Troll farms and Christians on Facebook

Note that 19 of the 20 top “Christian” pages are troll farms. Regardless of whether or not you’d call them Christian, this is indicative of the state of Christianity today. I think it’s fair to say that no other group of people were as gullible on Facebook as people who call themselves Christians.

As to actual Christians, I think we should get off FB.

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Completely agreed.

The prevalence of these “Christian” Facebook groups, and the dutiful daily attention to them from some, remind me of other times in Church history when superstitious practices got out of hand. Pray for peaceful reform of our lives and societies…

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Been off of Facebook for about 3 years now. Best decision I made since getting rid of cable TV about 10 years ago.

Do it, folks.

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Next, get rid you YouTube and streaming services. I did the same, but now watch YouTube like TV. Haven’t made the switch off of that yet.

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All. By. Design.
Literally.
These dysfunctional realities are the results of military weaponry. As bad as that sounds, I think the fuller picture regarding the present state of communications tech (and how it got that way) is actually even worse.
If anyone is unfamiliar with the Shadowgate documentaries, allow me to help…
Part 1

Part 2

What’s covered is related to way more than I’ll try to describe in this short response. It’s the sort of information that can change the world. Presented by heroes, and in a self-sacrificially costly way. Thankfully, they’re all still here and fighting for all of us. :heart:

I’ll repeat, the information in and related to what is revealed in this work is so much more far-reaching than what one might think by simply skimming the description. It’s rather unique.
Peace in Jesus

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Here is the report this article is based off of. Its not the most professional thing but it does give the names of the pages. https://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/21063547/oct-2019-facebook-troll-farms-report.pdf

I am not sure that the media’s conclusions are warranted by this.

Full disclosure: I’m not going to watch the videos because I strongly dislike the medium.

But I think it’s much more likely (and much more frightening) that these shoggoths that we created to serve us are instead destroying us. Human societies are complex systems, which is to say that interaction with it can have grossly nonlinear effects at unpredictable times. The idea that social media algorithms could have been designed to produce the effect they are producing seems risible to me.

There are certainly people who are using the divisions and problems that are being created for their own ends, and I don’t doubt that various three-letter agencies have been involved in various Internet and social media companies in various ways (actually I think some of that is on record). But engineered? I don’t even think that’s possible.

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I understand people’s media choices, we all are bombarded with so much data.
Crucial as those docs are, there are other options with regard to what’s covered. The videos are just a gateway to a universe of information that gives meaningful context. From what I hear, these arrive from the printer tomorrow. I might even be receiving an extra copy. :grinning:

I think it’s both.

Amen. These “conspiracies” are real but not cartoonish.

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. But that shouldn’t be too hard to believe, after all we’re not naturalistic materialists. :heart:

Touché.

Ten characters.

I think the article and the report (which is embedded in the article and which Joseph linked directly here, too) give better explanations for why this is the way it is. The Troll Farms themselves may be run or funded by government agencies, but the likelihood of them being US agencies seems slim, given their poor English among many other reasons. In fact, we know from the article that there is a distinct possibility of a connection to the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA). Russia has a long and public history of using this sort of information campaign against the USA, and the motives for that are obvious. This is not to say that Western countries don’t use the same tactics. Nor is it to say that Western countries wouldn’t use those tactics on their own people.

But the answer to why FB is this way is simple. Money. Occam’s Razor says we should prefer the simpler solution, and money is indeed the simplest solution. In fact the Bible warns us how the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.

This is a report by somebody relatively high up in FB. He’s clear on why the pages succeed: FB is optimized for engagement, rather than quality. Why? Because that means people stay on longer and they can get more ads in front of our eyes, making more money. As the author of the original report points out, this is not the first time that media has been overrun by engagement optimization or click (purchase) bait. Newspapers managed to right themselves, by separating out into two groups—those going for a quick buck via sensationalism, and those looking to become trusted by doing actual reporting. I suspect social media will do the same. But the only reason they will do so is because of the same sort of backlash that newspapers faced. If anybody wants to see FB change for the better, get off FB. The sooner you get off FB, the sooner they will feel it in their wallet. And the sooner they feel it in their wallet, the sooner they will suddenly find it in them to optimize for something other than engagement.

