Beware of smiling trolls. Photo credit: Gaertringen / Pixabay (CC0 Public Domain)

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on the insidious techniques of trolls, spooks, feds, saboteurs, provocateurs, disinformants — whatever you wish to call them.

These techniques were posted anonymously on the Internet some time ago. They appear to have been written by a professional troll for the “benefit” of less experienced trolls on how to prevent the sharing of inconvenient facts on political forums. As we pointed out in Part 1, we would normally not publish such material because we cannot verify any of it.

And yet… we feel we have seen every one of these methods in action.

As you read this, you may have a sense of deja-vu. Or you may have witnessed yet other maneuvers not described below. We encourage you to add your own observations to this ongoing collection. We would love to hear from you.

It is probably unnecessary, but we are obliged to make this statement: 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.


Avoid, Avoid, Avoid

Avoid discussing issues head-on. Rather, get your point across by implying it. Avoid the subject of proof or references documenting your own position.

Deny, Deny, Deny

No matter what evidence is offered, deny it has any relevance, credibility, proof, or logic. No matter what expert is named, deny his or her authority. Deny that statements made by government or other authorities have any meaning or relevance. Deny that witnesses are reliable. Cite studies on eyewitness credibility.

Present False Evidence

Whenever possible, manufacture new “facts” to conflict with opponent presentations.

Invoke Authority

Associate yourself with authority, but avoid specifically discussing your credentials, while implying your authority and expertise. Present your argument with “jargon” and “minutiae” to illustrate you are “one who knows.” Then simply dismiss your opponent’s comments without demonstrating concretely why or citing sources.

Quote Anti-Conspiracy Experts

Depending on the situation, you may find it useful to point out that people have a psychological need to believe in conspiracy. A number of people — psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, and journalists — have written books and articles on this theme. And some even have shown that humans are hard-wired to find connections between events that do not exist. You should familiarize yourself with this literature, and have a ready arsenal of quotes to post.

Fit Facts to Suit Alternate Conclusions

Think like the attorney who manages to make someone else look guilty of the crime his client is charged with — using the same evidence.

Label it a “Wild Rumor”

Avoid discussing issues by describing all charges, regardless of evidence, as mere rumors and wild accusations. If you can associate the material with the Internet, use this fact to certify it a ”wild rumor.”

Change the Subject

Find a way to sidetrack the discussion with abrasive or controversial comments in hopes of turning attention to a new, more manageable topic. This works especially well with companions who can “argue” with you over the new topic, and polarize the discussion arena in order to avoid discussing more key issues.

Demand Impossible Proof

No matter what evidence is presented, raise the bar. Demand the kind of proof that is impossible for the opponent to come by.

Demand Complete Solutions

Avoid issues by requiring opponents to solve every detail of the issue.

Label it “An Enigma with No Solution”

Drawing upon the overall umbrella of events surrounding the crime and the multitude of players and events, paint the entire affair as too complex to solve. This causes people to lose interest.

Grasp at Straw Men

Select the weakest aspect of the weakest charges. Amplify their significance and destroy them in a way that appears to debunk all the charges, while actually avoiding discussion of the real issues.

Become Indignant

Focus on side issues which can be used to suggest your opponent is critical of some sacrosanct group or theme. This is also known as the “How dare you!” gambit. For example, if your opponent criticizes the Israeli government, call him or her an “antisemite.”

Hit and Run

Briefly attack your opponent — then scamper off before an answer can be fielded, or simply ignore any answer. This works extremely well in Internet and letters-to-the-editor environments where a steady stream of new identities can be called upon to make new accusations — and never answer any subsequent response.

Goad Opponents

Taunt your opponents. Draw them into emotional responses. Make them lose their cool and become less coherent. Then focus on how “sensitive they are to criticism.”

Question Motives

Twist or amplify any fact which could be used to imply your opponent operates out of a hidden agenda or bias. This avoids discussing issues and forces the accuser on the defensive.

