What do conservative college student Harmony, former model Chloe, and proud Black American Amy G all have in common? They’re all active on social media, but none of them are real. They’re just three of the accounts featured in the Spot the Troll Quiz, an online resource developed by Clemson University professors Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren with the help of Charlotte firm Interactive Knowledge to help push back against internet misinformation campaigns.
That attractive young woman posting about voter fraud on Twitter, the Nevada police support group on Instagram and the Facebook user who reposts inspirational quotes from Michelle Obama? There’s a good chance they’re not who they seem. In fact, it’s quite possible that they are trolls.
Trolls are fake social media accounts. They’ve grown so numerous and ubiquitous online that there are internet troll farms, like the one created by Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Petersburg, Russia. This troll factory employs people to concoct reasonable facsimiles of real people who want to engage you or be your friend online. Trolls’ tactics, goals and who they work for may vary, but they’ve all been created to spread misleading information that creates confusion and deepens divisions already present in American society.
“A troll is … not what they purport to be,” says Warren, an associate professor in the Department of Economics at Clemson. “They’re entering into a conversation in order to further some goal that is not apparent.”