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Social Media Trolling: Weaponizing Identity, Embracing Disinformation

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Beware of Social Media

Social media has undoubtedly transformed the way information is disseminated and consumed globally. While it has opened doors to amplify voices and promote societal progress, it has also exposed vulnerabilities, making it an easy target for evil forces seeking to manipulate narratives. In recent years, there has been a disturbing trend of African-American men being targeted by Russian troll farms and white men masquerading as allies to influence voting patterns and launch disinformation campaigns. Through an analytical lens, this essay aims to shed light on the extent of this trend and its potential consequences.

The rise of Russian troll farms:

Russian troll farms have become notorious for their role in spreading disinformation and sowing discord. These farms employ various tactics, with social media trolling being their primary method of operation. According to a study conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute, these troll farms specifically target racial and ethnic communities, exploiting existing tensions to further divide societies.

The tactics employed by Russian troll farms are designed to manipulate public opinion and create chaos. By infiltrating social media platforms, these trolls create and disseminate false narratives, often targeting sensitive issues related to race and ethnicity. They exploit pre-existing tensions within these communities, amplifying divisions and fueling animosity. This deliberate strategy aims to undermine social cohesion and destabilize democratic processes.

The study conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute sheds light on the specific focus of these troll farms on racial and ethnic communities. By targeting these groups, they exploit historical grievances, stereotypes, and prejudices to provoke emotional responses and deepen societal divisions. This approach not only undermines trust within these communities but also erodes trust in democratic institutions and the media.

The consequences of these troll farms' actions are far-reaching. By exacerbating divisions, they weaken social cohesion and hinder efforts towards unity and understanding. Furthermore, their dissemination of disinformation can have a significant impact on public opinion, influencing political discourse and potentially swaying election outcomes. It is crucial for individuals, communities, and governments to be aware of these tactics and work towards countering the spread of disinformation and fostering a more informed and resilient society.

Russian troll farms have gained infamy for their involvement in spreading disinformation and fostering discord. Their primary focus on racial and ethnic communities, as highlighted by the Oxford Internet Institute study, reveals a deliberate strategy to exploit existing tensions and deepen divisions. Recognizing and addressing these tactics is essential for safeguarding democratic processes, promoting social cohesion, and countering the spread of disinformation.

Targeting African-American men:

In recent years, African-American men have unfortunately become the primary targets of online trolling. This malicious behavior can be attributed to the sensitive and fragile racial relations in the United States. Those who engage in trolling campaigns aim to exacerbate social divisions, erode community trust, and ultimately manipulate voter behavior by preying on racial sensitivities.

Online trolls often target African-American men due to the historical and ongoing racial tensions that exist in our society. By attacking and degrading them, trolls seek to deepen these divisions and sow discord among different racial groups. This destructive behavior not only perpetuates stereotypes and biases but also hampers efforts towards achieving racial equality and understanding.

Furthermore, trolling campaigns specifically directed towards African-American men also aim to undermine the trust within communities. By spreading hateful messages and creating a hostile online environment, trolls aim to breed mistrust and suspicion among individuals. This can lead to further segregation and isolation within communities, hindering the progress towards building safe and cohesive neighborhoods.

One of the most alarming consequences of targeted trolling is its potential to manipulate voter behavior. By exploiting racial sensitivities and exacerbating tensions, trolls seek to influence how individuals perceive and engage in political processes. This can lead to biased decision-making, polarized voting patterns, and ultimately, a divisive political landscape. By targeting African-American men, trolls hope to manipulate their perspectives, attitudes, and ultimately their voting choices.

It is crucial that we address and confront this growing issue of targeted trolling against African-American men. We must raise awareness about the harmful impacts of online harassment and work towards creating a more inclusive online environment where racial and cultural differences are respected. Education, community engagement, and initiatives supporting digital literacy can help empower individuals against the manipulative tactics employed by online trolls. African-American men have unfortunately become prime targets within the broader landscape of online trolling due to the fragile nature of racial relations in the United States. Both men and women in the African American communities have become reciepents of unwanted trolling, but as a male I wanted to express the personal effects as experienced.

Pretending allyship: The infiltration of white male users:

In recent times, an increasingly concerning phenomenon has arisen in conjunction with the proliferation of social media trolling. This perturbing trend involves the emergence of white men who, under the guise of being ardent supporters of black causes, attempt to influence and manipulate African-American communities while shaping public opinion in a manner that aligns with their own objectives. These individuals employ a variety of deceptive techniques, concealing their true identities in order to establish credibility and gain the trust of their intended targets.

