Internet Shills

General or non-medical topics with information and discussion related to Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
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Internet Shills

Post by phyfe » Sun 27 Jan 2013 19:27 ... e/1147073/
I Was a Paid Internet Shill: How Shadowy Groups Manipulate Internet Opinion and Debate

By Ex-Shill, Above Top Secret

I am writing here to come out of the closet as a paid shill. For a little over six months, I was paid to spread disinformation and argue political points on the Internet. This site, ATS, was NOT one that I was assigned to post on, although other people in the same organization were paid to be here, and I assume they still walk among you. But more on this later.

I quit this job in the latter part of 2011, because I became disgusted with it, and with myself. I realized I couldn’t look myself in the mirror anymore. If this confession triggers some kind of retribution against me, so be it. Part of being a real man in this world is having real values that you stand up for, no matter what the consequences.

My story begins in early 2011. I had been out of work for almost a year after losing my last job in tech support. Increasingly desperate and despondent, I jumped at the chance when a former co-worker called me up and said she had a possible lead for me. “It is an unusual job, and one that requires secrecy. But the pay is good. And I know you are a good writer, so its something you are suited for.” (Writing has always been a hobby for me).

She gave me only a phone-number and an address, in one of the seedier parts of San Francisco, where I live. intrigued, I asked her for the company’s URL and some more info. She laughed. “They don’t have a website. Or even a name. You’ll see. Just tell them I referred you.” Yes, it sounded suspicious, but long-term joblessness breeds desperation, and desperation has a funny way of overlooking the suspicious when it comes to putting food on the table.

The next day, I arrived at the address – the third floor in a crumbling building. The appearance of the place did not inspire confidence. After walking down a long, filthy linoleum-covered corridor lit by dimly-flickering halogen, I came to the entrance of the office itself: a crudely battered metal door with a sign that said “United Amalgamated Industries, Inc.”

I later learned that this “company” changed its name almost monthly, always using bland names like that which gave no strong impression of what the company actually does. Not too hopeful, I went inside. The interior was equally shabby. There were a few long tables with folding chairs, at which about a dozen people were tapping away on old, beat-up computers. There were no decorations or ornaments of any type: not even the standard-issue office fica trees or plastic ferns. What a dump. Well, beggars can’t be choosers.

The manager, a balding man in his late forties, rose from the only stand-alone desk in the room and came forward with an easy smile. “You must be Chris. Yvette [my ex-co-worker] told me you’d be coming.” [Not our real names]. “Welcome. Let me tell you a little about what we do.” No interview, nothing. I later learned they took people based solely on referral, and that the people making the referrals, like my ex-colleague Yvette, were trained to pick out candidates based on several factors including ability to keep one’s mouth shut, basic writing skills, and desperation for work.

We sat down at his desk and he began by asking me a few questions about myself and my background, including my political views (which were basically non-existent). Then he began to explain the job. “We work on influencing people’s opinions here,” is how he described it. The company’s clients paid them to post on Internet message boards and popular chartrooms, as well as in gaming forums and social networks like Facebook and MySpace. Who were these clients? “Oh, various people,” he said vaguely. “Sometimes private companies, sometimes political groups.”

Satisfied that my political views were not strong, he said I would be assigned to political work. “The best people for this type of job are people like you, without strong views,” he said with a laugh. “It might seem counterintuitive, but actually we’ve found that to be the case.” Well, OK. Fine. As long as it comes with a steady paycheck, I’d believe whatever they wanted me to believe, as the guy in Ghostbusters said.

After discussing pay (which was much better than I’d hoped) and a few other details, he then went over the need for absolute privacy and secrecy. “You can’t tell anyone what we do here. Not your wife, not your dog.” (I have neither, as it happens.) “We’ll give you a cover story and even a phone number and a fake website you can use. You will have to tell people you are a consultant. Since your background is in tech support, that will be your cover job. Is this going to be a problem for you?” I assured him it would not. “Well, OK. Shall we get started?”

“Right now?” I asked, a bit taken aback.

“No time like the present!” he said with a hearty laugh.

The rest of the day was taken up with training. Another staff member, a no-nonsense woman in her thirties, was to be my trainer, and training would only last two days. “You seem like a bright guy, you’ll get the hang of it pretty fast, I think,” she said. And indeed, the job was easier than I’d imagined. My task was simple: I would be assigned to four different websites, with the goal of entering certain discussions and promoting a certain view. I learned later that some of the personnel were assigned to internet message boards (like me), while others worked on Facebook or chatrooms. It seems these three types of media each have different strategy for shilling, and each shill concentrates on one of the three in particular.

My task? “To support Israel and counter anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic posters.” Fine with me. I had no opinions one way or another about Israel, and who likes anti-Semites and Nazis? Not me, anyway. But I didn’t know too much about the topic. “That’s OK,” she said. “You’ll pick it up as you go along. For the most part, at first, you will be doing what we call “meme-patrol.” This is pretty easy. Later if you show promise, we’ll train you for more complex arguments, where more in-depth knowledge is necessary.”

