When cybertroopers try to take over public forums

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I BELIEVE the term ‘cybertrooper’ came about rather recently – it is even speculated that the name itself originated from Malaysia. I searched Wikipedia for it and this term does not even exist there.

On another obscure forum called Wiktionary it did venture a meaning, “(Malaysia) A person who is paid to disseminate political propaganda on the internet particularly on social media platforms.”

So what is a cybertrooper and what does he actually do? As Malaysians who use social media, most of you would be familiar with this community of keyboard warriors whose job is to trawl online news sites, social media postings, public forums and pages for whatever information, news or gossip, that they could use to either attack and shame the opposing team or parties or to counter any and all criticisms and brickbats thrown at their associates, cohorts, and masters.

The weird thing is there are some who actually work for both sides of the divide. I have been the sole administrator of a public Facebook forum called Sarawak Public Feedback for the past four years. During this time, I have had been bombarded by postings from all sides of the political, racial, social, and economic divide; as well as endured and deflected attacks of all sorts, from personal to nonsensical. It’s not easy to tell the snowflakes from the real McCoy from the 52,000 membership list.

Some of these cybertroopers do stand out like sore thumbs and you can tell them a mile away – in fact most of them don’t even bother to hide, except they would almost always use fake names and made-up identities. It’s easy to deal with the ones who are outright outrageously crude, rude, and simply vulgar, or put up posts which are considered blatantly obscene, slanderous, or libellous. These I can kick out and remove in an instant.

The easiest to delete and vet out are the ones whose posts touch on certain issues I consider verboten – any sensitive racial and religious matters, any personal slander or accusation without proof or evidence, and any overt sexual or overly personal stuff. Many have tried, and I’m sure will continue trying but they will all land into my trash and spam bin.

I’ve been a lot more lenient with personal advertising – those who try and make posts either advertising some product or service, if I personally feel that it’s not overly commercial, I will approve them. For instance, I allow lots of posts on homestays, tour groups, new products – home-grown or homemade, or certain services and products which may be niche, unique, and unusual. Those in this group I do not consider as cybertroopers but simply members trying to publicise a service or product, or to gain some publicity within the group. That’s fine by me.

How does one tell if a certain posting comes from a mercenary cybertrooper? In fact, how can one really tell if the account is fake or real? Take it from me – all accounts set up on Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc are REAL, but they come from real people who have ‘faked’ them – in other words, someone created a fraudulent account under a fictitious name.

There are actually five ways that you can tell them apart from real and genuine people.

Firstly, they usually use rather weird and absurd names, they are fond of Westernised or a mixed up name of both East and West; usually not Malaysian.

Secondly, there are no personal photos or just one or two, and it’s not them; usually picked at random from the internet, some obscure celebrity or suchlike.

Thirdly, there is totally no personal information and details about them at all on their account; even their place of domicile is some faraway foreign country.

Fourthly, their posts on their own page and on the public forums they participate in are almost always 100 per cent political. There’s not much else. Lastly, they never ever have any family members or friends; so they never ‘tag’ any of them. But the weird thing is, they all seem to know each other, and they are usually friends with one another.

In this day and age, you can Google anyone. Try that yourself – Google your own name and see what you get – pages and pages of stuff about you, photos and details of whatever social media you’re on, or have registered yourself on. But with these cybertroopers, they’re all ghosts on Google Search. You will most likely draw a blank when you actually google search their name – sure you’ll get pages and pages of similarly named people from all over the world, but not a single result will show the ‘real’ fake! Because real people would have other accounts that match up with their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn account, especially if they have a real background and work history.

Having said all this, I have decided not to get rid of all the cybertroopers operating within my public page from all sides of the political, religious, and social divide simply because of this – it will mean the very swift demise of the public forum as an arena for all views to be aired, shared, and debated.

Imagine this scenario: by some miracle I managed to get rid of all the cybertroopers operating in the Sarawak Public Feedback page. What would I be left with? Only members left who post about complaints of their blocked drainage, broken down bridges, leaking pipes, uncut overgrown grass and long queues at the government clinics. Can you imagine what would happen next?

Without the lively political haranguing and the often rowdy accusations, counter attacks, and the imaginative wordplay and other similar goings-on, any socioeconomic and political public forum wouldn’t be worth its salt.

My business therefore is not to subdue nor censor; not to play devil’s advocate nor to champion any personal agenda – but to allow everyone a space and a public forum to say his piece and be heard – provided that he does it in a decent, well-mannered, and intelligent way. There’s nothing that you are forbidden to touch on, but do it on the basis of truth, decency, and upholding the laws of the land. I promise that your voice will be heard here.

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected].