A while back the Guardian made an issue about the Russian State employing people to search the web and put a different spin on any comments or articles that were negative toward Russia or Mr. Putin. The Guardian described them as Trolls (01), while the Russians simply denied any involvement, claiming they're delighted so many patriots see fit to stick up for their country and leader.
Prior to the EU elections in 2014, the EU did much the same thing; set up a team to monitor online comments and insert their own spin on those they deemed influential (02). And The Communist Party in China uses some of their 87 million strong membership to generate close to 500 million fake social media posts every year, all doing the same thing - pushing the party line (03).
This is nothing new to those of us who smoke and have seen how they try to spin their take on every newspaper article that's even remotely critical of tobacco control or - worse still - hints at allowing smoking rooms in pubs. This one's current and a good example, with the usual rot about suffering from asthma, or "the smell" being the most common reasons to maintain the regime (04)!
So it's fair - I feel - to take from these examples that there's one heck of a lot of people employed to do nothing but try to influence public opinion through online comments. And that applies to everything The State deems important. Oh and pressure / advocacy groups, they do that as well.
Trouble is there are millions of people who have some sort of online presence (Wordpress alone claims to host 74.6 million blogs, and Facebook claims 1.7 billion active users), so keeping a track of even a fraction of them is impossible. So what they do is concentrate on those with popular blogs, large readerships, or followers or whatever.
I don't mind if a paid troll dumps a comment at Guido's place (05). He doesn't monitor comments, but his readers do and can suss an infiltrator in seconds - and deal with them very effectively. So a piss poor troll has the same effect as shooting their employer in the foot. No matter how noble the cause, or how strong the sentiment, a lousy troll can undo much with just one dumb remark.
One reason for paying people to comment on the web is to maintain the status quo. The very big ticket items we've seen recently have been the Scottish and EU referendums, and those that favoured the government's position failed to sway - or frighten - enough in both cases.
Trouble is I, like many others, never buy a newspaper, nor read their on-line editions. Can't stand Sky News. In truth the only news I get is via the BBC Red Button that I look at about twice a day. Otherwise my television's there for entertainment and weather forecasts.
By concentrating only on the largest and most popular sites on the web they miss out on three important audiences. First are the 15% who don't have Internet access, second are those people who buy the physical newspaper or view the television (so have no need to read the online version) and third are those who favour obscure specialist sites that have limited audiences and - quite frequently - no comments, or have comment moderation.
I've come to the conclusion that all this fuss about paid trolls is just flimflam. They're intended to impress their bosses, each other, and their ultimate paymasters - the government. In truth the best a troll can do is start a thread with a few comments from others. At worst they're ignored, or they use their buddies to concoct a fake thread. What they achieve in reality is virtually zero and, for the most part, where comments are monitored, they're quickly removed or - as I mentioned - they're dealt with by the author's regulars.
We in Scotland - and most of us who smoke - are well aware of the techniques they use. We know about their trolls, we know about their "research" and we know about their "polls". And - to my delight - the folk in North Ayrshire have sent a message to Ms. Sturgeon, through her father and subsequently through her mother. They refused to elect her father at a Local Council by-election to replace an SNP councillor who resigned her seat, handing the post to the Labour candidate (06)! As a result the SNP lost control of that council, leading to her mother's resignation as Provist the following day (07)!
What's amusing is here in Scotland there's not the slightest chance the government will learn anything. They're still flat out on bringing in the Named Person Scheme, even though they know it's only warranted for a tiny percentage of children and deeply resented by the overwhelming majority of sensible, responsible parents. And they'll continue to waste resources in trying to remain within the EU, even though the EU has made it blindingly obvious they'll only deal with the British government. Sad Sack admissions by Sturgeon that she miscarried six years ago (08) don't begin to hack it.
They can pay trolls to dump their load on every available outlet, but the bottom line is the SNP officials are far too busy trying to impress each other, rather than working to deliver to those who elected them. Stuff your trolls and listen to what the people say, in pubs, bars, playgrounds... and online. And learn.