I Was a Paid Internet Shill: How ShadowyGroups Manipulate Internet Opinion andDebatePosted by Alcyone _Featured_, Controlled Media Tuesday, January 8th, 2013Update 1/12/2013: CLN has received a takedown notice asking us to remove this article on thebasis that “It is libelous and utterly false” from someone claiming to be a legal agent of AboveTop Secret‟s parent company. We are currently investigating and will post status updates as theybecome available. The original thread now appears to have vanished from Above Top Secret‟swebsite. ____________________CLN Editor‟s Note: The type of propaganda strategy described in the article below occurs acrossa wide range of topics and is employed by various corporate, political, and governmental groupsto promote a variety of agendas. It is called astroturfing, and it is far more common than mostwould imagine.This post is not about Israel, and it is not partisan. It is simply an illustration of themechanics of how online debate can be manipulated. As this is an anonymous post, we have noway of verifying the information contained herein, and it is presented only for yourconsideration.Our intent in posting this is not to spread paranoia or incite shill witch hunts, but merely toencourage readers to view what they read and engage with online with a more discerning eye.This confession is presented verbatim from its original thread to preserve its integrity. As such,you may notice some minor typographical errors.For more information on this important topic, see: Revealed: US Spy Operation That Manipulates Social Media Astroturfing: What Is It and Why Does It Matter? Corporate-Funded Online „Astroturfing‟ Is More Advanced and More Automated Than You Might Think DON‟T TRUST THE WEB Online Astroturfing Gets Sophisticated US Military Says Metal Gear Sock Puppets Are Real Millions Spent to Confuse Public About Geoengineering (Not specifically about online “astroturfing,” but alludes to the same core propaganda strategy)- Alcyone @CLN
I Was a Paid Internet ShillBy Ex-Shill, Above Top SecretI am writing here to come out of the closet as a paid shill. For a little over six months, I was paidto spread disinformation and argue political points on the Internet. This site, ATS, was NOT onethat I was assigned to post on, although other people in the same organization were paid to behere, and I assume they still walk among you. But more on this later.I quit this job in the latter part of 2011, because I became disgusted with it, and with myself. Irealized I couldn‟t look myself in the mirror anymore. If this confession triggers some kind ofretribution against me, so be it. Part of being a real man in this world is having real values thatyou stand up for, no matter what the consequences.My story begins in early 2011. I had been out of work for almost a year after losing my last jobin tech support. Increasingly desperate and despondent, I jumped at the chance when a formerco-worker called me up and said she had a possible lead for me. “It is an unusual job, and onethat requires secrecy. But the pay is good. And I know you are a good writer, so its somethingyou are suited for.” (Writing has always been a hobby for me).She gave me only a phone-number and an address, in one of the seedier parts of San Francisco,where I live. intrigued, I asked her for the company‟s URL and some more info. She laughed.“They don‟t have a website. Or even a name. You‟ll see. Just tell them I referred you.” Yes, itsounded suspicious, but long-term joblessness breeds desperation, and desperation has a funnyway of overlooking the suspicious when it comes to putting food on the table.The next day, I arrived at the address – the third floor in a crumbling building. The appearance ofthe place did not inspire confidence. After walking down a long, filthy linoleum-covered corridorlit by dimly-flickering halogen, I came to the entrance of the office itself: a crudely batteredmetal door with a sign that said “United Amalgamated Industries, Inc.”I later learned that this “company” changed its name almost monthly, always using bland nameslike that which gave no strong impression of what the company actually does. Not too hopeful, Iwent inside. The interior was equally shabby. There were a few long tables with folding chairs,at which about a dozen people were tapping away on old, beat-up computers. There were nodecorations or ornaments of any type: not even the standard-issue office fica trees or plasticferns. What a dump. Well, beggars can‟t be choosers.The manager, a balding man in his late forties, rose from the only stand-alone desk in the roomand came forward with an easy smile. “You must be Chris. Yvette [my ex-co-worker] told meyou‟d be coming.” [Not our real names]. “Welcome. Let me tell you a little about what we do.”No interview, nothing. I later learned they took people based solely on referral, and that thepeople making the referrals, like my ex-colleague Yvette, were trained to pick out candidatesbased on several factors including ability to keep one‟s mouth shut, basic writing skills, anddesperation for work.We sat down at his desk and he began by asking me a few questions about myself and mybackground, including my political views (which were basically non-existent). Then he began to
