An Insider’s Guide to Online Disinformation
This is the first of a three-part series on the techniques of trolls, spooks, feds, saboteurs, provocateurs, and disinformants. As you read about these dirty tricks, you may have a sense of deja-vu.
You may well wonder about the material we have chosen to present below. For one thing, it has been around for a while, though mostly on obscure websites. For another, its authors are unknown. More important, we cannot say how accurate, overall, is the analysis offered in it.
Nonetheless, it is tantalizing — and raises some important issues, no matter its provenance.
The document claims to reveal the techniques — dirty tricks, really — that are practiced by trolls, saboteurs, provocateurs, disinformants, spies and other government operatives, as well as their fellow practitioners of the dark arts.
One thing is certain: we’ve all experienced the frustration of dealing with this phenomenon. We just don’t always recognize it for what it is.
Without even knowing it, you may have witnessed these techniques in action. Perhaps in a political forum that feels somehow manipulated to suppress certain facts and points of view. Or in the deceptive comments that often follow a controversial article. Or in the disruptive behavior at a town hall meeting that seems oddly choreographed. Or at a meeting of activists where the “wrong” people seem to be taking over.
Like toxic mushrooms, the words and actions of these operatives can look harmless. That is why they can so easily poison the well of information.
You may be tempted to write off trolls as harmless nuts, but that may not be the case at all. We know from experience that some of the less harmful techniques described here are a cousin of a PR tactic called “astroturfing,” a tried and true method of some of the most powerful corporations and private interests in America. It is a classic control technique, wielded by those on top to prevent “inconvenient” facts from reaching the public, and to neutralize any action the public may want to take should they learn of these facts.
You are most likely to see these techniques at work where discussion centers on such high-stakes issues as political assassinations, the destruction of land and lives by oil companies and other corporations, the man-made causes of climate change, and so on.
Before we get to the tricks themselves, we should take a quick look at their origins.
Treachery is as old as mankind, but let’s start with the late J. Edgar Hoover, the old trickster behind the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program, also known as COINTELPRO.
According to www.publiceye.org, Cointelpro was designed to “increase factionalism, cause disruption and win defections” inside the Communist Party U.S.A…. disruption of the Socialist Workers Party (1961), the Ku Klux Klan (1964), Black nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam (1967), and the entire New Left, including community and religious groups (1968).”
The US Senate’s so-called Church Committee (chaired by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho), which investigated Cointelpro, reported, “Bureau witnesses admit that many of the targets were nonviolent and most had no connections with a foreign power.” Such targets included nonviolent citizens against the war in Vietnam, the nonviolent Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and prominent civil rights workers.
Did they? The Internet did not exist during the period the FBI admits Cointelpro was active, but the author labels the methods described below as “Cointelpro Techniques.” Wherever they came from, they are still clearly in use. (As many of our readers probably know, other alphabet agencies use these techniques, and have greatly expanded upon them.)
Part 1 is about methods for taking control of a news group. These instructions were presumably written by a Cointelpro operative to be used by other operatives — and not the general public, so they are not always clear. We have therefore rewritten some of these passages, and we offer explanations parenthetically when we think they are needed. Wherever possible, we try to preserve the style of the original document.
If you have a better explanation for any of the actions described below, or if you want to add your own observations to this ongoing collection, please let us know. We would love to hear from you.
The bottom line: Our purpose here is to inform you about some of the “dirty tricks” that may be shaping and distorting what you read online. Far from endorsing these attempts to hijack free and open discourse, we believe that exposing them can help blunt their power to confuse and control. Forewarned is forearmed.
Note to readers: The following is the text found on the Internet, as discussed above. The source and background are unknown.
Cointelpro Techniques for Control of an Internet Forum
There are several techniques for the control and manipulation of an internet forum. Most involve dilution and misdirection. We will go over each technique and demonstrate that even a minimal number of operatives can eventually gain control of an “uncontrolled forum.”
If a very sensitive posting of a critical nature has been posted on a forum, it can be quickly removed from public view by “forum sliding.” This maneuver brings unrelated postings to the top of the forum, and the critical posting “slides” down the front page — out of public view. [Ed.: By“sensitive posting of a critical nature”, the author refers to comments that include facts that interfere with the false narrative being promoted.]
In this technique a number of harmless posts are quietly pre-positioned on the forum and allowed to “age.” This is done in anticipation of troublesome postings. Each of these misdirectional forum postings can then be called upon to trigger a “forum slide.”
Several fake accounts should be ready when called upon. To trigger a “forum slide” and “flush” the critical post out of public view, it is simply a matter of logging into each account, both real and fake, and then ”replying” to pre-positioned postings with a simple one- or two-line comment.
Although it is difficult or impossible to censor the unwanted posting, it is now lost in a sea of unrelated and useless postings. This effectively focuses the attention of forum readers on non-issue items.
