Interview with a Paid Troll
Jesse Walker | May 10, 2011
In China, you can make money posting pro-government arguments in comment threads. Ai Weiwei has interviewed a man who says he's one of these online propagandists. Here's an excerpt:
Generally, it works with one of us, or a small group of us, being responsible for certain major websites. I principally deal with a number of our BBS (bulletin-board) sites and major news portals, and I'll often spend time in the news section at QQ.com. The work flow is generally in three major steps like this -- receive a task, then begin searching for topics, and after that begin making posts to channel public opinion. So next I'll get in to the specifics of what each step entails.
So receiving a task basically means making sure you check your e-mail every day, often checking your messages, or we set up a QQ Group. But generally we don't talk about this content in the Group. We generally just say there's work to be done, and remind everyone to check their e-mails. Generally, after something happens, and sometimes before new stories even break, we'll receive an e-mail. It will tell you first about the incident, about the news, and then tell you what orientation to take. So it tells you a general ideological orientation, and you go and channel the ideas of web users toward that orientation, or you go and blur the focus of web users, or you might go and stir the emotions of web users [over some issue]...Once you understand these instructions, you begin to select your subjects [or objectives], finding relevant news or articles on websites and then writing one's own articles, making posts [in the response section, and responding to other responses, all along the lines of the general orientation given above. This requires a lot of skill. You must hide your own identity. And you can't write in too official a way. You have to write articles of many different styles. Sometimes this means talking, fighting and disputing with yourself. Essentially, it's about creating a facade and then channeling web users over to you. The art of doing this is actually quite profound.
In fact, in a single forum you have to play three different roles. One is the leader. Another is the follower. The third is the observer, which is to say the masses ignorant of the facts. So first off is the leader. This is a speaker with relative authority. The leader generally steps into the debate later on, drawing out strong evidence with which to speak. The language from this character is relatively authoritative. Generally, the public will view this sort of person as credible. As to the second, the follower, there are basically two types, two types in opposition. These two characters are constantly debating and arguing, and even name calling, in opposition in the forum. This serves to draw the attention of observers. Then, in the end, the leader steps out, drawing on strong evidence. And ultimately, public opinion is drawn over to this third side [of the leader]. You could say we are like directors, and we write, direct and act all on our own, and in this way influence our audience. So there are times when I feel my personality is quite split.
Interview with a Paid Troll