explain the job. “We work on influencing people‟s opinions here,” is how he described it. Thecompany‟s clients paid them to post on Internet message boards and popular chartrooms, as wellas in gaming forums and social networks like Facebook and MySpace. Who were these clients?“Oh, various people,” he said vaguely. “Sometimes private companies, sometimes politicalgroups.”Satisfied that my political views were not strong, he said I would be assigned to political work.“The best people for this type of job are people like you, without strong views,” he said with alaugh. “It might seem counterintuitive, but actually we‟ve found that to be the case.” Well, OK.Fine. As long as it comes with a steady paycheck, I‟d believe whatever they wanted me tobelieve, as the guy in Ghostbusters said.After discussing pay (which was much better than I‟d hoped) and a few other details, he thenwent over the need for absolute privacy and secrecy. “You can‟t tell anyone what we do here.Not your wife, not your dog.” (I have neither, as it happens.) “We‟ll give you a cover story andeven a phone number and a fake website you can use. You will have to tell people you are aconsultant. Since your background is in tech support, that will be your cover job. Is this going tobe a problem for you?” I assured him it would not. “Well, OK. Shall we get started?”“Right now?” I asked, a bit taken aback.“No time like the present!” he said with a hearty laugh.The rest of the day was taken up with training. Another staff member, a no-nonsense woman inher thirties, was to be my trainer, and training would only last two days. “You seem like a brightguy, you‟ll get the hang of it pretty fast, I think,” she said. And indeed, the job was easier thanI‟d imagined. My task was simple: I would be assigned to four different websites, with the goalof entering certain discussions and promoting a certain view. I learned later that some of thepersonnel were assigned to internet message boards (like me), while others worked on Facebookor chatrooms. It seems these three types of media each have different strategy for shilling, andeach shill concentrates on one of the three in particular.My task? “To support Israel and counter anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic posters.” Fine with me. I hadno opinions one way or another about Israel, and who likes anti-Semites and Nazis? Not me,anyway. But I didn‟t know too much about the topic. “That‟s OK,” she said. “You‟ll pick it up asyou go along. For the most part, at first, you will be doing what we call “meme-patrol.” This ispretty easy. Later if you show promise, we‟ll train you for more complex arguments, where morein-depth knowledge is necessary.”She handed me two binders with sheets enclosed in limp plastic. The first was labeled simply“Israel” in magic-marker on the cover, and it had two sections .The first section contained basicbackground info on the topic. I would have to read and memorize some of this, as time went on.It had internet links for further reading, essays and talking points, and excerpts from somehistory books. The second, and larger, section was called “Strat” (short for “strategy”) with longlists of “dialogue pairs.” These were specific responses to specific postings.If a poster wrote something close to “X,” we were supposed to respond with something close to“Y.” “You have to mix it up a bit, though,” said my trainer. “Otherwise it gets too obvious.Learn to use a thesaurus.” This section also contained a number of hints for de-railingconversations that went too far away from what we were attempting. These strategies included
various forms of personal attacks, complaining to the forum moderators, smearing the charactersof our opponents, using images and icons effectively, and even dragging the tone of theconversation down with sexual innuendo, links to pornography, or other such things.“Sometimes we have to fight dirty,” or trainer told us. “Our opponents don‟t hesitate to, so wecan‟t either.”The second binder was smaller, and it contained information specific to the web sites I would beassigned to. The sites I would work were: Godlike Productions, Lunatic Outpost, CNN news,Yahoo News, and a handful of smaller sites that rotated depending on need. As stated, I wasNOT assigned to work ATS (although others in my group were), which is part of the reason I amposting this here, rather than elsewhere. I wanted to post this on Godlike Productions at first, butthey have banned me from even viewing that site for some reason (perhaps they are onto me?).But if somebody connected with this site can get the message to them, I think they should knowabout it, because that was the site I spent a good 70% of my time working on.The site-specific info in the second binder included a brief history each site, including recentflame-wars, as well as info on what to avoid on each site so as not to get banned. It also had quitedetailed info on the moderators and the most popular regged posters on each site: location (ifknown), personality type, topics of interest, background sketch, and even some notes on how to“push the psychological buttons” of different posters. Although I didn‟t work for ATS, I did seethey had a lot of info on your so-called “WATS” posters here (the ones with gold borders aroundtheir edges). “Focus on the popular posters,” my trainer told me. “These are the influential ones.Each of these is worth 50 to 100 of the lesser known names.”Each popular poster was classified as “hostile,” “friendly,” or “indifferent” to my goal. We weresupposed to cultivate friendship with the friendly posters as well as the mods (basically, bybrownnosing and sucking up), and there were even notes on strategies for dealing with specifichostile posters. The info was pretty detailed, but not perfect in every case. “If you can convertone of the hostile posters from the enemy side to our side, you get a nice bonus. But this doesn‟thappen too often, sadly. So mostly you‟ll be attacking them and trying to smear them.”At first, like I said, my job was “meme-patrol.” This was pretty simple and repetitive; it involvedcountering memes and introducing new memes, and didn‟t demand much in-depth knowledge ofthe subject. Mostly just repetitive posting based on the dialogue pairs in the “Strat” section of thefirst binder. A lot of my job was de-railing and spamming threads that didn‟t go our way, ormaking accusations of racism and anti-Semitism. Sometimes I had to simply lie and claim aposter said something or did something “in another thread” they really hadn‟t said or done I feltbad about this…but in the end I felt worse about the possibility of losing the first job I‟d beenable to get since losing my “real” job.The funny thing was, although I started the job with no strong opinions or political views, after afew weeks of this I became very emotionally wedded to the pro-Israel ideas I was pushing. Theremust be some psychological factor at work…a good salesman learns to honestly love theproducts he‟s selling, I guess. It wasn‟t long before my responses became fiery and passionate,and I began to learn more about the topic on my own. “This is a good sign,” my trainer told me.“It means you are ready for the next step: complex debate.”The “complex debate” part of the job involved a fair amount of additional training, includingmemorizing more specific information about the specific posters (friendly and hostile) I‟d besparring with. Here, too, there were scripts and suggested lines of argument, but we were given
more freedom. There were a lot of details to this more advanced stage of the job – everythingfrom how to select the right avatar to how to use “demotivationals” (humorous images withblack borders that one finds floating around the web). Even the proper use of images of cats wasdiscussed. Sometimes we used faked or photo-shopped images or doctored news reports(something else that bothered me).I was also given the job of tying to find new recruits, people “like me” who had the personalitytype, ability to keep a secret, basic writing/thinking skills, and desperation necessary to sign on ashill. I was less successful at this part of the job, though, and I couldn‟t find another in the time Iwas there.After a while of doing this, I started to feel bad. Not because of the views I was pushing (as Isaid, I was first apolitical, then pro-Israel), but because of the dishonesty involved. If myarguments were so correct, I wondered, why did we have to do this in the first place? Shouldn‟ttruth propagate itself naturally, rather than through, well…propaganda? And who was behindthis whole operation, anyway? Who was signing my paychecks? The stress of lying to myparents and friends about being a “consultant” was also getting to me. Finally, I said enough wasenough. I quit in September 2011. Since then I‟ve been working a series of unglamorous tempoffice jobs for lower pay. But at least I‟m not making my living lying and heckling people whocome online to express their views and exercise freedom of speech.A few days ago I happened to be in the same neighborhood and on a whim thought I‟d check outthe old office. It turns out the operation is gone, having moved on. This, too, I understood, is partof their strategy: Don‟t stay in the same place for too long, don‟t keep the same name too long,move on after half a year or so. Keeping a low profile, finding new employees through word ofmouth: All this is part of the shill way of life. But it is a deceptive way of life, and no matter hownoble the goals (I remain pro-Israel, by the way), these sleazy means cannot be justified by theend.This is my confession. I haven‟t made up my mind yet about whether I want to talk more aboutthis, so if I don‟t respond to this thread, don‟t be angry. But I think you should know: Shillsexist. They are real. They walk among you, and they pay special attention to your popular gold-bordered WATS posters. You should be aware of this. What you choose to do with thisawareness is up to you.Yours,ExShillConscious Life News does not implicitly agree with or endorse the views of the individualsexpressed in this article, but we do believe that they have something valuable to add to theconversation.As with all things, apply your own discernment. Fact check and verify where you feel it isappropriate. And most importantly, take the information that resonates with you, and leave therest behind.
