Friday, April 09, 2010

trolls of the Ayatollah

Laura Rozen takes us to meet the Iranian government's loyalist bloggers.

The hardliners have fielded hundreds of pro-regime bloggers, most writing in Persian, emphasizing particularly the importance of supporting the Supreme Leader. The bloggers range from students to clerics, with many claiming to be members of the Basij and children of war veterans or martyrs. Virtually all are hard-line or extremist in their views. Some bloggers appear to be popular and often draw many comments from their posts.

You bet they do. It would be offensive to speculate exactly who we all know would end up doing this job in a hypothetical fascist Britain. I'll leave it up to you, although I will point out that at least two bloggers who would be regulars on Newsnight and in the British Gazette's opinion pages in that scenario...already are regulars in the MSM.

I don't know if they're doing anything technical to favour their bloggers and their trolls over the other guys; if the loyalists are more likely to be hosted in Iran, the policy of slashing international bandwidth while leaving the networks up might help. But that's not what interests me right now.

What role, politically, do trolls play? On one hand, it's clearly possible to use the Internet as a mobilisation tool for good, or at the very least, for nihilistic shit-flinging. Examples; this slightly disappointing interview with the Obama campaign's CTO, and this blitz on a bunch of bigots' facetwitspace accounts, respectively. Or this scientific paper; oddly, when a random Internet person actually did some climate science they didn't find that it was all made up.

But on the other hand, there's a great towering mountain of drivel, a spuming, stinking Eyjafjallajökull of bullshit - an Icelandic or Hawaiian eruption, one that keeps burbling on without working up enough pressure to explode, but does keep belching toxic gas.

Personally, I suspect that the use of Internet pond life in politics is that it's a way of tapping the energies of people who otherwise wouldn't get involved, just as lefties tend to hope it might be the same thing. I just differ on which group of people are being mobilised. It's hard to get The Authoritarians to initiate anything; they're obsessed with leaders by definition. And it's also unlikely that you'll get people who are convinced of the futility of collective action to start a movement. Further, this guy wasn't going to take to the streets, was he?

Get them in front of a keyboard, pass them some talking points, though, and they're happy to bombard selected targets with abuse. I further observe that we have about three major examples of this - one is the US, and specifically the Bush re-election campaign, another would be Russia in the early Putin years (Andrew Wilson's classic Virtual Politics (I reviewed it here) is good on the importance of the temnik talking points system), and the latest would be Iran today.

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