Meme Patrol: ‘I Was a Paid Internet Shill’ — A Confession?

Thursday a Conscious Life News report went viral, claiming to relay the point of view of a “pro-Israeli” shill, who claimed to have worked out of a mysterious, transient San Francisco office for a company that shills for corporate and political donors. Being apolitical, in addition to desperate, said guilty feeling alleged shill, was key to doing a good job fighting ideological opponents.

The Offices of Shill Central 300x225 Meme Patrol: I Was a Paid Internet Shill    A Confession?

The San Francisco Office of Shill Central Floats Away to Safer Harbors: FILE

The mission of the poster was simple: Go on message boards and claim that critics of Israeli policy were necessarily racists or Nazis. This (probably) man was probably an expert in all of the facets of Godwin’s Law, especially as relentlessly accusing strangers of being Nazi sympathizers elicits some pretty serious outrage. The guilty-feeling shill says that, although he is still “pro-Israel” to this day, the dishonesty of the methods bothered him. Surely legions of Israel’s critics have already forwarded this to Max Blumenthal and Philip Weiss, and they’re probably spilling some ink on these sort of thing, as I write this message. Anyway, says the supposedly confessing shill . . .

If a poster wrote something close to “X,” we were supposed to respond with something close to “Y.” “You have to mix it up a bit, though,” said my trainer. “Otherwise it gets too obvious. Learn to use a thesaurus.”

Talented Internet social engineers know that changing up phrasing is the best way to avoid seeming like a singular personality. If supposed shill was even halfway serious, he had probably flooded the message boards on which he posted with numerous sockpuppet accounts. If this stuff is true I wish he would elaborate on how he hid his IP address, as moderators would surely watch for that sort of thing

[His trainer also discussed] a number of hints for de-railing conversations that went too far away from what we were attempting. These strategies included various forms of personal attacks, complaining to the forum moderators, smearing the characters of our opponents, using images and icons effectively, and even dragging the tone of the conversation down with sexual innuendo, links to pornography, or other such things. “Sometimes we have to fight dirty,” or trainer told us. “Our opponents don’t hesitate to, so we can’t either.”

It’s interesting that this shadow advocacy firm did not seek to simply bring off-topic conversations back online. Anyone who has browsed the Internet enough — or especially commented on YouTube videos — knows that people often never hesitate to engage in character assassination, even with people whose backgrounds are totally obscured. It is really a shame that we cannot see these low-blow tactics in action, as they are surely really instructive. How would linking to pornography really smear anyone? That’s one of the more dubious claims made in this confessional. Surely there are many saying that this confessional is just an attempt to smear pro-Israel activists. I do not even need to wade into the waters of Stormfront to know that a bunch of evil racial supremacists, actual Jew haters, are congratulating each other on the reality of this confessional, as well as far actually more understandably frustrated Palestinian rights activists.

[The shill's trainer offered] some notes on how to “push the psychological buttons” of different posters. Although I didn’t work for [Above Top Secret], I did see they had a lot of info on your so-called “WATS” posters here (the ones with gold borders around their edges). “Focus on the popular posters,” my trainer told me. “These are the influential ones. Each of these is worth 50 to 100 of the lesser known names.”

Fascinatingly, the inevitable Above Top Secret post of the original message was pulled, only a handful of comments on it available via a Google cache. It remains unclear whether this was the result of a lack of credulity offered to the article, or whether the moderators there are simply ashamed at not having been able to ID said shill.

As the Web crowd is ever larger and of diverse age groups, many news sources have actually been paying people to filter comments. How strenuous the filters are varies. The Huffington Post hires people who read the equivalent of Moby Dick in a matter of days. Reddit only edits “obvious nonsense.”

Supposed shill mentions that his trainers talked about playing hardball. Unlike in the famed art of politics, supposed shill firm were not seriously seeking to convince people in a conversation, but rather apparent bystanders who might stumble upon the article and be convinced either way.

“If you can convert one of the hostile posters from the enemy side to our side, you get a nice bonus. But this doesn’t happen too often, sadly. So mostly you’ll be attacking them and trying to smear them.”