The goal here is not to talk about “the media’s” conclusions. The goal is to talk about Christians and FB. My conclusion is that Christians are gullible, and Christians should get off FB. Granted, I thought that prior to reading the report and article. Still, this situation makes clear the extent to which FB determines what you see and what you read, not you. And when you realize that FB’s goals are contrary to your own, and then you realize that they are in control, I’m hoping that it will wake more Christians up to the fact that they are in an abusive relationship, and simply walk away.

By the way, the article I linked to is the MIT Review article that originally broke the story and provided the report publicly. It both listed all the pages, and included the full report, so I’m guessing you didn’t get a chance to read it. If you do want to talk about its conclusions, I thought they were so tame as to be inarguable.

“Instead of users choosing to receive content from these actors, it is our platform that is choosing to give [these troll farms] an enormous reach,” wrote the report’s author, Jeff Allen, a former senior-level data scientist at Facebook.

And in spite of FB’s claim that they’ve "taken aggressive enforcement actions against these kinds of foreign and domestic inauthentic groups,”

In the process of fact-checking this story shortly before publication, MIT Technology Review found that five of the troll-farm pages mentioned in the report remained active.

Here’s their take on whether it’s still a problem today:

Facebook’s recent controversial “Widely Viewed Content” report suggests that some of the core vulnerabilities the troll farms exploited also remain.

Then they conclude with this quote:

the report “speaks to a lot of the deeper systemic problems with the platform and their algorithm in the way that they promote certain kinds of content to certain users, all just based on this underlying value of growth.” If those are not fixed, they will continue to create distorted, economic incentives for bad actors, she adds: “That’s the problem.”

I’m struggling to find anything unwarranted.

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Meanwhile, I’ve only just skimmed these reports by FB employees about their impact on teen mental health via Instagram.

https://archive.is/I12y3

From what I’ve seen of the reports, the same sorts of things hold true on FB itself for adults.

It’s funny how reading text strings like “Internet Research Agency”, “Kremlin-backed” or even just “Kremlin” provokes what is almost an immune response in my brain as my eyes start to roll and I prepare myself for the worst fevered dreams of the Russia hoaxers.

But the reality is that this is true. Russia has been “interfering” in US elections for decades, maybe since the 1930s when the Roosevelt administration made itself the Soviets’ fast friend. No enemies to the left and all that.

The Rosenbergs didn’t arise in a vacuum. Why the American Left’s memory for such things seems to end around 2015 is an interesting question that can perhaps be understood by the American Left’s decades-long campaign to clear the Rosenbergs that only ended with a long gasping whimper after the Venona releases.

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It seems clear that there is a confluence of financial incentives (keeping eyeballs on the page as long as possible) and human psychological susceptibility that are at play. I don’t think Google ideologically wants people watching more and more extreme videos, and facebook doesn’t want people looking at schmaltzy memes in Christianese, but they do want people to remain hooked to their platform. I think there are some very savvy people who understand how to gain and maintain people’s attention who are engineering these spaces to maximize engagement, but many of these people seem legitimately torn about the effects their design is having on individuals and society.

I think this is a pretty good article on persuasive tech, and the dangers it poses - especially to young girls (don’t fool yourself, though, we are all susceptible). A very defensive BJ Fogg shows up in the comments. The Tech Industry’s War on Kids. How psychology — a discipline that we… | by Richard Freed | Medium

Agreed. And there is a question to what degree each is responsible. Here is an interesting article by Cory Doctorow:

One quote from it:

Here’s the key to Bernstein’s argument: “One reason to grant Silicon Valley’s assumptions about our mechanistic persuadability is that it prevents us from thinking too hard about the role we play in taking up and believing the things we want to believe. It turns a huge question about the nature of democracy in the digital age — what if the people believe crazy things, and now everyone knows it? — into a technocratic negotiation between tech companies, media companies, think tanks, and universities.”

The article you share required registration and I wasn’t able to read it. So I searched around for other mainstream news sites and that was what I was referring to when I said there conclusions were not warranted. When I look at the original report which I shared it doesn’t give me much confidence in it because its full of typos and slang. Its not the most scholarly thing. Furthermore, the top ten lists of page and what they were sharing at least for Christians isn’t anything really political or of substance. It seems more to be pages that are just resharing memes in order to make a dollar. I don’t know how the media gets from there to Russia interfering in the election.

