“A lie’s true power cannot be accurately measured by the number of people who believe its deception when it is told, it must be measured by the number of people who will go out after hearing it trying to convince others of its truth.”
– Dennis Sharpe
The blog seems to have attracted a troll. I suppose I should be surprised it took so long, but that always seemed to me to be a bit arrogant – we are, after all, quite a small niche blog, just coming up on two million hits.
Oh, we had a fellow some time back who called himself A.J. He liked to start arguments and progressively turn them ruder and ruder. But he had no political grasp at all, and preferred social topics – specifically those which centered on race. His technique was to claim to live in a city where there was a large X demographic (his favourite targets were blacks and Mexicans), so as to give himself irrefutable local knowledge and gravitas. He stepped on his dick, eventually, when I found one of his comments on another blog and in which he claimed to live an hour outside Chicago. But he had just fired off a comment here in which he claimed to live in a majority-Mexican town.
What majority-Mexican town lies within an hour’s drive circle of Chicago? Correct: none.
And we have Karl Haushofer, a contrarian Finn with a deeply-repressed grudge against Russia which compels him to post comments whenever something terrible happens in or to Russia. But Karl’s not really a troll. You can reason with him, and if you rebut his criticism with a solid reference, he will either reconsider or drop the issue; as well, he’s rarely gratuitously rude. And he’s frequently a good source of breaking news.
I’m hesitant to apply the label “troll” at all, frankly, as I detest it when I offer a rebuttal on any other news site – such as The Guardian, for example – complete with current and pertinent references whose substance contradicts a particularly pigheaded falsehood, only to receive, “How are things at Savushkina Street these days, comrade? Go away, Russian troll” by way of a reply. It speaks to intellectual bankruptcy and the utter lack of a convincing argument, yes; but it is frustrating all the same because it refuses to recognize that the opponent has a convincing argument.
Still. Let’s see what the readers think. I already know what the regulars here think, but I’m appealing here to a wider audience. Allow me to introduce ‘Matt’.
That’s not his real name, something he stipulated to up front. On Reddit he goes by the moniker “DownwithAssad”, and some entire blocks of his commentary are copied and pasted from there. There’s certainly no requirement to use your real name here, although some of us do. But a refusal to do so coupled with every sign of immovable ideology and deliberate evasion adds up to a suspicious profile, I’d have to say.
‘Matt’s’ background story is that he is a college student majoring in computer sciences at a Canadian university or college, and that he is a Venezuelan from a middle-class family. I suppose that’s technically possible; although applicants from China dominate the foreign-student demographic in Canada by a wide margin – constituting fully a third of the entire group – Venezuela is on the board, way down, with a little over 2000 students in 2014. That would likely make Spanish his mother tongue, and he confirms this is so, and English as a second language for him.
However, a scan of his comments suggests he has a command of English, both colloquial and standard, far in excess of what could be expected of a foreign student. When he first showed up here – I’m a little fuzzy on exactly when, although I could look it up, but let’s say a month or two ago – he was a little tentative, and favoured changing his address slightly, using random letter groups, each time he commented, as you would do if you expected to have your identity tagged and blocked. When that didn’t happen, he became more confident and dropped that practice.
I note from a recent comment ‘Matt’ left – in rebuttal to a suggestion by a commenter that his far-too-frequent comments are cluttering up the blog and ruining it for readers – that one of his opponents’ comments are far more frequent than his own. Let’s just put paid to that erroneous statement right now; that’s what the stats page is for. And it says that of the 1000 most-recent comments, more than a quarter of them have come from ‘Matt’ – 227, far ahead of his closest competitor, Moscow Exile, with 113. And since protests seem only to encourage his extreme behavior rather than curb it, I must deduce that ruining the blog is his aim. Does that sound like a troll to you?
Equally so is his slipperiness. You can’t pin him down on anything – although he has no problem citing blog news or fringe authors as a reference to back up his credo (pure American exceptionalism and intervention, complete with targeted assassinations for world leaders who will not roll over and show their belly to the global master) he casually dismisses any such references used by opponents as ‘well-known sources of disinformation”. If you cite an above-reproach reference by a usually reliable source, he will claim that he wasn’t really talking about that at all, accuse you of ‘twisting his words’, and send you off on another round of chasing your own tail.
