The word “troll” has been used to describe many of Russia’s social media efforts to encourage the widening divide in our country. Their campaign’s success is difficult to measure, though it has certainly had some level of success. It would be difficult to argue that the division through the heart of the U.S. is all Russia’s fault, but they have put out a concerted effort to capitalize and encourage our demise. If you peruse through Twitter, it won’t be long until you find some obvious “trolls” trading buzzwords and trending hashtags that are unabashedly offensive to the other side, but are obviously just recycled, quickly made posts that appear over and over and over again, oversaturating the web with “arguments.”
Even when we became aware of Russia’s tactics on social media, many just switched to calling anyone with a dissenting opinion a “Russian troll.” There is so much internal chaos in the U.S., especially online, and these state-sponsored Russian groups have one job: stoke the flames. Their goal is not necessarily to propagate a liberal or conservative agenda — their goal is to cause dissent and chaos. The “trolls” seek to continuously pit one against the other, which becomes easier when each “side” forgets to police their own as they argue among other Americans.
They have also been called “troll farms,” “troll factories,” or “Russian bots.”
Where many in the United States (news sources included) call them trolls, the state-sponsored Russians on social media are more accurately known as “web brigades.” It is certainly possible that, in an effort to diminish the seriousness of what they are doing, they encourage the use of names like “trolls.”
While the internet may have a specific definition floating around that encompasses both trolls and the Russian web brigades, most people hear the word “troll” and think of a fourteen year old kid in his mom’s basement drawing MS Paint dicks and posting it on famous peoples’ Facebook feeds. The knee-jerk reaction to the word troll is typically not Russians whose sole job is to divide American culture in whatever way they can. Even the word “bot” insinuates something automatic — a robot that, at the end of the day, can be controlled and is not inherently malicious. And so to call the web brigades bots is also inaccurate.
Let’s say the Russians were developing a doomsday weapon that, if a button was pushed, would obliterate the earth into a trillion pieces. No nuclear fallout, no surviving bunkers — literally just shards of the earth falling into the sun and zero survivors. This would cause quite the international uproar, so during the weapons development they just decide to call it the “big-boom explodey thing.” Ridiculous. Childish. And yet many would begin to treat the weapon itself as something that is ridiculous and childish, despite its grave implications.
An overly dramatic metaphor, sure, but you get my point. Using a less-than-serious descriptor encourages the average person to take the problem less-than-seriously.
In some circles, it may be unpopular to tell people to police their words. Many are sick of the “politically correct” culture that is constantly telling them that X word is inherently good and Y word is inherently bad. However, this case has nothing to do with what is and isn’t offensive. Words still have meaning and “troll” is simply an inaccurate one when describing the Russian web brigades. To identify them as such, even casually, does more harm than good.
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.