Anatomy of a Troll

I had an unusual interaction the other day on Twitter… Oh, boy. Weird inexplicable exchanges with people on Twitter are about as common place traffic and enjoyable as a stubbed toe. This one did not disappoint.

But #silverlining! I realized I was looking at the anatomy of a troll! There is a method to that trolling madness. It was all laid out before me! I could use this otherwise useless interaction for something good!

We have a long tradition here at Ye Olde Blogge of addressing trolling. We’ve learned that trolls are mainly driven by everyday sadism — getting pleasure out of inflicting small amounts of discomfort on people. They want to see you run around and scream and shout.

Once again, I’ll be using the quick dip, shallow dive, and deep dive. I know we’re all busy, so you can choose from the menu of time commitments! Ha! How about that.

The Quick Dip

A two-minute read

We’ll get this party started by serving up the good stuff first! This type of post is more than a bit voyeuristic with all of us wanting to see someone make a idiot outta himself. Usually, that’d be me!

And, I think this time is no exception. In the course of writing this post, I realized I gotta bit o’ troll in me, too. I can dish as good as I get and — it’s jactation time, kids, so get your tissues to clean up after — usually better than most. That’s because I have dissected so many trolls and really studied the anatomy and physiology of it all.

Here are the tweets in full. They has been screen grabbed because embedding tweets is weird and awkward. It’s not for the faint of heart. As you read through, see if you can spot the moments of trolling on both sides of the aisle.

I’d love to hear what you thought was trolly in the exchange! Please put it in the comments, if you would be so kind. Otherwise, let me psysplain the trolliness to all y’all!

Here’s what you do if you want to go trolling, but don’t be surprised if the your prey fights back! If they do, though, just double down on these techniques.

  • Be aggressive. No matter what gets said, pick something that is difficult to defend and go after it. Just make sure you take ownership of the outcome. Have you heard anything more aggressive than that? In 280 characters or less please explain the factors that contribute to the winning and losing of a presidential election. Right, we’ll lose because we picked the “wrong” candidate. Well, no shit. by definition, the losing candidate was the “wrong” candidate. What else you got Ms. Bigshot Pundit?
  • Pique your opponent.Vote blue no matter who is an empty platitude.” Get ’em leading with their chin and swinging wild! What am I supposed to do go sputtering on about how the disaffected disinterested disinclined “independent” voter is going to vote against Trump, too, rather than just sit home playing on their phone? If the 2020 equivalent of the BernieBros — would that be the BetoBrats, so far? — sit home and petulantly and self-righteously not-vote because their favorite candidate didn’t win, maybe that will cause Trump to win this time, too.
  • Split hairs, be pedantic whenever possible, and ignore the obvious. Your article on how perception affects a candidates chances of winning didn’t talk about policies and the electoral college or her disadvantages. Every hear of a thesis statement? I thought not. Jesus, fuck. Social media makes us dumber and technology just replaces our current problems with other problems.
  • Belittle and humiliate. Once you’ve gotten them emotionally vulnerable, belittle them with humiliating insults and comments. You don’t understand the Princess and the Pea. “Malapropism.” “Pure projection.” What the fuck ever since a malapropism is about a word that sounds like another — French flies instead of French fries — not accurately describing someone’s petulance in sitting out an election because their favorite candidate didn’t win
  • Deflect without ever admitting anything. I gotta say this one is hard to describe. Look at the example instead, “I never said I wouldn’t vote blue” is an attempt to deflect any criticism by denying the plainly obvious implications of the exchange while never disproving the accusations which could be done by avowing to vote blue and swearing solidarity to the eventual candidate.
  • Take the moral high ground and when none is available, fake it. Assume the tone of moral condescension. Warren supporters intentionally lying to comfort themselves. We’ve all seen that one before. And this one, too, “your dishonest, emotional, All it lacks is the “sad.”

Notice that these techniques are not mutually exclusive. They overlap and do double duty. So, watch yourselves out there and be sure to tell us about your experience with trolls in the comments.

The Shallow Dive

A four-minute read

Why the fuck are Internet trolls everywhere nowadays? It’s like there’s a degree mill turning trolls out like kudzu. But, really it is just good old-fashioned social learning theory. Trolls and Russian bots show us how, and good old American nastiness and human ingenuity take it from there.

Let’s start this shallow dive by looking at the qualities of the medium that they occur in. Social media is ideal for trolling and botting. Let’s explore why!

