Commercial Trolling: Social Media and the Corporate Deformation of Democracy
39 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2014
Date Written: July 31, 2013
While “trolling” originally named and is today often thought to be the activity of recalcitrant or obstreperous individuals with too much time or their hands or axes to grind about particular issues, a great deal of trolling on today’s social media platforms is crafted not by such individuals but instead by persons (or even computer programs) acting on behalf of (and usually employed by) powerful interests, including corporations, institutions, governments, and lobbying groups, and whose goal is not so much contributing to real exchange of political views, but instead the tilting of the discursive field to make some positions appear reasonable or even popular, and to marginalize other opinions (and those who hold them). Such action is visible in the range of ongoing intrusions by corporate actors into Wikipedia, which is reflected in the elaborate infrastructure the site maintains to police such intrusions, an infrastructure not available to much of the rest of the internet. It is even more obvious in Anti-Global Warming (AGW) discourse, by agents of industry lobbying groups and energy companies, in many locations across the web. Given the ease with which capital can purchase the services of agents to advocate effectively for views that are disfavored by a large portion — at times, such as in the climate change debate, a large majority — of the population, questions are raised about the apparently inherent democratic nature of information distribution on the web, and about what means might be utilized to level the playing field between good-faith contributors to discourse on the one hand, and institutionally-directed contributors on the other.
Keywords: trolling, wikipedia, climate change, ideology, social media, democracy, capitalism, cultural studies
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