First, it seeks to further divide and polarize the United States along ideological lines. As long as we are fighting among ourselves, we aren’t paying attention to what [the opponents are doing elsewhere.] Second, it attempts to undermine our trust in the institutions that sustain a strong nation and a strong democracy. The media, science, academia and the electoral process are all regular targets of troll venom. The [opponents] want to push us further apart while causing us to lose trust in what has traditionally made us strong.
…[They] understand the way information is spread on the platforms they use and, more important, they understand how to reach their American audience. On the theory that it is easier to catch a fly with honey, many troll messages are not negative. Instead, they are cute, or educational, or uplifting, all in an attempt to gain credibility and followers.
…Before Twitter suspended PoliteMelanie’s account, [one] tweet had more than 125,000 retweets and likes — and this wasn’t even her most popular post. Another tweet from this account became the topic of a heartwarming Scary Mommy blog post. A third PoliteMelanie tweet was highlighted by the popular humor website CollegeHumor.com. PoliteMelanie garnered nearly 25,000 followers in less than six months — [they had] effectively built a brand.
…Tweets from other accounts that were part of the PoliteMelanie network had similar success: We found them cited by The Washington Post, CNN, BuzzFeed, Al Jazeera, the New York Post and Essence magazine, to name a few. One of these accounts, @Blk_Hermione, had a tweet with cross-platform success, gaining more than 40,000 “upvotes” to make the front page of Reddit. An analysis of 2 million English-language IRA tweets released by Twitter last July shows that the trolls had at that point gained 30 million likes and 22 million retweets among 1,866 English-language accounts active between 2014 and 2017.
…They are remarkably astute in exploiting questions of culture and identity and are frequently among the first to push new divisive conversations. We’ve seen debates that they helped foment move quickly from Twitter to mainstream print media. On topics ranging from vaccines to Colin Kaepernick, they can speak vehemently to the extremes of both sides. In so doing, they work to drive Americans ideologically further apart.
…This tweet gained almost half a million likes and retweets, though even this seemingly positive message could still be read as a dig at other first ladies. The trolls know that a message is in the eye of the beholder.
Don’t feed the trolls, folks.