4 Darknesses: Internet being Manipulated, Deceived by Western Intel Trolls

(By Juan Cole)

Researchers on online behavior have shown that internet trolls (people who use insincere techniques to disrupt conversations) really are psychopaths, marked by narcisssism, sadism, Machiavellianism. Professors Eric Buckels, Paul Trapnell, and Delroy Paulhus administered surveys to students and found that about 6 percent of them enjoyed messing with other people’s heads on the internet, or trolling. This same group scored high on the four most vicious personality traits, known as the dark tetrad. They agreed when asked questions like this:

I have been compared to famous people (narcissism)
It’s not wise to tell your secrets (Machiavellianism)
Payback needs to be quick and nasty (psychopathy)
Hurting people is exciting (sadism)
In video games, I like the realistic blood sports (vicarious sadism)

Now it turns out that Western intelligence agencies who say that they are fighting al-Qaeda are actually spending time trolling the internet, displaying all the same Dark Tetrad characteristics. Their victims include “hacktivists,” but note that they are targeting these individuals on suspicion of hacking and that the persons targeted have not been convicted of any crime.

Glenn Greenwald at Firstlook reveals the powerpoint slides used by British intelligence (GCHQ) to train its operatives in how to deceive Western publics. It must also be underlined that we simply don’t know who exactly is targeted in cyberspace in this way or why. Some anti-war activists, e.g., may be among the victims.

The powerpoint slides instruct cyber-spies to entrap their “targets” in sex scandals (the “honey trap”), to write deceptive emails to their friends and colleagues (did anyone you know suddenly stop talking to you and wouldn’t explain why?), to change their photos on social media, and to create a blog in which the individual posed as a purported victim of some alleged dastardly deeds falsely attributed to the target. Where the target is a company, the slides advise “post negative information on appropriate forums,” “ruin business relationships”.

The mantra of these dirty tricks units is the “4 D’s”: deny, disrupt, degrade, deceive.

The slides, in short, exhibit signs of sadism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism, the Dark Tetrad. The “d’s” in “four d’s” are best understood as standing for “Darknesses.”

Again, these things were being done by government employees to people they just didn’t like. There is no pretense of law or due process here.

When political organizations and political cults, or when corrupt politicians pull these tricks, it makes them disreputable. Nixon used this playbook, e.g. But here we have civil servants being paid to act this way.

To have such institutions, pay for by tax payers, engaging in trolling the internet is highly corrosive of the values of a democratic country. Democratic politics depends on citizens knowing each other and knowing where they stand politically. To have secret government officers manipulating the reputations of people, breaking up their friendships and associations, and entrapping them with sex set-ups creates a situation where it is impossible to trust democratic process. Whenever you hear of a powerful person being embroiled in a scandal, you have to now at least ask, was this an intelligence agency that took him or her down? Was it because they were in the way of some corrupt goal? For when there is no real civilian oversight over invisible government, the opportunity for graft and other criminal behavior is enormous.

While it might suit narcissists to be paid to be internet trolls for a living, their government-sanctioned activities are destroying the internet as a legible means of communication and undermining democracy, which depends on transparency.

Conservatives who mind paying taxes so much don’t seem to mind paying taxes to support psychopaths and sadists who are employed by the government to undermine civil society.

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Related video:

Democracy Now! “Death By Metadata: Jeremy Scahill & Glenn Greenwald Reveal NSA Role in Assassinations Overseas”

16 Responses

  1. How the War on Terror became a war against journalist and turned to a war on terror again. Glenn Greenwald describes his journalism as “fearless and adversarial”.

    The internet was just a tool for a desired panopticon. It was never meant to enhance democracy.

  2. The pathology of gov hiring psychopathic types to troll US et al is absolutely lethal to chances of restoring open system for Earth.
    So judging types of error rise opposing good gov & business practices and the actual fact of break over of Entropy rise of closed system police state and surveillance and Global runaway link to youtube.com

  3. I’ve been aware of the malignant effects of trolls since way back in Usenet days (early 1980s). Nothing could disrupt a friendly, intelligent discussion faster than having a few s.o.b.s who would respond to every comment -and I mean EVERY COMMENT- in a personally antagonistic, vicious manner, triggering responses to their posts by others, and generally wiping out entire threads in a matter of hours. (Internet time was slower in those days – it was the Time of Dial-up.)

