Troll hunting must start at the top – media expert
MANILA, Philippines — Taking down purveyors of fake news online, or trolls, should not only be addressed at the bottom echelon but all the way up to those who hire them for political gain, a media expert said Wednesday.
Jonathan Ong, associate professor of global digital media at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, believes that political figures, their staff and strategists should be held accountable for the use of trolls for political ends.
Troll farms are part of a “systematic hierarchy” within the influence industry, which he called a “disinformation-for-hire industry.”
“Troll busting and hunting should not be focused on lower-level workers, but we need to understand the industry at the top,” he said in an online forum.
“There’s a clear hierarchy here and we need to understand that we have to hold accountable ‘yung pinaka-responsible, which is the political client, the politician, the political elite,” he added.
In Ong’s view, politicians hire troll farms either to “improve their image” or “do a smear campaign to attack their opponents.”
According to him, this is typically done by the “chief architect of disinformation,” which is usually an advertising agency or public relations firm, who assembles a “click army” or troll farm.
Troll armies are digital influencers, key opinion leaders, celebrities, bloggers, anonymous influencers, pseudo account holders, and community-level fake account operators.
Rather than punishing trolls at the bottom of the hierarchy, Ong said the public should hold those at the top responsible.
Those trolls are rarely “full-time” and treat their roles as “sideline gigs” only, he said.
The use of troll farms, which Ong said was already seen in the 2016 and 2019 elections, is expected to grow even more when the 2022 elections arrive when digital campaigning is expected to take center stage given the pandemic.
“Digital campaigning in 2016 is seen as a cost-saving mechanism kasi mas mahal to do your campaign on television. For 2022, most money [for the campaign] would be pivoting to digital,” he said.
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