Inoculating the Public Against the Truth
A second highly effective technique is what we call “consensus cracking.”
Here’s how we develop a consensus crack: Under the guise of a fake account, a posting is made which looks legitimate — but the critical point is that it has very weak back-up. [Ed.: We assume this counterfeit posting contains some of the same points being made by those attempting to reveal the truth, but in a weaker form. Think of it as an “inoculation.” ]
Once this is done, then, under alternative fake accounts, a very strong position in your favor [Ed.:“your” meaning the disinformant’s favor] is slowly introduced over the life of the posting.
It is imperative that both sides are initially presented, so that uninformed readers cannot determine which side is the truth — but assume they have seen all the relevant facts on both sides of the issue.
As postings and replies are made, the stronger “evidence” or disinformation in your favor is slowly “seeded in.”
Thus, uninformed readers will most likely accept the disinformation. But even if they don’t, they will probably drop their opposition to your posting.
However in some cases where the forum members are highly educated and can counter your disinformation with real facts and linked postings, you can then “abort” the consensus cracking by initiating a “forum slide.”
Turning a News Group into a Gossip Corner
Topic dilution is not only effective in forum sliding it is also very useful in keeping the forum readers on unrelated and non-productive issues. This is a critical and useful technique to cause a “resource burn.”
By implementing continuous irrelevant postings that distract and disrupt the forum readers, they are effectively prevented from being productive. If the intensity of gradual dilution is great enough, the readers will stop researching and simply slip into a “gossip mode.”
In this state, they can be more easily misdirected away from facts. The less informed they are, the easier it is to control the entire group in the direction you desire.
It must be stressed that a proper assessment of the psychological characteristics and levels of education of the group are first determined. You don’t want to “drive in the wedge” too soon. By being too far off topic too quickly it may trigger censorship by a forum moderator.
Collecting Information on Forum Members
This is about determining the psychological level of the forum members, and to gather intelligence that can be used against them. In this technique, a light and positive environment is created, leading to “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours” postings. From the number of replies and the answers that are provided, much information can be gathered.
For example, posing as one of the forum members, post your “favorite weapon” and then encourage others to showcase theirs. It can then be determined what percentage of the forum community owns a firearm, and/or illegal weapon.
Or, post your favorite “technique of operation.” From the replies, methods used by the group can be studied, and effective methods developed to stop them from their activities.
Identifying Violent Forum Members
Statistically, there is always a percentage of forum posters who are inclined to violence. In order to determine who these individuals are, you present an image that will incite a strong psychological reaction.
For example, post a link to a video depicting a local police officer grossly abusing his power against a very innocent individual. Statistically, of the million or so police officers in America there is always one or two being caught abusing their powers, and the taping of the activity can be then used for intelligence gathering purposes — without having to stage a fake abuse video. [Ed.: Interesting choices of word in this paragraph. “One or two” being caught? We know these instructions were written before so many instances of abuse were recorded. Maybe the emphasis was on “being caught.”]
This method is extremely effective, and more so if the police officer can be made to look even more abusive, by the way the video is introduced, and by selective editing.
Sometimes it is useful to “lead” the forum by replying to your own posting with your own statement of violent intent — that you “do not care what the authorities think!”
Showing no fear may get those forum members who are more silent and self-disciplined to slip — and post their real intentions. From this, the most violent in the group can be effectively singled out for reverse IP location and possibly local law enforcement tracking. And his or her posting can be used later in a court of law during prosecution.
Gaining Full Control
It is important to continuously maneuver for a forum moderator position. Once this position is obtained, the forum can then be effectively and quietly controlled by deleting unfavorable postings — and one can eventually steer the forum into complete failure and lack of interest by the general public.This is the “ultimate victory.”
Depending on the level of control you obtain, you can deliberately steer a forum into defeat by
censoring postings, deleting memberships, flooding, or “accidentally” taking the forum offline. By this method the forum can be killed.
However it is not always in the interest to kill a forum as it can be converted into a “honey pot” gathering center to collect and misdirect newcomers and, from this point, be completely used for your control for your agenda purposes.
Remember: these techniques are only effective if the forum participants do not know about them
Once they are aware of these techniques the operation can completely fail, and the forum can become uncontrolled. At this point other avenues must be considered such as initiating a false legal precedence to simply have the forum shut down and taken offline.
This is not desirable as it then leaves the enforcement agencies unable to track the percentage of those in the population who always resist attempts for control against them.
Many other techniques can be utilized and developed by the individual and as you develop further techniques of infiltration and control it is imperative to share them with HQ.
Selective List of Related WhoWhatWhy stories:
Why We Should be Thankful for the Cold (Not related to Cointelpro, but listed because of the disinformation deposited in the Comments following the article.
Related frontpage panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Fremont Troll (Sue / Flickr – CC BY 2.0)