  • Everyone interacts at a remove. There are no face-to-face personal encounters. You never see anyone’s face. As much as it connects people, it dehumanizes us, too. It’s too easy to forget that there is a real live human being on the other side of your screen. There’s no chance for empathy.
  • It is text based. It is difficult to adequately express your nuanced self through text-only communication. And, Twitter limits you to 280 characters which makes anything other than jabs, pokes, and swipes pretty difficult to do.
  • It lends itself to memes. To make up for the shortfalls in communication and information, people have developed an ability to use shorthand techniques to communicate complex ideas or at least allude to them. Socially, we used stereotypes. On social media, we use memes and emojis. Only memes are not as effective as stereotypes.

It isn’t hard to see how the qualities of social media combine with the trolls true desire to “see” people squirm and worry to make it happen. Hopefully, you can see how Kafka’s responses to me were designed — maybe not consciously on her part — to make me squirm, feel bad, get angry, demoralize me, and other bad psychic things, right? We can list them out here:

Let’s move on to a closer examination of the actual claims and words of the troll. We’ll make some bad fun of her, and explain the mechanics of how she implemented the trolling techniques.

  • Just make sure you take ownership of the consequences: It’s your fault that Trump won and you’re too chicken shit to own up to it. And, you’ll hand the 2020 election to Ol’ Pussy Grabber because you’re too stupid to see the error of your ways and too cowardly to own up to your stupidity. Is there a more cruel — and groundless — statement out there? It’s your fault the Ol’ Pussy Grabber was elected! You’ve got to be a Russian bot to say such a thing. It’s the Russian’s and Comey’s fault along with a healthy heaping helping of GOP voter suppression. Trying to argue that out in 280 character exchanges, sounds like a worthwhile waste of time.
  • Vote blue no matter who is an empty platitude: You’re too stupid to realize that you’re banking on 27% of the electorate. No, we are not banking on just 27% of the electorate you pendatic — a combination of pendejo and pedantic — sorry excuse for a troll. Oh, no, you mean 90% of Americans aren’t Democratic? Drat! There goes our entire plan of winning. We’re trembling because we can’t do basic math or read polls. Just fuck the fuck off. Literally, no one thinks that is how vote blue no matter who works.
  • Also weird to call ppl crabby because they hold a different view: It is weird to call some crabby because they hold a different view, but not when they are a whiny little wanna be pundit trying to intimidate you. Read the sub-text of your messaging — this is the part where the troll will fall back on, You’re misreading my text. It’s you, not me. If that’s the case, you’re illiterate. But, because we’re all trained to be polite, we probably won’t be accusing her of lying when she so obviously is. We all know how the language works.
  • Pure projection: But nothing in my words indicate it (that I’m being crabby), either. So, who’s the projector now, hunh? Or is it just a sad attempt at deflection and intimidating insult?
  • At no point did I say that: Probably my most favorite claim in the whole mess. No you never said you would not vote blue no matter who, but you implied it, and you didn’t say you would when directly challenged. That’s so circular that it should leave you retching on the floor.
  • Says a lot about Warren: If the previous claim was my favorite, this one is just the shittiest. How the fuck can anything I say reflect on Warren? It’s like talking trash about your favorite team. It’s fun, but it isn’t related to reality. Essentially, all trash talking is the same, “My team’s gonna win; yours is gonna lose!” As a passive observer there is nothing I can do to affect the outcome of the game. As someone wholly unconnected to Warren, there is nothing about me that reflects upon her. My act of supporting her candidacy does not in anyway reflect her values and behaviors. The dishonesty is galling! It is almost as outrageous as — wait for it — the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s dishonesty. That’s got to be some of the worst gaslighting in the entire waste of ether and bytes.
  • PSYCHOLOGICAL PROJECTION AT ITS FINEST: This entire tweet really is trolling at its finest. The Russian technique is to sow division between Americans. By being so aggressively insistent that any progressive cannot win, she is sowing division. By being so insulting, condescending, insistent, and argumentative, she is sowing division. That’s the meaning of vote blue no matter who: we cannot be divided.

By realizing that troll just want to provoke consternation and chaos, you can avoid that consternation. By dissecting the ways that trolls try to provoke you, you’re far more likely to recognize it as it is coming at you and avoid the trap.

