EDIT: 'how to identify a corporate troll' added below the main post.
I'm just an ordinary person and I have no links to corporations of any sort. You won't see ads on my blog because I don't want the clutter and have no interest in making a few dollars on the side. This is a blog for the love of keeping chickens, and for the love of sustainability.
Yet time and time again I bump into people with an agenda on chicken forums. Actually 'people' is the wrong word: I mean identities. In itself an identity isn't a bad thing; you'd have to be able to spot that my name isn't exactly a real name. Erica Bandanna is a made up name, sort of Australian (Eric Bana) and sort of freedom-minded (the bandanna). But I express my agenda with everything I say and do. It's about aiming for sustainable, independent, enviro-friendly, happy, healthy backyard produce and pets.
Identities I dislike are finding newer and newer ways to persuade interested members of the public to take particular views on particular commodities. The one I had a strong reaction to today used a discussion of a flock with mycoplasma gallisepticum to veer into what I felt to be an attempted promotion of vaccines. When I gently veered the other way (pointing out that biosecurity works well, that MG is easy to eradicate by depopulating and purchasing from clean flocks, and that some vaccines can spread the very diseases they attempt to control, the example I gave being tick fever) the identity quietly left the thread and started a new one talking about vaccines.
Yet even there it didn't begin with 'aren't vaccines terrific' — that might have been too obvious. Instead it began as a cheerful discussion by someone who wants to learn, asking what kinds of things other people vaccinate for. All very neutral and chatty.
And, I feel, an example of this at work:
I've always had a live-and-let-live philosophy. If some people want to compromise the quality of their information by developing bonds with corporations, let them. I'm reasonably immune to anything not backed up by not only good science, but good philosophy. But during my last close relationship with a chicken forum I wasn't as aware of corporate trolls as I am now, and I found myself frequently confused at the sneering attitudes of some of the identities I gently disagreed with. Somehow despite my open attitude (vaccines are fine, but here's another way... commercial wormers are fine, but here's another possibility that may be worth trying...) I kept finding myself on the back foot, defensive and not sure why. To make it worse I was using my actual name, and only later did I realise that may have been a bad idea. I don't believe corporate trolls would do a home-visit to scare someone, but it was unsettling to realise how many of these anonymous people I'd annoyed.
Of course now I know why I felt so insecure, and feel I can spot a hidden agenda (most times) from a mile off. But that doesn't stop me from disliking the attempted manipulation and wishing it didn't go on.
Alas, these things are part of the modern world. In fact they were (in lesser form and lower numbers) a part of the earlier world too, when political agents would send a letter to a local paper calling themselves 'Concerned Citizens' or 'John Bloggs', or when fake candidates would set themselves up for election only to steer people's preferences toward a major party. Nobody can prove these fake candidates are anything but genuine; fewer can prove Concerned Citizen is a corporate troll.
All we can do is keep researching and keep comparing information against our own views, our deeper philosophies and our personal situations. In the meantime, I hope others develop an ability to spot corporate trolls too... Because eventually you'll get so quick at spotting them, you won't get past their chatty, I'm-just-an-ordinary-humble-fellow introduction to let their views in. You may even find them amusing. After all, anyone who has to pretend to be a nobody to be a somebody is surely a bit of a nothing...
Me, I just want to find ways to breed durable chickens without major reliance on poisons, questionable additives or fake vitamins. And I want to share the experience in case it gives anyone else ideas they can use. Given the high numbers of corporate trolls who try to control discussions without appearing to do so, I feel it's the least I can do.
How to Identify a Corporate Troll:
- Do you find yourself subtly undermined when you post about organics, non-use of meds, alternative therapies or anything outside orthodoxy?
- Do you occasionally find yourself being sneered at even though you feel your post was innocuous and uncontroversial?
- Do you wonder why some people get so riled up over what seems to be merely another way of doing things, especially if you weren't attacking their view?
Heads up! There's a troll in the area!
Unfortunately trolls are very hard to pin down. Firstly, behind every identity is (most likely) a real person, with some degree of personal interest in the field. Otherwise they wouldn't be doing what they do. If it's true that trolls are often employees rather than senior officials then it makes sense that they'd have some diversity of outlook, and some could even be rather 'nice' as people.
To 'see' a troll you don't use your main senses, you have to go 'underground'. You have to see them through their tactics!
- They may start innocuous threads on subjects they pretend to know little about, such as vaccines, in order to find subtle ways to dismiss every non-vaccination point of view. For instance, they might say, 'Oh, yes, I've never been into vaccination, but I just had my entire flock wiped out by a preventable disease! Can you tell me, is there any other way I can be totally sure this won't happen again, except vaccinating?'
- They usually heat up quickly when people dig in with even mildly anti-corporate or pro-independence ideas. Often a well reasoned post questioning reliance on something corporate suddenly dissolves into sneering. For this reason I suspect the ones who really express disdain for something mildly off-the-grid may be trolls. Let's face it, the rest of us don't get quite so personally het up unless we're personally attacked!
- Like all bullies they rely on associating someone else with unpopularity and negativity, while they portray themselves as part of a clever majority. To this end, they may use various identities at the one time in order to come across as a majority view and to intimidate honest individuals. But the more influential trolls (e.g. occasionally a moderator may be a troll) will raise an army of followers to promote the orthodoxy... There are many ways to be a bully!
- They raise feel-good topics in order to surround themselves with an air of goodwill and humour. Links to kittens playing, photos of their cats or dogs, pictures of them 'at home' with their arms around children all work well. Since normal people do this too, it's not something you can rely on unless you've seen them use the above tactics as well.
- They post idiot-topics pretending to be organic or 'alternative' in order to sound so incredibly stupid people will sensibly avoid that line of thinking at all. Naturally the 'good' members and moderators will jump on this silly idiot to correct them, thereby demonstrating to all the value of 'right' thinking. Any time I see someone posting that you can cure every known disease using X or Y, I suspect a heavily disguised troll.
- The worst kind of troll is also a moderator. However in this case they tend to depend more on their coterie than outright bullying. They foster an army of loyal believers who jump on non-orthodox players and cut them out of the game. Apart from this they use every other tactic in the book, and are probably quite busy inventing new ones!
Happy troll hunting!