that is not a follower or friend is a red flag.
- The responder will not seem like they are arguing but rather they ask questions that oversimplify a complex issue and might stimulate the emotions of an uneducated, middle-class white person.
- A near instant response. Trolls are paid to be watching and interacting.
- The responder’s account has no information about who they are or where they live.
- The responder’s social media account is less than a few months old, likely less than a few weeks but has lots of posts or tweets. In this case, he/she had over 200 tweets for an account that was only two weeks old. A major red flag.
- The responder’s posts and/or tweets on their account don’t indicate any type of personal life. Their post typically consists of memes and/or retweets published by others. Most of those memes or retweets will subtly promote fear or present a one-time example of unfairness that might provoke sympathy or anger about the situation.
How To Stop a Russian Troll
In my case, my next response to them was a reply that told them I suspected that they were a Russian Troll and then I reported the account to Twitter. By the time I went back to look at the account again, it was deleted. This all took place within a few minutes.