Or admonish you, “You’re being dishonest”. One of his favourite hobby-horses is RT, which he claims is an all-propaganda-all-the-time network controlled directly and exclusively by the Kremlin. But all to no avail, I’m afraid – it is steadily declining in viewership, and the only people who really watch it are Putin and his dog. That’s exaggerating, of course, but the picture he paints is of a dictators-R-us paean to state suppression of alternative thought. Is that true?
You tell me. the American media would certainly have you believe it is, claiming that no one really watches RT just a paragraph or so after acknowledging that its YouTube videos far surpass the reach achieved by all other outlets. It claims the Nielsen ratings demonstrate that RT’s numbers equate to numbers of people who can receive it, not those who watch it.
Is there any reason to take Nielsen ratings’ claim seriously? Again, you tell me.
Nielsen measures national linear TV audiences using a sample, a panel that is recruited to represent all US TV households and continuously updated to maintain its relevance. The current sample size is 35,000 homes containing about 100,000 persons.
Or how about this, Mr. Computer-Science? The mocking western media executives who claim nobody really watches RT only sample those who watch it on television. How many people watch YouTube videos on television? Show of hands?
And that’s just an example. Other favourites are the contention – straight-faced, I must assume – that benevolent America only wants to free the hapless North Korean people from slavery. Have we ever heard that rationale before from Washington’s distribution networks? We need to do regime change to free the enslaved people from the grip of an awful dictator? We sure have – in Libya, for one, and one of the biggest cheerleaders for The Awful Dictator’s forcible removal was none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton, the poor bride left at the Presidential altar by the evil Russians, who somehow engineered the rise of Donald Trump while ensuring Clinton won the popular vote, just to camouflage their sinister hand. In fact Mrs. Clinton made Libyan regime change such a pet project, some insiders joked “ to hear her aides tell it, she had practically called in the airstrikes herself.”
How did that work out? Mmmmmm….
But there were plenty of signs that the triumph would be short-lived, that the vacuum left by Colonel Qaddafi’s death invited violence and division.
In fact, on the same August day that Mr. Sullivan had compiled his laudatory memo, the State Department’s top Middle East hand, Jeffrey D. Feltman, had sent a lengthy email with an utterly different tone about what he had seen on his own visit to Libya.
The country’s interim leaders seemed shockingly disengaged, he wrote. Mahmoud Jibril, the acting prime minister, who had helped persuade Mrs. Clinton to back the opposition, was commuting from Qatar, making only “cameo” appearances. A leading rebel general had been assassinated, underscoring the hazard of “revenge killings.” Islamists were moving aggressively to seize power, and members of the anti-Qaddafi coalition, notably Qatar, were financing them.
The Boston Globe was considerably more blunt; the US ruined Libya.
The speed with which we have been proven disastrously wrong, however, is breathtaking. So is the sweeping scope of unintended consequences that have flowed from this intervention. Not even those who opposed it imagined how far-reaching its effects would be. This is likely to go down in history as the most ill-conceived intervention of the Obama era.
Recent reports from Libya, issued to coincide with the third anniversary of Khadafy’s overthrow and murder, suggest that the state has ceased to exist. There is no central government. According to Amnesty International, “Armed groups and militias are running amok, launching indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas and committing widespread abuses, including war crimes, with complete impunity.” Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State back guerrilla factions. The unfortunate United Nations envoy, Bernardino Leon, says he can hardly begin to mediate “because the protagonists are hundreds of militias.” Full-scale civil war is a real possibility, so the worst may be yet to come.
This could and should have been predicted. Removing a long-established regime is dangerous unless a clear alternative is ready. It produces a power vacuum. Rivals fight for places in the new order. By suddenly decapitating Libya, the United States and its NATO allies made conflict, anarchy, and terror all but inevitable.
We can deduce two possible realities from this debacle; one, the USA sucks at regime change, but can’t stop trying it because it’s so much fun – nothing else gives the same giddy air of ‘doing something’. Or two, ruining Libya under the auspices of regime change was the aim all along, and all the freeing-the-people-from-slavery bullshit was just that – window-dressing, to bring the rubes along and create the impression of massive popular support. Who doesn’t like to play Whack The Dictator?