171 Comments for “I Was a Paid Internet Shill: How Shadowy GroupsManipulate Internet Opinion and Debate” 1. imtheshillthatshillstheshills January 14, 2013 - 7:26 PM theres an even deeper conspiracy, where the ppl paying the shills to shill, are actually manipulated by higher end shills. 2. Anon Patriot January 14, 2013 - 8:35 PM This fits the MO of many commenters on youtube. 3. Toby January 15, 2013 - 4:47 AM Here is a gun industry shill post from Care2. I‟m banned from there now for refusing to back down. Send an email to awildwoodco@gmail and I‟ll return a word page with copy/paste of some of what she says. Here is an example that got it started…and keep in mind I do not advocate any specific policy or confiscation, but that saturating my community with guns can have bad results. You can access all of her posts still on that website under “more politics”, but they have deleted all of my posts. ” but that is the thing with BIGOTs against “Assault‟ (BLACK) things like you do and say to feebly attempt to take the spot light of your BIGOTRY. Maybe we should start following your example and label anything BLACK we want to BAN with the word “Assault‟, it seems to justify your modern day profiling. *tisk* *tisk*, there was always something off with you with all the violence and insults you always make towards others here who have been respectful”. Keep in mind that I never mentioned “black”, nor had I advocated violence in any way, shape or form. I do admit to telling her where to shove her gun after her long series of rants slandering me.
4. Toby January 15, 2013 - 10:15 AM Update Care2 removed a second member for a copy paste of this article. It really is happening there in big way. Sheep don‟t know the wolf is leading them at that site for “heathy and green living”.5. yabbadoody January 15, 2013 - 10:23 AM No surprise here, except for the level of detail and the fact that private parties are being paid to access from remote (off-site) locations. I used to frequent a New Age-type energy work board, and because we were working with „apocryphal‟ knowledge (Reichian technology, „orgone‟ energy which Wilhelm Reich discovered and developed, look it up) – well, let‟s just say for whatever reason the shills came out in droves. No kidding, at one point we had identified no less than a dozen paid trolls – half of whom used multiple identities to try and remain undetected, then blew through and went elsewhere, but about 6 of whom stayed on the board regularly (actual identities verified by web admin electronically). More than that, the site admin was a regular poster and quite savvy regarding all things internet. He would routinely post the site‟s visitor logs for any and all to see… which made it even more obvious that certain “negatory” (negative, derogatory) posters were paid shills. While the site admin refrained from calling anyone out (he was being fair) as being a paid shill, several people were banned from the site for BEHAVIOR, exactly as the writer of the article above details for us – they were NOT banned simply for presenting contrary views, so this should be noted!! Most boards are comfortable enough in their stated purposes to be able to handle contrary views. This, however, is obviously not true for those that employ and thereby deploy paid shills to frequent THOSE VERY SAME PUBLIC SITES. Back to my story:As a frequent poster and member of a „New Age‟ site specifically focused on energy work, and via the site admin tracing their (shills) online IP address hosts, the monthly visitors list for that particular web group ROUTINELY included „A- List guests‟ hailing from: NSA, US Army, US Air Force, US State Department, numerous prestigious colleges and universities (generally science and engineering), any number of visitors from the country and government of Israel (coincidentally with this article), numerous scientific entities from around the globe, etc.
Now this was in 2004, and a little bit earlier. So yeah – the strategy has changed a bit since then. “Hired shills” just make it easier for various interests to “let their (cover) stories be known” without divulging their true identities, in a low-profile fashion. It also allows them to legally spy upon anyone and everyone on the net who visits their “target sites”, in a more-or-less undetected fashion. And yes – it IS deceptive. And yes – grown adults SHOULD find better work than lying about who they are and what they‟re doing for a living. And yes – in the instance I‟m citing, we were a group of skilled energy intuitives online, with all that this implies – so you can bet we called the shills out on their game every chance we got and either paid them no mind, or gave them a nasty piece of our own mind. And it got heated. And folks got banned, for obvious behavior – not for disagreeing. During that time I devised several sure-fire techniques on how to handle persistent trolls/paid shills, all of which were culled from their own modus operandi and then expanded upon by me as a form of Net Self Defense. At the board we shared that information among ourselves, and then afterwards and properly prepared, we‟d individually go toe-to-toe and post-to-post with the best professional trolls that that sort of money and interest could throw at us. If anything, it strengthened our core membership. As per the article above: Since the author clearly states has NO IDEA whom he was working for, he could easily have been performing the services of a paid spy/informant, and this was likely the case. Potential employers could easily include oft-discredited agencies like the ADL, or perhaps even more insidious lobbying groups like AIPAC, which often do more harm than help for the cause of Israel in their voiciferous support of Right Wing Israeli foreign and domestic policy. But I digress, because at least one shill has repented and gone on the mend, and that‟s a good beginning. Shame. Shame on frauds and hacks. Get a life. Get a real job.http://consciouslifenews.com/paid-internet-shill-shadowy-groups-manipulate-internet-opinion-debate/1147073/