Shoot the Messenger

Label your opponents “kooks,” “right-wing,” “liberal,” “left-wing,” “terrorists,” “conspiracy buffs,” “radicals,” “militias,” “racists,” “religious fanatics,” “sexual deviants,” and so forth. This makes others shrink from supporting you out of fear of gaining the same label.

Play the Victim

Select a minor error of your own that was among many, larger problems pointed out by your opponent. Then take the “high road and “confess” your “honest mistake, discovered in hindsight.” Blame it on bad sources. Then accuse your opponent of blowing it all out of proportion and implying worse things which “just aren’t so.” Later, others can reinforce this on your behalf, and “call for an end to the nonsense.” You have already “done the right thing.” This can garner respect, even sympathy, for “’owning up” to your mistake. And in the meantime, all of your opponent’s proof of the more serious issues will be discarded. People will be tired of the subject and will want to move on.

Dirtiest Trick of All, So Far

There is yet another tactic that seems to be in widespread use in forums on the JFK assassination, and it is the ultimate con: Disinformants earn trust by establishing themselves as conspiracy theorists. They often “prove” it by recycling, then repackaging, the stolen work of others. (Since the information is already out there in the ether, they are not really damaging the cover-up.) Or they may present a new theory,one that sounds good but is actually nonsense.

Once established, they abuse this undeserved trust in many ways, including the following: (a) they discredit the work of real researchers, mostly on their say so, rather than providing proof; (b) they attack the reliability of critical eye-witnesses; and (c) they support key points of the official narrative — points not related to their “own” work. For example, while presenting a theory on JFK’s head wound, they may parenthetically slip in support for the single bullet theory, an issue that does not involve the head.

Many of these people are depressingly mediocre in intellect, and are not very good at what they do in any arena. Their dirty work in the JFK arena is also not very good, and frequently arouses suspicion in other researchers, and even in members of the general public. Often, they contrast themselves with those who openly defend the official story, using the tactics described above. They say, “I’m not a spook. That’s a spook!” And they fiercely support each other, using their large numbers to gang up on their accusers, trying to intimidate them, or to just exhaust them with endless confrontation. In the forums they control, they will have the last word. Fortunately, those who have the last word do not necessarily inspire the last thought.

Part 1 is available here.

Part 2 is available here.

Part 3 is available here.


Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Fremont Troll (Sue / Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

Selective List of Related WhoWhatWhy stories:

Why We Should be Thankful for the Cold (Not related to Cointelpro, but listed because of the typical examples of disinformation deposited in the Comments following the article.)

Was Tamerlan Tsarnaev a Double Agent Recruited by the FBI?

FBI Sat Back While Snitch Directed Cyber Attacks and potentially Entrapped Others

The Mystery of the Constant Flow of JFK Disinformation

FBI Uses Counterterrorism Authority to Infiltrate and Surveil Peaceful Protests… Again

WHYTV -The FBI, Blacks,and Cointelpro,

William Turner: From G-Man to Newsman

Tribute to the Man Who Exposed the Pentagon Papers

Jeb Bush Family Values: Meth and Dirty Tricks

The US Left: A Short Introduction

The Deaths of JFK, RFK— and the Silence of the Lambs

TVWHY: Russ Baker in St. Paul, Excerpt 1- Troublemakers

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Trollface (Azzy10 / Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

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4 years ago

Oswald did it. All by himself.

Frank von Winkhorst
Frank von Winkhorst
5 years ago

“Present your argument with ‘jargon’ and ‘minutiae’ to illustrate you are ‘one who knows.’ ” This is a tricky technique, in that there are experts in any given field who know more than the troll. Sometimes the error is so egregious that even the casual observer will notice it. The classic example is a gentleman who lectures on the “secret space program,” using all manner of technical jargon, yet pronounces the term from atomic physics, “nucular,” rather than “nuclear.”

