According to Wikipedia, a troll — an internet slang — is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalising tangential discussion, whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific goal. Though we all notice messages sent by trolls on our Whatsapp and other social media groups, not many really understands how they affect us. Recently, someone posted a message on a group that was created for the purpose of debating issues related to the academia. The message condemned Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for asking its appointed Presiding Officers to have a smartphone. The message was more of a story narrated by a college teacher. She was asked to attend a training workshop at the Civil Courts in order to understand how ECP’s results submission system, RTS works. Although the narrator was supposedly working in a college, according to her, the people seated around her were poor school teachers. The narrator criticised the ECP by stating that the trainers made fun of an old man — a school teacher — who didn’t seem to have a smartphone and only had an ordinary phone. The so-called ECP trainer made fun of him and asked him to borrow one from his children or neighbours. What busted the whole story was the claim that that a school teacher was appointed as a Presiding Officer! My mother has worked as a government school teacher for 35 years and from what I have gathered, school teachers are never made Presiding Officers. They normally work up to the level of Assistant Presiding Officers. The RTS is required by the Presiding Officers only! The troll’s story was only directed at criticising the use of technology by the ECP for fastening the result submission process. I wonder why this troll chose to criticise the use of technology when he himself was using it to defame a good move. These pepopleare sponsored anonymous online political commentators and trolls linked to various underground organisations. They largely work as groups of commentators or teams that contribute on local and international politics on various internet and social media forums using sock puppets and large-scale orchestrated trolling and disinformation campaigns to promote their own propaganda. They are very effective and even the FBI has accused them of meddling in the elections and helping Donald Trump win the US Presidential Elections. Trolls spread prejudice based fake news and analysis using Black, as well as Grey propaganda. Black propaganda is spreading false information, falsely quoting a government organisation as a source, but is actually fabricated by an unground organisation (do you remember the Whatsapp messages and E-mails asking the reader to refrain from consuming and using certain international products such as chocolates, toothpastes and beverages claiming that they have pig fat?). This form of propaganda is typically used to vilify a certain group. With Grey propaganda however, the source is never identified. There is another form of propaganda which is referred to as White propaganda; trolls spread information taken from a real source, but it is no longer credible as some part of it is wilfully omitted. Pakistani media houses have not done much to highlight the chaos being inflicted by trolls on Pakistani cyberspace Pakistani media houses have not done much to highlight the chaos being inflicted by trolls on Pakistani cyberspace. Many of us receive SMSs, fake news and alerts on an almost daily basis. At least one person in each household has already received an SMS declaring him the winner of a big prize and a ticket on a popular game show. Similarly, we all receive messages containing fabricated “religious sayings” condemning everything from sports and soft drinks to media and entertainment, down to even words and symbols. I recently received a message that “explained” to me the real meaning of the word “Sir”. According to it, the meaning of the word is “Slave I remain”! The message also claimed that during the British Raj over the Indian subcontinent, the British required that all Indians address them by the title “Sir”. Finally, the message advised its readers not to use the word “Sir” altogether. The claim was so preposterous that I couldn’t help but retort and discourage its spread in the strongest possible words. Several thousand other such outrageous messages are in circulation. Such messages are certainly a product of some troll factory operating here in Pakistan, and they are very efficient at what they do. The state seems to be helpless about tackling this problem. The only safeguard that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) provides against such messages is asking the receiver to report them to a particular number provided by the telecom organisation so that the sender can be blocked on the recipient’s own mobile number even though the person who has forwarded the message is probably not the one who has created that message. Everything can be ‘weaponised’ in these times — including the news. In the past, news reporters were tasked with the job of keeping the facts clean and guarding the truth. However, this is the post-truth era and social media is playing its role in spreading believable lies. My advice? Don’t trust everything you read online! The author is an Assistant Professor Published in Daily Times, September 28th 2018.