People underestimate the extent to which we have to wonder if the experiences we have on forums are genuine, and the extent to which they’re engineered by PR professionals. Many believe Russia is the center of this problem, but the US Military and the Clintons use botnets/troll farms too.
Why should I trust you?
Anyone aware that there was a presidential election in 2016 is likely familiar with the allegation that Russia interfered in it. Russia is said to have exploited targeted advertising and fake social media accounts in carrying out this interference. While it is well known that corporations and political campaigns advertise to potential customers and voters on a targeted basis, the use of fake social media accounts by these parties is not sufficiently understood.
When you were a kid, you learned that you shouldn’t give into peer pressure. Now that you’re an adult, you know to avoid getting sucked into groupthink. Regardless, research shows that if an uninitiated individual observes consensus, they will often go along with it.
This concept applies online as well. If you see a comments section, and all of the comments agree with the main post, your brain is more inclined to accept what they’re saying. Alternatively, if a comments section is split on a subject, your brain is forced to assess the situation using its own logical facilities. This is why fake accounts have influence: If a person doesn’t know they’re interacting with fake accounts, they can be made to feel stupid for not understanding what’s obvious to so many others. The shame associated with that helps gaslight them into conformity.
Popular reporting would lead you to believe that Russians are the only ones creating fake accounts to manipulate public opinion. That’s not the case. Correct The Record is a US company from 2016 that “aimed to find and confront social media users who posted unflattering messages about [Hillary] Clinton.” The United States military uses fake accounts to combat “enemy propaganda.”
The internet connects us to the entire world all at once, and should be our best tool for figuring out what’s true and what’s not. That is precisely why so many parties depending on public consensus want to manipulate what you see when you access it.
You are (likely) a real human, having real thoughts, outside of the influence of money. You may be partisan, but you have no reason to lie. Never be embarrassed to stand up for what you understand to be true. It is important that you do your research and understand what you’re saying, but if you do, you can’t let internet bullies (paid or otherwise) shut you up.