The tactics employed by these trolls are both insidious and calculated. They skillfully infiltrate online forums, seamlessly integrating themselves into discussions surrounding black activism. Through their carefully crafted narratives, they seek to sow the seeds of discord and disseminate disinformation, thereby furthering their ulterior motives. However, what sets this particular breed of trolls apart from previous accounts is their strategic adoption of a racial presentation, specifically that of a Black activist. Astonishingly, empirical evidence has revealed that this particular approach has proven to be the most effective in driving engagement with disinformation. "But diverging from prior empirical accounts, we find racial presentation—specifically, presenting as a Black activist—to be the most effective predictor of disinformation engagement by far. Importantly, these results could only be detected once we disaggregated Black-presenting accounts from non-Black liberal accounts." (Crawford J. T. (2014)

It is important to note that the detection of these deceptive practices was only made possible by meticulously distinguishing between accounts that presented themselves as Black and those that identified as non-Black liberals. This distinction allowed for a more nuanced understanding of the tactics employed by these trolls and shed light on the effectiveness of their strategies. By leveraging the power of racial presentation, these individuals exploit the trust and empathy that is often associated with black activism, thereby amplifying their influence and manipulating public sentiment.

The implications of this disturbing trend are far-reaching. Not only does it erode the credibility of online discourse surrounding black causes, but it also undermines the trust and unity within African-American communities. The deliberate dissemination of disinformation by these trolls not only perpetuates falsehoods but also diverts attention and resources away from genuine efforts to address the systemic issues faced by the black community. Moreover, the impact extends beyond the realm of social media, as the manipulation of public opinion can have tangible consequences in the real world, affecting policies, perceptions, and the overall well-being of marginalized communities.

In order to combat this disconcerting phenomenon, it is crucial for social media platforms, as well as users, to exercise vigilance and critical thinking. By implementing robust mechanisms to verify the authenticity of user identities and promoting media literacy, the spread of disinformation can be mitigated.

Implications for voting patterns:

The ramifications of this meticulously orchestrated trolling and disinformation campaign extend far beyond the realm of mischief, with its most conspicuous impact materializing in the realm of voting patterns. By singling out African-American men as their prime targets, these cunning actors aim to stifle voter turnout, cultivate skepticism towards the democratic process, and cunningly manipulate electoral results to favor their handpicked candidates like Donald Trump. The truly insidious nature of these campaigns lies in their insatiable appetite for exploiting the racial identity of African-American men, deftly capitalizing on their historical marginalization to stoke political discord and dampen their enthusiasm for active participation.

The intricate nature of this trolling and disinformation campaign extends far beyond a mere nuisance. Its consequences reverberate significantly in the realm of voting, where it exerts a tangible influence on the patterns and behaviors of voters. By strategically singling out African-American men as their prime targets, these astute actors skillfully aim to undermine the democratic process itself. Their objective is twofold: first, to suppress voter turnout among African-American men, and second, to insidiously cultivate skepticism and doubt regarding the legitimacy and fairness of the electoral system.

This calculated manipulation of voting patterns serves as a means to an end for these cunning actors. They seek to cunningly alter electoral results to favor their own handpicked candidates. By preying upon African-American men, who have historically been marginalized and disenfranchised, these actors exploit their vulnerable position within society for their own political gain. This exploitation takes advantage of the deep-seated racial identity and experiences of African-American men, skillfully capitalizing on their historical struggles and marginalization to fuel political discord and dampen their enthusiasm for active participation in the democratic process.

The insidious nature of these campaigns lies not only in their calculated objectives but also in their relentless pursuit of exploiting the racial identity of African-American men. By skillfully manipulating the historical marginalization and disenfranchisement faced by our community, these bad actors sow the seeds of political discord and division and partner with surrogates i.e. Blacks For Trump. They deftly utilize the vulnerability of African-American men to stoke skepticism and mistrust towards the democratic process itself.

Amplified divisions and public discourse:

Beyond election cycles, targeting African-American men through trolling and disinformation campaigns exacerbates existing societal divisions. The dissemination of false information not only undermines trust in media sources but also fosters deep-rooted suspicion among various communities. This, in turn, hinders constructive civic engagements, weakens social cohesion, and limits meaningful progress on issues related to racial justice. Many social media trolls sling verbal abuse on perceived black celebrities and leaders to further confuse the community discussion of social justice and equality.

The rise of social media trolling conducted by Russian troll farms and white men posing as allies is a significant concern for the African-American community. Through its manipulative tactics, this trend seeks to exploit historical racial and gender tensions, influence voting patterns, and deepen societal divisions. Recognizing the potential consequences, it becomes imperative for individuals, social media platforms, and policymakers to actively combat disinformation, promote media literacy, and ensure the integrity of democratic processes. We can only safeguard the online spaces from becoming battlegrounds of manipulation and disinformation by taking collective action. Don’t let the intersection of news and media turn inwards into gender and racial division. Let’s all write responsibly and always recognize truth is in the ”eye of the beholder.”

Crawford J. T. (2014). Ideological symmetries and asymmetries in political intolerance and prejudice toward political activist groups. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 284–298.

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