In the session on the study “Architects of Networked Disinformation: Behind the Scenes of Troll Accounts and Fake News Production in the Philippines,” by scholars Jonathan C. Ong and Jason Vincent A.Cabañes, during the Democracy and Disinformation Conference last Feb. 13, writer Marian Pastor Roces made special mention of the part about the profile of an anonymous influencer who was a transgender.
The transgender influencer went by the name Georgina, 28, and a digital marketer with a computer engineering degree from one of the leading national universities.
The profile said she was rejected many times over when interviewing for jobs directly related to her degree. She felt she was never given a fair shot by interviewers in a male-dominated field, who were quick to assume she’s too maarte [fussy] to build or maintain computer hardware.
Georgina was described as having a “long black hair, short-sleeved shirts, and soft-spoken tone”
The profile further said:“An early adopter of new technology, she claimed she has always been fascinated by new financial opportunities offered by digital platforms. When she grew in understanding of the influencer industry a few years ago, she created what is popularly called a ‘quote account’ on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and steadily grew its followers seeking daily inspiration from its feed of bland feel-good positivity quotes and memes. Eventually, she was hired to promote campaigns for local telcos, then celebrities and their movies, then political clients.
“She volunteers her powers of noise creation and ‘signal scrambling’ for people and causes she believes in, such as promoting her favorite celebrity crushes or making sure Miss Philippines dominates social media conversations in the lead-up to the annual Miss Universe pageant.
“The key task of anonymous influencer accounts, as with regular influencer accounts, is to achieve authenticity: ‘Sometimes clients insist on being explicit with branding or hashtags, but that’s how you lose followers–when you become labeled as bayaran [paid stooge]’”.
Georgina enjoys relative privilege as the right-hand woman of a chief disinformation architect.
This means that after a campaign briefing, it becomes her responsibility to assemble and manage the team of anonymous influencers–people with whom she maintains relationships
of “competitive collegialities”.
The report further said that Georgina introduced the researcher during fieldwork “to other ‘trans trolls’ who use lifelong skills of gender code-switching to deploy the right personas and hit the right notes when broadcasting deceptive messages in, quite paradoxically, the most authentic way possible."
During the panel discussion, Roces noted LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) are natural for this kind of underground operation because it’s in their DNA to shift from one persona to another.
The authors – Ong, an associate professor of the University of Massachusetts, and Cabañes, a lecturer at the University of Leeds, joined the discussion by teleconference.
Key findings of the study:
• The use of fake accounts and paid influencers on Facebook and Twitter is widespread.
• Politicians often employ campaign strategists, local ‘boutique” advertising and PR agencies as chief architects of networked disinformation campaigns.
• Ad and PR strategists delegate political marketing responsibility. They rely heavily on promotional labor of digital influencers (who have between 50,000 to 2,000,000 followers on FB and Twitter) and community-level fake account operators (who manually operate fake profiles to infiltrate community groups and news pages) – and very minimally on automated bots.
While the ad and PR strategists are usually paid a lump sum by their political clients on a per-project basis – they subcontract work to influencers and pay them following PR standard industry matrices for reach and engagement. Community-level fake account operators are paid on fixed daily rate based on a set quota of online posts or comments. The incentive scheme that the strategists set for influencers and account operators maximize potentials for the signal boosting of communication messages that strategically use popular vernaculars resonant with populist public sentiments.
• Disinformation workers are financially, politically, socially and psychologically clever in different ways.
• Operating fake accounts for politicians involves similar mode of always-on, flexible, and (self) exploitative arrangement as other online freelance work. However, it is accompanied by the stressful emotional labor of justifying this work both to others and themselves.
• Networked disinformation campaign operations with two opposing dynamics in play. On the one hand, controlled interactivity aims for collective participation and cooperation among disinformation workers who are informed by a common script, on the other hand volatile virality relies on these workers individual insight and creativity in translating a script into social media posts that achieve maximum, if uncontrolled spreadability.
• While nobody admits really to being a troll, everyone in the disinformation hierarchy seems to be engaged in various degrees of trolling.
Read the 80-page study here: Architects of Networked Disinformation
Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.