I'm a media and communications expert. Heck, I make my living doing that for small and medium sized businesses in Brooklyn, New York. My marketing agency, CommonSense Strategies Group, Llc, (www.CSG2017.com) works with restaurants, nightclubs and other businesses. As a matter of fact, I've been at this for over 15 years now. I know all about Internet trolls and the dark underbelly of social media, especially Facebook. I've seen the stupid backside selfies, the endemic narcissism, and cyber bullying. And yes, all of us have heard about how the Russians used social media to influence the 2016 US presidential elections.
That's the "WFT" moments on social media. I thought that I knew quite a bit about its pros and cons. Boy was I wrong! You see I became the center and object of a nasty little Facebook attack campaign that was vitriolic, devoid of facts and truth -- save what the attackers posited as truth -, and full of venom and accusations, literally non-stop and sustained.
At the end of it all I now had a full understanding and experience of how impressionable young people are hounded, badgered and insulted into committing suicide or some other anti-social act. The demeaning memes, the dressing up of falsehoods and presenting them as facts to solicit more nasty comments, the name calling, and exaggerated characterizations and character assassinations, can all coalesce to drive weak-willed and emotionally unstable people to do desperate things -- just to make it stop.
My experience also demonstrated just how government actors, political organizations, and special interest groups could use social media, in particular Facebook, for nefarious purposes. And the trolls can latch onto a perfectly innocent comment or posting and blow it out of all proportion. In my case I offered what I thought was an innocent and harmless comment about an historic event that took place in the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada way back in 1979.
Turned out a troll who hated that event seized on my comment and launched into a harangue of selected "facts," doctored truths and outright lies all carefully packaged and presented as "reasonable and truthful," to a gullible set of Internet species not noted for critical thinking. What followed was a veritable orgy of vituperative comments, scurrilous name-calling and a sustained badgering all orchestrated by this hateful troll who kept egging on his "supporters" and feeding them tidbits of carefully selected "new information" that only served to whip up more animosity, attacks and posturing.
The fact is that the vast majority of those commenting, supporting and putting in their "two cents," had very little knowledge of the event that I referenced -- the Grenada Revolution -- or knew me. That did not matter. What mattered was what cops call a "contagious trigger reaction" -- once one person starts firing a gun, instinctively and reflexively, everyone else does the same thing. It's this technique that allows for the spread of fake news and disinformation by governments against other governments. I know that now.
And the other takeaway is that the people who engage in this kind of behavior -- I hate to say it -- are not the most educated or sophisticated on Facebook or social media. Many just use the platform to post photos of themselves and feed their hungry narcissism. That makes them easily manipulated and led by the nose by more accomplished trolls. So what happens is that a small group band together and become so toxic and vocal that the attack looks as if it is pervasive and wide. Truth is that Facebook's algorithm helps feed this activity because the sheer number of comments (in my case over 200 in a single hour) allows them to remain on the thread since it appears to be a widely discussed issue.
It was a learning curve for me. On social media truth does not matter and is not important; facts are what the trolls say they are and they can be doctored and packaged to achieve a particular outcome. Its not hard to whip up a feeding frenzy of filth eagerly embraced by a group of mindless, poorly educated bottom-feeders. They are cowards for the most part. They love to "call out" others, call them every objectionable name, and bombard him or her with a constant and steady diet of garbage, innuendo, lies and jaundiced comments.
This is the less than noble underbelly of social media. It's orchestrated by people who sit behind computer screens and play at being brave and courageous. Too cowardly to confront the object of their disagreements to their face they hide behind their computers, snug in their homes where no one can confront them. In my case I've never met or spoken to NOT ONE of those trolling me. That did not matter. All that was important was that they were in the game and taking gleeful part in picking me apart -- one nasty comment at a time. This is a cautionary tale for parents of vulnerable teenagers. This is a playbook for what cyber bullying is all about -- its techniques, behavior and tactics.