I agree that many Christians are gullible but from the list of the sites mentions I doubt any reformed Christians were actually liking any of the posts or sharing them. Its not anything Ive seen reformed Christians sharing.

I’m not defending it but its not the firebomb that some of the mainstream articles I was reading made it seem to be. Facebook is designed to get money. Its what its for. I know that. I still think its a good tool and have found it to be helpful in building up fellowship among Christians across broad areas.

To help in any lack of clarity my comment above may have caused, I actually had posted the remarks as a response to @buckybuckner 's posting of a re-imagined Plato’s cave. I really had intended the comment, “these dysfunctional realities” to be directed more broadly than regarding the discussion of the particular troll farms on FB being reported on in the article. I think because the post that I hit reply on was only an image, that might not have shown up as a specific reply in the stream of the thread (although it showed as such in the reply box while composing.)

I didn’t mean to direct the force of the comment to the specific article that began this thread, but to simply point out that the presently existing “social media” structures (which obv. includes FB) have not only had documented inter-relationships with governmental, military and intelligence agencies from their genesis, but have been utilized as part of substantial military campaigns against foreign nations. Also, that many aspects of that military weaponization of social media as well as weaponization of the broader realities of how human communication takes place using the internet as presently structured have been turned increasingly against the domestic theater, so to speak. Hence the links posted regarding the whistleblower documentaries, “Shadowgate.”

As for Facebook, I very much agree. Both with this comment and much of what else was said. In some sense, it’s a both/and type of thing. I’ve actually never had a FB account (weirdo, huh? :grinning:) and never plan to. It would be a misinterpretation to view my remarks as being mostly about the initial article or particular troll farms. One that I feel I inadvertently caused.

Now to spend some more time on the outside of Plato’s cave. Discussions of these topics but out there would be something I’d love to do more of.

I have noticed that if you don’t quote the post you are replying to, this message board software does a very poor job of preserving threading.

I can help you out with that, but I suspect your comment was more rhetorical.

It was an internal report by a data scientist at FB, not a public report. He worked there for a year and a half studying troll farms. That was his job. That’s also why it speaks in the first person: “But we have not fundamentally changed the way our platform operates to make it resilient against these actors.” It was also his farewell, since (rumor has it) Facebook was unwilling to actually do anything to make changes. Hope that gives it some more context.

You might be surprised. Part of the report is pointing out that nobody notices the publishing page because of how small it is. If a friend shared it, you likely wouldn’t notice which page it came from originally. But that’s not even the point. The point is that FB decided to show this sort of content to people in spite of nobody thinking the publishing page was worthwhile. The publishing pages had zero graph authority.

That doesn’t surprise me at all. They still want to blame somebody for Trump, and FB was a good option early on, and now this comes out seeming to prove parts of the thesis. Clearly that’s overplayed. Also, FB bashing is popular right now, so it’s a good clickbait topic.

You can’t just start sharing political content that is divisive or inflammatory from a brand new page and get anywhere. FB will shut you down immediately. You have to build up a distribution from your page with tons of innocuous posts.

I don’t object to them making money. I object to how they do it—by making people dumber, inflaming conflicts, and both controlling and destroying discourse.

A tool’s design has implications for what you will do with it. Facebook is a collection of tools, yes. Some of them are just fine, eg marketplaces. But calling something a tool means nothing about whether you should use it or what you should do with it. Marketing blasting caps as hammers doesn’t make them useful for pounding nails.

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I’m quite sure that Doctorow and I have very different definitions of “crazy” here, but he’s not wrong. The Internet has blown information wide open for millions or billions of us, but has unleashed epistemic anarchy on the world. All of the conspiracy theories I believe in are of course 100% factual, but it’s not possible to run a civilization this way. Truth has to be governed for a society, either by the Emperor or the Church or the media or somebody.

This was a very interesting article. Thanks for posting it.

It is very sad for me to read this poor psychologist try to make sense of morality with his godless worldview. The missing ingredient is obviously morality, and the idea that psychologists can provide it is risible, but at least he sees the problem.

Our elites unleashed moral anarchy upon us perhaps as much as 100 years ago, and we get to watch that unfold on Facebook too.

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