One of the biggest challenges to democracy and journalism in the last few years has been internet trolls. We all know about them, we all hate them, but what do we do about them? Now there’s an online tool to help educate you on these founts of fake facts, SpottheTroll.org.
The website was created by researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina and designed as an educational tool for those who may think they are beyond disinformation. The eight profiles they show you are either real or linked to an actual Russian troll factory in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The problem is most people think they can spot a troll, but that’s far from the case as these fake accounts become more convincing. As the tools for online media evolve faster than the public’s visual and media literacy, this was bound to happen. Even I, who is quite savvy in such matters, had to read very closely to decipher the troll from the real account, and there were a few I couldn’t really figure out for certain. I suspect if those accounts were in the wild I would not have scrutinized them close enough to make a decision either way — and that’s frightening.
Confusion is often the point of trolls. They aren’t always designed to influence you directly, but they’re often more successful at making you think an extreme perspective is more common than it actually is. If you keep seeing accounts on Instagram or Twitter that say they are concerned about violent protesters, then you may start associating violence with protests. If you do, then the trolls are doing their job. And even if you don’t, there are plenty of people who will. It sucks, but here we are.
I suggest you try the website yourself. It might just open your eyes to something that is a growing threat.