But a key plank of ‘Matt’s’ platform can be seen in the second sentence of the excerpt: “unintended consequences”. When the west breaks somebody else’s toys, it didn’t mean to. It was an accident. When the western media says something that flat-out isn’t true, it was such a charmingly well-intentioned mistake that you just have to love them the more for their essential humanity -to err is human. When Russia says something that isn’t true, it is both an evil and deliberate lie meant to advance its malignant influence, and eye-popping propaganda.
Ditto his descriptions of the ‘internet research center’ on Savushkina Street, which he maintains is a ‘troll factory’ dedicated to eradicating benevolent western influence from the planet. I did a post on this back in the spring of 2015, and the fingering of this building as the cave of an army of paid trolls originated in a story by Novaya Gazeta, the spunky little Russian newspaper that always tells the truth even when nobody in Russia tells the truth because honest journalists have all been murdered or imprisoned. The photographs which were supposedly ‘smuggled out’, featuring actual operatives working at the Savushkina Street troll factory, depict zombie-like figures sitting in front of outsize CRT-type screens which went out in the early 80’s. Apparently the Russian state does not rate the importance of its troll army highly enough to buy it modern flatscreen computers, which abound in Russia just as they do everywhere else.
Even if it were true that the Kremlin is running a state-sponsored campaign to discredit western philosophy, what of it? It could hardly prevail against the counter-operation to spread
American propaganda western values manned by the US military, could it?
And what is left to say about the ridiculous tale, staunchly adhered to by US Democrats and their fans everywhere, that Russia used Wikileaks to hack the American election? Well, just as an aside, it reminds me of another exchange with ‘Matt’, in which I inquired why he would take the alleged word of ‘American intelligence professionals’ when the veteran intelligence professionals who probably taught them everything they know say it is a crock and the data transfer rate precludes it having been a hack via the internet. He somewhat primly replied that he would trust the word of current intelligence professionals, thank you very much. No doubts entertained here.
Current intelligence professionals who never contacted Wikileaks at all, in any capacity, in the course of Mueller’s investigation, from its humble beginnings to its bombshell revelations.
I would just note, in closing, that ‘Matt’ seems to have unlimited time to reply to anybody and everybody on the blog; he seems to be quite a night owl, and perhaps a native-Spanish speaker who speaks English like a well-educated native is just so clever that he can pick up a computer science major while simultaneously blogging pretty much any time. A natural multitasker.
Anyway, that’s pretty much all the time I have. At present, ‘Matt’ is having a field day on the blog, using his monopoly on commenting to hammer home his ideological talking points. Complaints are starting to come in about his irritating presence, and I suppose that’s all good, too; all part of the effort.
So this could go one of two ways. I could switch the blog to an entirely-moderated comment forum, in which you might not see your comment appear for a whole day or so, since I typically work 8 hours a day. I could then go through the laborious process of filtering out his comments one by one, plus any replies to them so that those replies are not left orphaned and hanging out in the wind with no apparent context.
Or you could all stop replying.
The conversation, in more or less real time, unmoderated, could continue to flow around ‘Matt’ like water flows around a rock, until he gets tired of talking to himself and goes away. Because any and all influence he has relies on opponents replying to him, being dragged into unrelated argument and letting him control the narrative. We’ve seen this before, and it didn’t work. Why is it working now? Because you’re letting it. Moreover, you’re abetting it.
Try resisting, no matter how juicy and provocative the bait. Because that’s what he’s doing – provoking you. For some, he appeals to their confidence that they know the subject inside out, then dances away with mockery that you don’t know what you’re talking about and the whole thing is just too ridiculous and boring for him to pursue further; ‘pure comedy gold’, as he’s fond of saying. In other cases he dangles enticing subjects by taking a position he knows is unsupportable and easily refuted – he can always modify his position later, and will – the important thing is to get you into the conversation.
Before anyone proposes it, I can’t just ban or block him. Even relative simpletons are quite capable of using an anonymizer which mutates their address slightly each time they comment, and evades a block. There probably are more sophisticated ways, but I’m not a computer-science major and don’t know them, and frankly, I do not have the time for that kind of effort, the same as I don’t have time for comment-by-comment policing.
Up to you.