Influencers, Trolls and Bots, Oh My!

  • October 18, 2023

Regulars here know all about the trolls – and possibly, bots – that disrupt the comments section of this (and other) web sites. It’s an Internet-wide problem and I think I’ve found the solution.

Or, rather, Jordan Peterson – the great contrarian psychologist – suggested it. He posited, first of all, that Internet anonymity encourages narcissists and bullies (the two are manifestations of the same pathology) to harass people because they can do so without the repercussions that would attend if they did so personally. That is why anonymity is a problem on discussion boards, in the comments section of web sites such as this one. You get people who get enjoyment out of getting a rise out of the people who are trying to have a discussion.

There is also the newer problem of chatbots that mimic people – and do a convincing job. Anyone who has played around with chatGTP know this already. And there are what are styled “influencers,” by which is meant people who are paid – or motivated, for political reasons – to disrupt the comments sections of sites that provide a forum for outside-the-narrative discussion of verboten topics, such as the truth about EVs and the drugs that aren’t vaccines.

But – paradoxically – it is anonymity that enables heterodox discussion about verboten topics. Many people are under great pressure to not publicly say anything that can and will be used against them. Not in court – not yet – but at work. Or when applying for work. Everyone knows the power of Woke. If there’s anything online that can be used to frame you as a “denier”- of whatever – or a “hater”- of whatever you’re supposed to pretend you love – then it will be.

As a personal aside, I can tell you I know people who work in the car industry, some of them for major automakers, who have written me privately (and posted here anonymously) that they must be very careful about what they type publicly. For example, one has told me – off the record – of pending upper management decisions pertaining to workers’ future in relation to EVs – that he cannot talk about openly. More specifically, he cannot use his real name to comment about it, to state his own views regarding it.

So, anonymity is also important. Many of the world’s most important, Earth-moving publications were initially published anonymously – for the sake of the physical safety of the authors thereof.

Back to Peterson.

His solution inspired my own, which is a bridge from one to the other. He (if I am understanding him correctly) wants people to use their real names – verified – online, relegating those who wish to remain anonymous to a kind of separate Internet for people who wish to remain anonymous. It would be a place where the anons can back-and-forth with other anons but the anons would not be permitted to engage with people.

I like the concept but the implementation worries me as it seems like it could metastasize into something along-the-lines of a digital ID and I’d rather deal with legions of trolls and chatbots than accede to that, for it would give the government (and corporations) exactly what they want. That being the power to know about – and so, control – what everyone has to say about everything.

There’s a better way, in my view. It is the policy I’ve decided to implement here at EPautos and – so far – it has worked perfectly. It works as follows:

No one must either register or provide a verified identity to comment on these pages; they are open to everyone, including those who – for legitimate reasons – prefer not to use their real names.

It is an honor system, basically.

But, when someone (os something) abuses the system, as by establishing a pattern of trolling the other commentators and does so anonymously – or using a made-up identity –  I may intervene and require that someone (or something) to identify by name – their real name – as the condition for being allowed to continue posting here. I did just that recently with a person (or bot) that was using the handle, Lyspooner – a corruption of the name of Lysander Spooner, the 19th century libertarian writer – to post comments Karl Marx would have approved of.

I told him/it that it would have to use its real name going forward as I (and others here) had grown weary of its baiting (and insulting). My reasoning being that such a person – if it is a person – is only willing to be abusive without risking consequences, such as being publicly associated with the comments he/it leaves online.

He/it left.

As did several other anonymous or fake-named trolls/bots/influencers, such as “Cashy” and “EarthLuvr.” Call them out – and they go away.

That’s my solution.

What do you think of it?

. . .

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