    Moreover, these responses degraded the whole level of discourse, making it seem as if crude, hateful language was the normal way that people communicated. Any moderation (CENSORSHIP!!) was viewed as an unacceptable curb on freedom of speech, an attitude which ensures that the trolls will always rule.

    I’m not surprised that trolls are typically psychopaths; that some are being paid is easily believable; but that MY OWN GOVERNMENT is funding these programs is completely wrong. It must be stopped.

    • One of the best defenses against trolls is to treat them with indifference. Humorous references addressed to others about a troll’s comments can also be effective. Ridicule sometimes doesn’t work well. Some trolls thrive on that and other forms of opposition.

      • Yeah, right, try treating the NSA with indifference and humor while they go about destroying your life. I seem to have read a different message here than you. The point is not about powerless juveniles who do this but the like behavior of very powerful people and organizations that cause this to be done to others they wish to break to their will..

  4. hpmuller’s comment about the internet as a panopticon is to the point. One may argue whether the internet was initially targeted for this, but that it’s becoming that is clearly factual.

  5. The only surprise in this piece is that Glenn Greenwald was working with NBC. Otherwise, this is just another example of evil at work. In just the last 100 years we have had megalomaniacs, psychopaths, sociopaths and other kindred spirits send tens of millions of people to their premature deaths in two world and many lesser wars in their lusts for power and wealth. The only difference is the level of technology and its abuse.

    Fortunately, there are courageous whistleblowers and journalists and other activists who keep the candle of hope lit.

  6. .
    “Conservatives who mind paying taxes so much don’t seem to mind paying taxes to support psychopaths and sadists who are employed by the government to undermine civil society.”

    Where did that come from ?
    I’m conservative.
    I’m a Constitutionalist.
    I don’t want this or any other Administration’s invisible government, over which there is no real civilian oversight, prying into my affairs, or messing with my reputation.

    But I seem to recall one major party who DOES believe that is a legit role of the federal government to interfere deeply in my life.
    And I don’t think anyone would consider that major party to be “conservative.”
    .

    • The terminology of conservatism is interesting. A conservative in social or budgetary matters or political institutions can be of any view on other matters. Here the feudal institutions of gold control political institutions of 18th century liberalism, so those “conservative” of institutions can be at either extreme.

      The connection with the dark state is interesting, because the major concern there is abuse of institutions by opportunists. Opportunists and abusers of power have no ideology, and seek power within ruling institutions of all declared ideologies. Their claims of moral or political values are flags of convenience. But here they find the feudalism of gold and military/intel coercion most profitable and congenial, and can most easily hide behind the “conservative” label, giving that a bad reputation. They take no personal risk for the benefit of others unknown, and so are rarely found among the critics of society labeled “liberal.” Because they conserve nothing but personal wealth and power, I designate them “right wing” to distinguish legitimate conservatives.

      The major parties have indeed moved far right under the influence of money in campaign finance and mass media, and both have built the dark state.

      • We would do well to scrap both “liberal” and “conservative” in political discourse. Both words have acquired so many meanings and implications they are more confusing than informative.

  7. Popular Science had to quit accepting comments last fall:

    link to npr.org

    a University of Wisconsin, Madison study that, among other things, found that: “Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.”

  8. 1, Of course the government is using every means available to hide the fact that it has become the servant of the Rich.
    America went through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole with Ronnie Reagan, and every president and Congress since then has spun fairytale lies to the American people while working overtime to make the rich richer.

    2, trolls are rude people, not psychopaths, and this study seems like psychobabble

  9. Unfortunately, this behavior seems to have a long tradition. It just has adopted the same technology that was said to bring freedom of discourse-internet. What is unfortunate, is that most of the people who really do this sort of thing (on behalf of those few who direct the production) believe that they are doing it to defend democracy or to serve God. They seem to have an easy time getting rather indifferent people to go along with scapegoating their targets. I would add that you don’t necessarily have to do anything to earn their ire. When in the last 2500 years has not tragedy been intimately attached to conservative ideals of democracy or Freud’s reality principal.

    Does not Juan see the their reality? The difference is that they, the conservatives by definition, believe they are the mature ones who “preserve” whatever tradition they have been fed for the (bs) cause. The rest of us just need to accept reality–to be bridled. The real cause is money and power of course rather than the moral Idealism they dish out. It was said long ago that “they don’t know what they are doing.”. .Now, I just have to figure out if that should be taken literally or is it merely a private joke..

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