If this person is as pro-Israel as he or she claims, it’s fascinating that he or she does not bother to offer any defense of the seriously held beliefs. The not-converting thing seems like a veiled crack at the actual Jewish religion here, and so that makes me skeptical. After all, the author himself claims to be a great liar one way or the other.

What is so cynical about the “pro-Israel” shill was his willingness to call anyone racist to score political points for an unpopular foreign policy regime, as well as his unironic lack of consciousness that Semitism can refers to Arabs as well. What has happened to Chuck Hagel this week has kind of put me on edge about this, as The Weekly Standard and Hagel “friend” John McCain have been gloating that the defense secretary nominee has set Iranian leaders into a tizzy of joy. The Internet Chronicle will discuss that a bit more tomorrow.

A lot of my job was de-railing and spamming threads that didn’t go our way, or making accusations of racism and anti-Semitism. Sometimes I had to simply lie and claim a poster said something or did something “in another thread” they really hadn’t said or done I felt bad about this[...]but in the end I felt worse about the possibility of losing the first job I’d been able to get since losing my “real” job.

Another aspect of this article that made me skeptical of its source was that the supposed shill does not discuss his “real” job. While his habits were dubious they were not illegal. How rare and identifiable could his “real job” have been that he could not tell us how desperate he was? The self-described meme patrol would generate a lot more sympathy if we understood him to be dirt poor or accustomed to some humble lifestyle. All of this is suspect, especially since he calls himself such an awesome writer.

As “pro-Israel” shill came to know the issue, as though a Thesaurus-armed fundraiser or marketing specialist, he started to get farther into debate. Again, no policy details here, no information on what he was writing that was so compelling about drawing attention away from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The supposed shill became an expert in Internet pop art, which has long included the cat, due to the Internet user’s typically sedentary nature it mirrors.

There were a lot of details to this more advanced [complex debate] stage of the job – everything from how to select the right avatar to how to use “demotivationals” [link added] (humorous images with black borders that one finds floating around the web). Even the proper use of images of cats was discussed. Sometimes we used faked or photo-shopped images or doctored news reports (something else that bothered me).

It is only toward the end of his essay that the self-described shill gets into his pangs of conscience about what he was doing. There is little sense from him earlier in the essay that his smearing might actually be making the pro-Israel side of the debate look uninvolved. Whether this confessional is real, people have grabbed onto this story in the United States because they view defense of Israel as something that is more of the brain, a path that can be made with less of a bleeding heart for a disenfranchised, more recently, anyway, indigenous population. It reminds me of Pamela Geller’s now famous “support the civilized man/ defeat jihad” “pro-Israel” public transit ads.

This supposed shill has written a lot about his methods but very little about why Israel has a great foreign policy, treats Palestinians well (or why they would not deserve such treatment); or why Zionism is promulgating apartheid. The only obvious reason the poster would not do this is to cover his tracks, and we would think he was just more imaginative than that, given how he says he got the job.

If my arguments were so correct, I wondered, why did we have to do this in the first place? Shouldn’t truth propagate itself naturally, rather than through, well…propaganda? And who was behind this whole operation, anyway? Who was signing my paychecks?

It is believable that an ardently self-considered American “pro-Israel” activist would see that country’s enemies as being mainly neo-Nazis. However that just doesn’t jive with the vast majority of the people all over the world who remain critical of the way Israel treats Palestinians. If so desperate and able to operate more or less autonomously from the secret office, why does the shill care who was writing the checks? Is he insinuating worry that he was inadvertently being paid off by anti-Israel trolls, goy supremacists?

[T]he shill way of life . . . is a deceptive way of life, and no matter how noble the goals (I remain pro-Israel, by the way), these sleazy means cannot be justified by the end.

Make no mistake, though: Even if this letter is fake, or even written by genuine Jew haters, the shill way of life will remain profitable for anyone willing to get his or her hands dirty. Private conglomerates, I was aware, had the resources and interest in pushing their products. If you have ever read the obsequious reviews over at Amazon, you know of that industry. What is changing is that the shill is now a nihilist, a mercenary of states (certainly not just Israeli ultra-nationalism), instead of the famous, self-interested 419 scammer.

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