5 years ago

I love this article. If there was a holiday dedicated to freedom from manipulation, it would be a good candidate for contemplation on that day.

You May Say Im a Dreamer
You May Say Im a Dreamer
5 years ago

I’ve seen many of these tactics played out on message boards concerning something that many people call “gang stalking”. Others call it Cointelpro 2.0 or Zerzetsen, and most stories entail very similar and very specific tactics that are common with government counterintelligence. People claim that online, they have encountered sock puppet accounts that discredit those who say Cointelpro is still happening, or fill message boards or comments sections with nonsense and/or totally get off topic to drown out the truth. Offline, claims include mail tampering, job interference, community snitches, etc.

There’s a lot of proof that Cointelpro never ended, and for now, it thrives by hiding in plain site, as this disinformation series has helped show. Thank you for posting this, by the way. I think it’s important that more people see this.

You May Say Im a Dreamer
You May Say Im a Dreamer
5 years ago

Also, the comment section any of the articles that The Intercept has published about JTRIG (GCHQ’s online propaganda and psychology research unit) is a good example of Cointelpro tactics in action.

Frank von Winkhorst
Frank von Winkhorst
5 years ago

I used to encounter folks who I believe to have been Russian and Israeli controlled posters who would leave out the definite and indefinte article where they were required and use them where they were not required. Like the Indian scammers who phone up and claim to be from the IRS, they claimed to be Susan from Dubuque, or Minnesota Molly (not real screen names), trying to convince their audience that their purely nationalistic views were shared by “real” Americans.

Comments editor
Comments editor
5 years ago

Thankyou for your comment.

Note on German verb ‘zersetzen’:
This (as you may expect) means ‘to undermine’, and in the figurative sense, ‘to subvert’. In context, the word (along with its corresponding noun ‘Zersetzung’) was used to describe a modus operandi against dissidents, used by the STASI in the former East Germany.

5 years ago

I like these lists of rules of how to think and speak in certain ways, or avoid thinking or speaking in other ways.

What I might add is this:
1) One time when we are off guard is when we face art performances. Imagine attending a theater event, where you’re listening to words accompanied by music. Perhaps the show presented some heartbreaking events just before. Then, if the speaker avoids discussing issues head-on, and instead insinuates, and plays the victim, that’s often called , for example, “art of the single
powerless individual finding a small way to resist the tyranny.” And it’s “poetic,” and it’s “deeply moving.”

Another time when we’re off guard is when we (think we are) among close friends. Basically, my take-away message is to distinguish between time that’s emotionally therapeutic, soul-warming – and a truth-searching time. The emotionally therapeutic time is essential for our mental health just as the truth-searching. The point is just to distinguish : What is your primary goal
*at the moment* ?

Then, if somebody bothers you with irritating ideas that just can’t be true, have the humility to respond that you can’t think about it at the moment. ( Sometimes I go to alternative websites primarily to confirm to find commonality with others in rejecting the mainstream; to avoid a claustrophobic feeling. That’s a motive that has to be recognized and given room to. )

2) The best defence against obstacles is having a clear sense of purpose. In a forum where people just repeat rehash old points, where the sense of purpose has been lost, people will tend to be more bothered by saboteurs, …. like the children in “The Lord of the Flies.”

The old TV production of Twilight Zone “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and Star Trek’s episode with Jean Simmons are good examples of what can happen when otherwise good people forget about core values. Real malicious trolling then become irrelevant, because anything can appear to be an act of sabotage.

Frank von Winkhorst
Frank von Winkhorst
5 years ago
Reply to  Ivan_K

In regard to “art performances,” there’s a presentation from Richard D Hall called “The most subversive shows on TV.” Of particular interest is a children’s cartoon TV show that basically makes the main character’s father look like a complete idiot, thus, at least in the view of Hall, attempting to destroy familial bonds in favor of bonds with the state.

5 years ago

Thank you. You have improved my security.

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