Everyone has experienced them sometime, random antagonizers who divert away from the main subjects in conversation on online platforms or article comment-sections with an agenda to trigger the public opinion in certain direction. They have many names, mainly known as “trolls” or “shills”, in some cases acting on their own, and in many other cases paid footmen hired by governments or international organizations.
How does it affect data collection and the developing countries? Whenever these trolls control the sway of public opinion in matters such as economic aid, migration, and human rights, and many other subjects that sometimes are essential for the developing countries. Until recently, big data has been blind to shills or trolling, therefore a relevant question here is whether it is important to revisit certain aspects to make sure the conclusions drawn are not swayed by hive mind or paid shills into a definite direction. An aspect that arise is whether the political spectrum is affected at all through Social Media and then how does these paid antagonizers affect the political power in the world of Social Media? Mass harassment online and the normalization of hate speech have forced many human rights activists into plugging offline and into silence. According to a Human Rights Watch report activists needs protection due to death threats from Social Media trolls.
However, some call for censorship, for instance Google’s Justice League who long have worked on AI solutions to find these trolls and stop them. Questions about rights and freedom of expression arise, however these paid trolls has according to Wired’s article “Inside Google’s Internet Justice League And Its AI-Powered War On Trolls” Google has created a software designed to spot language of abuse and harassment. Not only is it hoping to create a safer and freer environment online it also hopes to fix problems such as surveillance, extremist indoctrination and censorship. However, these troll armies are disciplined and it won’t take them long until they figure out a way around Google’s AI software. According to Clay Shirky in his article “The Political Power of Social Media” (2010) disciplined and coordinated groups, be it organizations or governments, always have had the advantage over undisciplined ones. in his article Shirky states that these disciplined groups have an easier time engaging in collective action and that Social Media can compensate for the disadvantages of undisciplined groups in order to reduce the cost of coordination.
A paid shill on the Social Media is not only affecting the sway on public opinion but also the results and conclusions drawn politically, thus affecting the outcome and therefore introducing a narrow warped spectrum of subjects and confusion, which sometimes is profitable as a form of control by governments through hired shills who’s aim is to do exactly that. Taylor and Schroeder in their article on Big Data as a tool for international development policy speaks of an interesting aspect that the light of the perceived lack of good data, researchers and policymakers look towards Social Media to collect data, believing that this will offer a “population-population-wide perspective, are produced automatically rather than being embedded in institutional practices and biases, and are usually not subject to censorship or manipulation by intermediaries for political reasons” (Taylor & Schroeder, 2015: 504). Which opens the door for questions on reliability of these collected data and whether hive mind took place in form of paid shills directing opinion in Social Media and pulling the strings on whose opinion is allowed and whose is silenced. How can developing countries benefit from the advantages of Social Media without being hijacked by paid trolls who systematically silences opponents is a problem the yet remains unsolved.
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Shirky, C. 2010: The political power of social media technology, the public sphere, and political change, Foreign Affairs 90: 28-I.
Taylor L, Schroeder R. 2015: Is bigger better? The emergence of big data as tool for international development policy. GeoJournal 80: 503-528.