Hi Dr. Livingston,
I don’t have a scientific method for screening suspected profiles, but I have searched enough of them to be able know (I think I know anyway) the difference between trolls and bots which work for me.
A troll (for me) is a real person who dislikes everything I write and they feel the need to let me know. They usually have White male profiles, but I try not to get caught up in the photos and profiles because anyone can create a profile and be anything/anyone they want for the sole purposes of stalking or harassing writers they dislike. Some of the troll profiles have women photos but write aggressively like an angry man. I always look at their previous comments, claps, and if they’ve written anything previously. Sometimes it’s trolls, sometimes it seems like trolls may have mental illness from their writings so I just block them. Anyone constantly disagreeing and attempting to argue is a problem. I research, block and move on. Usually after 3-4 negative responses linked to specific topics is a telltale sign the person is a troll. If you don’t like a writing style, ya move on. You don’t stay and complain about it lol.
Bots are different (my opinions). Usually their profiles have recent member dates and sometimes they have no information on their profiles at all — just their hokey names. These profiles have no posts, no followers, or they’ve followed some profiles I’ve previously blocked. I realize many people come to Medium to read and not write, but a lot of people will at least clap or comment on posts. I can gather something from suspicious profiles by reading what they liked/disliked.
Other times their is just something off about a suspected bot profile. Either the name is really corny or weird, first and last name begins with the same letters, photo profiles are ridiculous if there is one at all, and somehow the profile was able to get away with not filling in most of the required profile info before it will allow us to save the profile which has been the process to create an actual account. I can’t prove this since it’s been a long time since I’ve created a profile, but I believe only a bot could get away with that.
How can you have a profile that doesn’t indicate the Month you became a member? Many profiles I suspect are bots have these types of profiles. Also, the bot comments are often one or two sentences and often don’t align with the content of the post. I suppose a bot could be a troll. Both seem to get pleasure from harassing readers, although it seems with troll profiles will find some people who have the same beliefs they can agree with from time to time. When I read what they like it doesn’t really make sense to me. Bots just make a random quick statement and move on. No engagement required.
Oh another thing with suspected profiles, Sometimes troll and bot profiles make posts the same time of year, once per year. A few profiles if you review the dates of their random, weird posts, you’ll see the post dates. They sometimes are almost a year old down to the exact day. Sometimes posts are a month or two off, but the suspicious thing is that the posts made on the profile on per year (i.e. 11/20/2017, 11/22/2018, 11/19/2019). While they may be floating around on Medium doing other things, their annual writings give them away. They are usually short (1 minute) on various topics. Great titles, but when you read the articles you find its very juvenile as if a person just threw it together.
Sometimes it’s like reading the words of someone delusional. Other times it’s like reading work written by someone who doesn’t have a firm grasp of American English. It’s a world salad trying to make a complete thought but it doesn’t quite sound right because American English isn’t their first language.
Basically, scrutinizing suspect commenters claps, followers, the people the profile follows, their writings and their comments help me decide personally whether the commenters are possible trolls or bots.
There are some trolls (most White/European men) who do nothing but gripe on feminists post and post from or about Black people — which seems to really irritate them. Every now and then I will get a White/European female profile with a weird name commenting on a post with a long, super rude rant. I can scroll through the profile find some connections. There is always something in a profile that’s a dead giveaway. You just have to decide to take the time to investigate it.
If I’m uncertain about a reply after doing my research, I just don’t respond at all. If the post was harassing, I’ll report it and keep moving. Sometimes the same profile with the same name will return with the same behavior, and I know that bot or troll is active. Usually if you don’t say anything the troll or bot will either come back or not show back up again. If they come back I usually remember the name and profile if I’ve already researched it. I just block it after the second attempt.
Some trolls start off mild and as time goes on their engagement gets more aggressive, demeaning, and superior in speech. Sometimes I get lectures. After a few times of that with a suspected racist, I just block those people (mostly men). Racists people are very hostile these days.
I used to be afraid to block trolls and suspected bots, worried about whether I was infringing on their free speech, but I decided that’s very White Supremacist of them to believe they have the right to verbally abuse me instead of reading stuff they like and going to be around people who say all they things they want to hear. There is a way to disagree, but if you only read my work to disagree with me, then I have a serious problem with you. If you don’t like what I write don’t read it. Block me, mute me, unfollow me, but don’t just harass me over and over because it’s your favorite pastime.
Why bother folks if you know you don’t like their work. It’s like they have some kind of delusional superiority psychosis and I just don’t have the energy for it. I’ve dealt with mentally ill people most of my life, starting with my mom. There are some mentally ill people who sit home all day on their computers to give people grief. I have no problem blocking their bad energy.
I also worked with Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) for a spell. I know a fake man almost anywhere (lol). Sometimes real people do stupids things or they have plans to engage illicit, unlawful behavior (like stalking). There are signs, but you must be professionally trained to see them. The internet is the wild, wild, west and you really must keep your guards up. There are a lot of weirdos and mentally unstable people with internet access ready to be verbally and emotionally abusive.
Most times we have our own common sense telling us something isn’t right, but we’ve been taught to ignore our own senses and believe what we see/hear. We have natural instincts and these days we must use them. Just because we’re on the up and up doesn’t mean the people we engage with are.
Trolling on Medium happens in waves, almost timed with our national politics and whatever other bad things coming from our White House which makes me super suspicious. Most times I can write on this platform with no harassment at all, but other times like now there are lots of trolls and bots on the prowl. We have to learn to be investigators and to not be so trusting. It’s clear the people who created this technology are not going to do anything about this, which to me is as sinister as trolls and bots.
That’s capitalism in a nutshell. Predators and prey.
It seems I’m on a never-ceasing list for predators.