Managing your emotional response is one of the most important ways of avoiding (a) being manipulated by trolls and (b) believing their fallacious arguments. They are seductive. It is the power of illusory explanation.

The Deep Dive

A six-minute read

The interesting thing about trolling is that trolls share techniques without ever having had direct contact with each other. It’s almost like we’re getting degrees in trolling and botting, passing licensing tests, and participating in freaking continuing education! Some of it can be explained by social learning theory, but most of it probably is explained by evolutionary psychology and how we try to influence each other in groups. But, that is a topic for another post.

You know a troll by their behavior. That’s all. If they are just kicking up dust, starting fights, and gaslighting, then they are likely a troll. If there is no constructive purpose to the interaction, then they are likely a troll.

It helps to check their profile. I don’t have anything other than personal experience to guide me here. Admittedly, my experience is limited, too. But, just like trolls share techniques without ever having met, it is reasonable to suspect that the same qualities that guides their trolling guides their profile writing.

So let’s look at @KStovring’s profile. There are several things to look for in the profile of troll, a bot, or a trolling bot:

  1. The profile pic. Do the kids call that thingee an avi nowadays?
    • His, hers, theirs — that’s also a thing the kids are doing nowadays, isn’t it? is of a woman. You can see her standing in profile at some kind of tourist site stretching her arm to point up with a huge pistol dangling over her head.
    • I don’t know why, but I immediately think that the picture is fake. It might not be. But, both my ire and suspicions are aroused, so I go to fake.
    • Reserve judgment on that, though.
  2. The written profile.
    • The only thing written in his-hers-their profile is #Beto2020 heart emoji.
    • Trolls or bots often have profile statements designed to do one of two things: either draw you in to make you believe that they are one of you or clearly demonstrate how much of a partisan they are for their cause. This one falls mildly on the partisan, side.
    • I note that it lacks any claims to Democrats, voting blue, the resistance, blue waves, anti-Trump statements, or any of the other common claims that are so often found in non-bot non-troll liberal profiles.
    • Suspicions heightened.
  3. The number of followers and following.
    • Kafka or @KStovring has only 707 followers and is only following 976 as of this writing.
    • Trolls or bots usually follow lots of people but have only a few followers. No one likes them. Too bad you cannot gain access to the number of times an account has been blocked or muted, right? You could get a better gauge of how big an asshole the person really is.
    • I’m surprised at how few followers the account has and how few accounts Kafka is following. You can still be a troll and have fairly normal follower-following numbers, though.
    • Suspicions allayed somewhat.
  4. The date of joining.
    • @KStovring joined Twitter in July 2011!
    • Wow! This really breaks the bot mold — not necessarily the troll mode, though! Bots are often new accounts since Russian bots are a relatively recent phenomenon. On the other hand, trolls often have to change accounts frequently because people report them and their accounts get closed because they are assholes by definition. Of course, Kafka coulda just taken over a dead account. I assume people can hack an account and take it over. But, Occam’s razor, right?
    • Suspicions aroused just because it seems so damn incongruous with the experience. Kinda like the avatar picture thing. It just don’t add up.
  5. Tweets.
    • Always check the number of tweets a person has made. The account is eight years old, yet there are only 3,644 tweets. That’s an average of 455 per year or just over one per day. Hmmm… the hacked account theory is looking better.
    • Scrolling back through the news feed shows that there are very few original tweets, just retweets, and comments — nothing unusual there.
    • All of the tweets are about Beto. Nothing but Beto. Any mention of Beto or Texas in the presidential campaign seems to get a retweet. That’s very botty. Or obsessivey.

My overall impression is that this is a person who is new to the troll game, but learning fast. A possible explanatory theory is that @KStovring opened her account in 2011 and didn’t do much with it. That is a fairly common occurrence. Twitter can be like stepping into the middle — but not the eye — of a hurricane mixed with a blizzard. It just moves so damn fast. Many people sign up, can’t hack it, and just leave their account be. Then, they decide to come back to it.

Still the hacked account theory cannot be completely discounted. Maybe Kafka just finds Beto particularly inspiring and revived her Twitter account to jump on the Beto train. Who knows.

There are so many layers to this interaction. The actual trolling bothered me. I find trolling fascinating because there is such an art to it and it is just so damned widespread, so there’s that. I also find the pedantic smug condescending limited assumptions about how you judge a candidate and a campaign and who wins.

It partly offends because I have spent so much time over the past few months sorting through some of the political science, sociological, and psychological research into political campaigns and candidates. It is a fascinating nuanced area that goes far far beyond policies and the electoral college. Yet, @KStovring and so many others on Twitter are just so sure that they know what determines the outcome of elections.

If you think it is policies and routes through the electoral college — it is the EC since the EC elects the president, but it isn’t as simple as @KStovring makes it out to be in her 280 character diatribes — it is seeming presidential. The person who seems most presidential, wins. It is that simple.

That first tweet, the one that caught my attention, got it in spite of their being no indication of who @KStovring was responding to and what specifically had been said. All I saw was an arrogant dissing of Warren as a progressive.

The really stupid thing is that the progressive-liberal-moderate continuum barely even applies. Nowadays in Dem presidential politics it is all about the coalitions. And, who has the black vote. Neither Beto or Warren or anyone else not named Biden have the black vote. So, again, illusory explanation and trying to set the frame of the discussion. But, the frame is wrong.

The even stupider thing is that Beto has made it his stock-in-trade to shoot himself in the dick since announcing and polling at around 10%. The man has been going the wrong direction in nearly every poll since then. Chirst on a pogo stick, he’s still ten points behind Biden in TEXAS!

Throughout the exchange part of me was disbelieving that any Beto supporter could be so rabid. I mean, I loved me some Beto in 2018 when he was kicking Ted the punch punch punchiest face the face that all the mothers love to punch Cruz’s ass in every fucking county. I even thought he might could make a good president.

But, since then he has sounded vacuous and vague and vacillating. His debate performances have been less than scintillating. No breakout moments for him. In fact, there were very few moments for him at all.

After the El Paso shooting, I thought Beto might see a bounce in the polls. He got lots of press attention. He got lots of sympathy from the voters. He was eloquent, forceful, passionate everything in his wheelhouse. But, here we are two weeks later and no bounce no blip in the polls. One might come, I suppose. Polls do lag events. If there were one, though I’d think we’d see it.

If Beto had gotten a bounce because of his leadership in El Paso after the shootings, and he lit the stage on fire during the third debate, he might could then surf that wave to the top. It still leaves the question of the coalition.

Any serious read of the primary suggests that Beto is not going to win. In fact out of the 24 or so declared candidates, 23 of them are not going to win. Only five or six of the candidates are even within pissing distance of the nomination. So, why is anyone going to the mat for a candidate now?

I haven’t seen anyone really taking the gloves off and fighting hard for a candidate. I have seen several Beto supporters coming out swinging and talking smack, though.

So, here’s my conclusion. @KStovring is a troll who wittingly or unwittingly is sowing discord, discontent, and division in the Democratic primary. The product of this discord is a weakening of the eventual nominee.

That’s the Russian influence campaign playbook. Right there. So you know what they say, if it staggers like a drunk Russian influence campaign officer and it shit posts like a Russian influence campaign officer, it probably is a Russian influence campaign officer.

5 replies »

  1. I can’t fault your analysis of the Troll, but if he/she/it is a Russian bot. their English usage and spelling may be getting better (lots of practice). I actually have stayed away from Twitter, Instagram, and basically every social medium other than blogs and FaceBook. I had my own education on Trolls way back on Usenet news groups. Central to their responses to anything longer than 280 characters is picking out one impression and not reading with critical thinking and comprehension, in the case in question, that you were talking about Warren and presumed to be in the “It’s gotta be Warren.” position.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      I don’t think KStovring is a Russian. I think she is a useful idiot, or a paid Russian asset. If you were wanting to influence an election through social media, wouldn’t you want to set up real live Americans so they could social media all day following broad outlines and scripts from multiple accounts and profiles? I mean, as soon as I understood the outline of the Russian effort, I wondered why they didn’t have Americans in their employ, how many they did because they had people organizing rallies and events for them, or when they would ramp up that method. I can’t quite shake the idea that 90+% of the tweets in her feed are pro-Beto and not understanding how that is possible without either some amazing level of obsession or a deliberate dedicated process that would be a paid entity.


      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re probably right. What might be interesting will be what He/She/It/They do when Beto drops out. The likely bets are: 1) “He was sabotaged by the evil DNC.” and/or 2) Getting behind another doomed candidate and continuing to bad mouth the leaders from the “If its not our guy, the Dems will loose.”

        Liked by 1 person

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