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Trolls are trolls, foreign or domestic says B.C. internet safety specialist

Checking account histories, establishing forum guidelines can help
Trolls, both foreign and domestic, cause misinformation and panic to flood the internet, according to Brandon Laur, CEO of White Hatter, an internet safety and digital literacy education specialist company. (Black Press Media file photo)

Stumbling across a Russian troll activity on your social media feed is not impossible but is unlikely, according to a B.C.-based internet safety specialist.

Online trolls can come from anywhere, and there is no significant difference between a domestic one and one who might be from Russia.

“I would assume the local scene is probably just very passionate folks in the community,” White Hatter CEO Brandon Laur said. “They’re trying to spark panic, spark concern, and disinformation. So it doesn’t matter if it’s a foreign or domestic troll. It’s a problem.”

The evidence suggests that hyper-focusing on Russian trolls is not unwarranted, as there has been troll-like interference in the past. However, it is a much larger issue than just one country.

“I think there is a psychological component of focusing on foreign influence, but there’s just as much domestically as foreign,” said Laur

It can be challenging to determine if you are engaging with a troll or just a passionate person, but there are a few signs that you can look for, such as profiles with links to family histories and photos.

“I think those accounts are more or less worth uplifting, listening to, and responding to, but those accounts that are just posting memes. They’re not the first accounts I would want to respond to.”

Trolls’ motivations can vary. Laur said some might be trying to annoy you and make fun of you for their entertainment, or they may be out to sway public opinion.

“We have passions on either side that can get very heated. You can engage with the community, who might take a mob mentality.”

Tracking a person or a troll is difficult for the general public as they need the necessary tools. However, examining the account history and other information they have posted may be helpful, Laur said.

“If you know where to look, there are clues that can help you confirm or deny to a greater degree whether someone is who they say they are.”

He said trolls who are forum moderators can be banned from platforms like Reddit and Facebook. Establishing clear rules and community guidelines can help mitigate the damage caused by these trolls.

When it comes to bad behaviour on the internet, such as trolling, it is essential to separate their conduct into three distinct categories.

“Are they mean and rude? Are they just causing drama? Or are they breaking the law?”

If someone is breaking the law, there are Criminal Code offences that can be pursued through law enforcement. If somebody is causing drama, it is important to refer to your community guidelines.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is used to fight social media trolls. However, Laur said there is a constant struggle between those trying to combat misinformation and those trying to spread it.

“It’s a tug of war right now because we have tools that are being used to combat trolling and misinformation. At the same time, those who engage in troll-like behaviour also use AI,” said Laur.

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About the Author: Thomas Eley

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