An Inside Look At A Shill Playbook

When the Clinton campaign announces that millions of dollars are going to go towards an internet campaign to stop people voting for third parties, we all know what that means.

The shills will be out in force, trying to wrest control of the narrative, disrupt meaningful exchanges of information, and eventually trying to take over administration of the group and quietly suffocate it to death.

A fuzzy screenshot of an email instructing people on how to disrupt internet groups is doing the rounds today, and it’s worth having a really good look at. It’s unclear where this particular handbook came from, and what particular groups they intend to target, but anyone who has been in Bernie, Green, or Libertarian groups will soon recognize these same tactics and patterns.

1. Forum Sliding

This is used when “a very sensitive posting of a critical nature” is made in the group. Say someone has posted some crucial information that would benefit the entire group (such as this article). The shill then simply spams garbage posts and memes through several fake accounts letting the important, information-critical post slide to “under the fold” and disappear for good.

You can mitigate this from happening by:

  • Find the gold. Take the time to scroll and commenting on any info that is new and important. How many of us just skim through what’s on top? We can’t rely on natural collaboration to keep important posts at the top at this time. Doing a bit more leg work for the team, finding the pearls, and commenting on them will keep them bumping to the top.
  • Don’t get involved in a flame war on a useless post or be tempted to stop and gossip on something that’s unrelated. Another strategy they employ is to start a useless, distracting, and destructive argument on an information-poor post so the argument keeps the trashy post bumping to the top, while the information-critical post slides out of sight. Instead, just find the information-critical post they’re attempting to hide and get a creative, collaborative, meaningful, ideas-based, and solution-based discussion going there.

2. Consensus Cracking

This is so clever. Essentially, they post a very badly written and fact-bereft article that makes an argument look bad. For example, a paranoid take on Hillary’s health on a rainbow-colored blog that also mentions lizard people and alien overlords would have been absolutely perfect for the purpose of swaying opinion on Hillary’s health a few weeks ago. The shill posts this article with a fake account and then attempts to defend it. For the shill, it’s important to initially give both sides so that the undecided reader feels like they are making up their mind.

In a back and forth between fake accounts, the shill gives their preferred side of the story in much more convincing terms, seemingly arguing with the poster, but actually seeding disinformation for the undecided readers to side with.

You can:

  • Fact bomb them. Use a comment for each fact and keep bombarding it until the shill has slinked away. Copy and paste each piece of disinformation and put it in quotes and couple it with the actual fact. Be sure to make a very clear distinction so that the average reader can see that you are attacking the shill’s disinformation and you’re not just more noise.
  • Call it out. Say “This is consensus cracking” and link to this article.
  • Block them. You don’t need that noise in your life, and there are plenty of cool people to make stuff with.
  • A simple movement towards making cool things amply cancels out any attempts at destruction. Light is much more powerful than dark. Take it as a cue to go do some research, and go and find gold, go and make a cool meme, go and pick the brain of someone you respect about what they’re finding out right now. We’re all seeing different parts of the puzzle. Use the time to climb into someone else’s reality tunnel and find out what they know.

3. Topic Dilution

Otherwise known as “resource burning.” Your time and attention are finite, and if a shill can use up your precious online research and collaboration time arguing uselessly or idly gossiping, they’ve done their job.

They will flood the page through fake accounts with slightly unrelated, old, or meaningless posts that derail and distract. The more conjecture they can create, the better. They want you yakking it up about something slightly off-topic, rather than focusing on what’s really important.

4. The Commando Coup

The ultimate aim of any shill is to become an admin so they can quietly delete content-rich posts and slowly ban the top contributors so the group loses energy and dies, or so the shill can more easily direct the focus of discussion. We saw this happen to a few of the major Bernie Sanders Facebook groups. Groups of 60,000 plus people which were once the furious centerpoint for progressive activity are now a graveyard of old memes and small talk.

It’s very disruptive because the friendships and the trust that has been created over time are the soil for which real collaboration can begin, so every time the real energetic players have to move, the whole process has to start over again.

Adminning a really large group like that has become an onerous task to regular nightly porn-spam attacks as well, so even the most time-rich and dedicated admins need help.

You can:

  • Make a noise if your post goes missing or you are mysteriously banned. Let your people know that something is afoot.
  • Create smaller rooms with interesting people just for the purpose of discussion. Think of it like inviting people for dinner parties.
  • Get more bold on your wall. Make the kinds of posts you would in a group and attract more people from your tribe to your wall. After all, no one can admin your wall but you. That way, you can block the trolls as well.

It’s a minefield, and in some ways, the paranoia this kind of knowledge creates can be just as detrimental as the shilling. If everyone is fighting over what is information-critical and what is a distraction, that is, in fact, a very good distraction, and the shill’s work is being done for them.

So don’t get mad, get creative. Find the gold, find your people, and be relentlessly collaborative and inspired by each other. These guys are simply there to cause chaos, destruction, or despondency and inertia. They have no answer to inspired and inspiring people who are sharing and creating and moving together, making things happen right now with the tools and info at hand.

Not feeding the trolls has become more important than ever. If you see someone spouting effluent and you feel the urge to stop and argue with them, simply write out what you want to say and post it to the group as a whole. Don’t argue with individuals; you will never sway them, so state the facts as you see them to your people. That is helpful, that is creative. The more ways we collaborate in finding different ways to tell our truth, the stronger our narrative will become and the stronger our movement will be.

You are right. They are wrong. You don’t need their permission to be right. You just are right. Let’s move as one towards truth and create the world we want to live in.

[Feature Image by Shutterstock]

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