- Since the advent of Donald Trump's candidacy, there's been a ton of focus on botnets and sockpuppets—automated and semiautomated social media accounts that use disinformation to manipulate public opinion. But the spotlight on bots has overshadowed the importance of the people who often initiate the flood and flow of information, and how the narratives they build over time influence how we see politics, ourselves, and the world around us.
- Some call this trolling, but that term is far too mild. These are not the proverbial hoodied losers in some basement, engaging with other humans only via videogames and 8chan. This cadre has hundreds of thousands of followers and devotees on Twitter, Instagram, Gab, and other social media, many of whom will post and amplify their views even after the personalities themselves are kicked off the platforms for threats and rules violations. The network also takes advantage of affiliations with increasingly mainstream partisan media outlets that will subscribe to any argument that suits their current agenda.
Ultimately, the followers—who are real people, not bots—are cultivated and activated: They don’t need be told to threaten or harass whoever the new enemy is because they already know their part in the play.