In general, trolls or cyber troops seek current hot political topics or other usually divisive social issues on social platforms to infiltrate online communities and amplify those existing divisions.
They can use the segmentation of online communities and the conflicts between them to infiltrate all interested parties, for example, pro-Trump and pro-Hillary groups at the same time) and make use of the echo-chamber effect by amplifying in-group sentiments around issues, then start or increase a conflict between groups already attacking each-other in a current heated political debate or in the course of a heated political campaign.
Research proved that young voters’ voting behaviour can be significantly influenced directly by the comments/tweets/remarks made by political actors on social media. These types of actions represent different and increasingly complex levels of engagement.
Firstly, they can increase the polarisation around important social issues, like the #BlackLivesMatter movement, present in different sub-groups/echo chambers of publics by amplifying certain trending topics, hashtags, messages within those public segments.
In the case of the #BlackLivesMatter movement “Right Trolls” behaved like “bread-and-butter MAGA Americans, only all talking about politics all day long,” Whereas, “Left Trolls” often adopted the personae of Black Lives Matter activists, typically expressing support for Bernie Sanders and derision for Hillary Clinton, along with “clearly trying to divide the Democratic Party and lower voter turnout.”
Leo Graiden Stewart, Ahmer Arif, and Kate Starbird, ‘Examining Trolls and Polarization with a Retweet Network’, 2018
Secondly, trolling accounts inject controversial topics or actors (e.g., gender, GMOs, race, religion, or war) that may divide a community to increase groups heterogeneity and the occurrence of trolling behaviour, thus attacking the social cohesion of a political group or an electorate to ready the ground for other disturbing disinformation, for example about Hillary Clinton, Emmanuel Macron, pieces to be released later.
Thirdly, a network of trolls or bots can flood social media networks with spam and fake news on a large scale to amplify marginal voices and ideas by inflating the number of likes, shares and retweets they receive, creating an artificial sense of popularity, momentum or relevance.
Fourthly, the mass-scale “infiltration” can re-route communication to the fake accounts, webpages, all the infrastructural capacity cyber troops created a priori to launching the campaign against a specific target group, thus grassroots political discourse is taken over by trolls or people start spontaneously referencing content found in the attackers’ artificial ecosystems.
As this happened during the Brexit debate in 2016 when trolls switched from generalised disruptive tweeting to retweeting each other in order to amplify content produced by other troll accounts.
Finally, the most complex strategies are developed to conduct multiple campaigns across a range of different platforms to harness the “network effect” of the modern media space. For example, in the United States, in 2010, DARPA funded a USD 8.9 million study to see how social media could be used to influence people’s behaviour by tracking how they responded to content online.