As a follower of politics in different countries I read the news and social media from at least three countries every day. During the American presidential campaign throughout his campaign it was obvious that there was a coordinated use of the social media by both sides. While the use of propaganda is as old as politics itself, the sheer scale of #trolls to spread #False news face the growing fake news problem and/or derisive images and messages about the opposing candidates during the election shows high levels of coordination and sophistication.

The importance of the Presidency of the United States is emphasized by the interest shown in the social media around the world. Furthermore, both the Democrats and the Republican Parties have links with parties in many other countries with similar political philosophies and agendas and it is only natural that exponents and supporters of these parties take part in online debates and discussion on political developments, as also happened during the Brexit campaign in July. No doubt this will also occur during election campaigns in other democracies.

This reveals how much the leadership of certain countries affects the world political situation, as well as the international markets and it is right that this happens. What is not right is the sheer scale of the manipulation which more than hints that many trolls do not do so out of partisan interest, but for payment, particularly those from poorer countries. Some of the debates quickly become heated and even childish with the use of quick memes, or images that supposedly reply to serious questions, or comments by the opposition.

Trolls

Going from site to site between countries on Facebook during those months it was easy to pick up the repetition of certain messages and names for the candidates such as “Killary” for the Democratic candidate. Following numerous chats and forums a pattern of behaviour began to emerge that identified certain people as “trolls” the personality of internet trolls, as such activists are told.

It begins with a comment to a post which is then followed seconds later with a cut and paste of links, YouTube clips, or examples of the dishonesty of the opponent. These lists became very wide spread and the speed with which the trolls put them online reveals that they had been prepared in advance for quick use and was often repeated in the same post to different people to ensure that the message was spread as widely as possible.

Checking the profiles of the propagandist trolls their pages are often almost identical. They were recently registered, with few if any personal details, or photos and even when the pages seem genuine the photos on display and their likes are often directed specifically to the causes that they promote. In addition the poor level of English of many was often due to their coming from non English speaking countries.

Controlling false news

Controlling such behaviour is truly difficult. The nature of the internet means that it is impossible to locate with certainty who is coordinating the activities and therefore in whose interest it is to spread the often rabid and outrageous lies used by the trolls.

No doubt sociologists have already begun looking at the phenomenon, but it is also a matter for the politicians themselves to understand and control. These trolls and the propaganda are political weapons and therefore the effects of their behaviour have consequences as we saw with the reaction part of the public after the result of the election.

Informed and reasonable debate is an important part of modern democracies, but this wild destructive behaviour only serves to further widen already dangerous division and lead to violence. The savage use of the social media with the spread of willful and false news and imagery can only make matters worse and those who administer it should take serious steps to ensure that what should be a means of healthy communication does not degenerate into a virtual reality brawl. #2016 presidential campaign