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If while reading a news item,

you’ve ever been brave enough to venture below the fold into the vast uncharted darkness of an online comment section, you may have noticed how vile, offensive and discouraging the experience can be.

This generalized toxicity is due to a number of factors, most of which are rooted in the unchecked freedom of expression afforded by anonymity. When certain netizens are permitted to interact with others without having to reveal their identity or be responsible for their words, they often take advantage of the situation and say things they wouldn’t otherwise say.

Example:

Netizen: I support Politician A’s policies 🙂 they see kewl. lol.

Netizen: Politician A is a super-Hitler and you are feminazi communist pig-f****r for support his progressive jihadist agenda. AINEC.

In such cases, Netizen 2 is often labelled a “troll.” Meaning, an Internet use who posts deliberately provocative messages online with the intention of ausing mental distress and/or widespread calamity.

But sometimes a troll isn’t just a troll, but an agent of DEZA.

Shorthand for disinformation, DEZA refers to a particularly unpleasant brand of astroturfing that is aimed at legitimizing or delegitimizing targeted political or corporate entities. A recent example of this practice was the ubiquitous presence of Kremlin-funded Pro-Putin commenters on Crimea-related news items.

Other examples of DEZA-esque activity include:

  • Samsung marketing operatives who are paid to highlight the shortcomings of competitors and to disinfect negative news about Samsung on Taiwanese technology forums.
  • Fox News public relations staff members aggressively attacking critics on rival newsmedia comment sections.
  • The government of Israel paying students to spread hasbara (pro-Israel propaganda) throughout a variety of online spaces, particularly those that feature discussions related to Palestine.
  • Men’s rights activists masquerading as women in order to infiltrate Jezebel’s Groupthink forum.
  • A Koch Industries-backed “non-profit” created to circulate anti-net neutrality spam.

— Douglas Haddow. Part 2 of the Field Guide to Virtual Warfare from Adbusters Issue #118.[cherry_banner image=”6260″ title=”Adbusters #118″ url=”http://subscribe.adbusters.org/collections/back-issues/products/ab118″ template=”issue.tmpl”]Field Guide to Virtual Warfare [/cherry_banner]