She handed me two binders with sheets enclosed in limp plastic. The first was labeled simply “Israel” in magic-marker on the cover, and it had two sections .The first section contained basic background info on the topic. I would have to read and memorize some of this, as time went on. It had internet links for further reading, essays and talking points, and excerpts from some history books. The second, and larger, section was called “Strat” (short for “strategy”) with long lists of “dialogue pairs.” These were specific responses to specific postings.

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.” This section also contained 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.”

The second binder was smaller, and it contained information specific to the web sites I would be assigned to. The sites I would work were: Godlike Productions, Lunatic Outpost, CNN news, Yahoo News, and a handful of smaller sites that rotated depending on need. As stated, I was NOT assigned to work ATS (although others in my group were), which is part of the reason I am posting this here, rather than elsewhere. I wanted to post this on Godlike Productions at first, but they have banned me from even viewing that site for some reason (perhaps they are onto me?). But if somebody connected with this site can get the message to them, I think they should know about it, because that was the site I spent a good 70% of my time working on.

The site-specific info in the second binder included a brief history each site, including recent flame-wars, as well as info on what to avoid on each site so as not to get banned. It also had quite detailed info on the moderators and the most popular regged posters on each site: location (if known), personality type, topics of interest, background sketch, and even some notes on how to “push the psychological buttons” of different posters. Although I didn’t work for ATS, 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.”

Each popular poster was classified as “hostile,” “friendly,” or “indifferent” to my goal. We were supposed to cultivate friendship with the friendly posters as well as the mods (basically, by brownnosing and sucking up), and there were even notes on strategies for dealing with specific hostile posters. The info was pretty detailed, but not perfect in every case. “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.”

At first, like I said, my job was “meme-patrol.” This was pretty simple and repetitive; it involved countering memes and introducing new memes, and didn’t demand much in-depth knowledge of the subject. Mostly just repetitive posting based on the dialogue pairs in the “Strat” section of the first binder. 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.

The funny thing was, although I started the job with no strong opinions or political views, after a few weeks of this I became very emotionally wedded to the pro-Israel ideas I was pushing. There must be some psychological factor at work…a good salesman learns to honestly love the products he’s selling, I guess. It wasn’t long before my responses became fiery and passionate, and I began to learn more about the topic on my own. “This is a good sign,” my trainer told me. “It means you are ready for the next step: complex debate.”

The “complex debate” part of the job involved a fair amount of additional training, including memorizing more specific information about the specific posters (friendly and hostile) I’d be sparring with. Here, too, there were scripts and suggested lines of argument, but we were given more freedom. There were a lot of details to this more advanced stage of the job – everything from how to select the right avatar to how to use “demotivationals” (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).

I was also given the job of tying to find new recruits, people “like me” who had the personality type, ability to keep a secret, basic writing/thinking skills, and desperation necessary to sign on a shill. I was less successful at this part of the job, though, and I couldn’t find another in the time I was there.

After a while of doing this, I started to feel bad. Not because of the views I was pushing (as I said, I was first apolitical, then pro-Israel), but because of the dishonesty involved. 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? The stress of lying to my parents and friends about being a “consultant” was also getting to me. Finally, I said enough was enough. I quit in September 2011. Since then I’ve been working a series of unglamorous temp office jobs for lower pay. But at least I’m not making my living lying and heckling people who come online to express their views and exercise freedom of speech.

A few days ago I happened to be in the same neighborhood and on a whim thought I’d check out the old office. It turns out the operation is gone, having moved on. This, too, I understood, is part of their strategy: Don’t stay in the same place for too long, don’t keep the same name too long, move on after half a year or so. Keeping a low profile, finding new employees through word of mouth: All this is part of the shill way of life. But it 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.

This is my confession. I haven’t made up my mind yet about whether I want to talk more about this, so if I don’t respond to this thread, don’t be angry. But I think you should know: Shills exist. They are real. They walk among you, and they pay special attention to your popular gold-bordered WATS posters. You should be aware of this. What you choose to do with this awareness is up to you.


Wonder who they are on here? They really are easy to spot aren't they? And sometimes they come in groups so they can support each other. :roll:
Last edited by phyfe on Mon 28 Jan 2013 4:56, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Internet Shills

Post by RitaA » Sun 27 Jan 2013 21:09

I must be dense (or perhaps just naive), but who would pay anyone to post here on LNE?

We're more like members of an international, and somewhat dysfunctional, family that loves to share information, and then debate (or argue, as the case may be) anything and everything related to Lyme disease. I even find some of the "Off Topic" threads rather interesting -- and especially if they involve animals.

I may be overly trusting and optimistic, but I really and truly believe that everyone (or almost everyone) who posts here has good intentions -- and isn't getting paid to do so.

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Re: Internet Shills

Post by Claudia » Sun 27 Jan 2013 22:19

I sure wish I was paid for all the time I've spent on LNE over the years, for either pleasing the right people or pissing them off.

I dunno, I guess I've learned to think for myself as a big girl now, so I am not easily swayed, manipulated or threatened by other people's opinions. Being a skeptic at heart, I tend to now look into issues, pro and con, before drawing my own conclusions. So for me, it's not about trusting other people and their intentions, so much as it is in trusting myself to do my homework.

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Re: Internet Shills

Post by Lorima » Mon 28 Jan 2013 2:16

Rita, funny you would say that, I just got back from birding and was thinking about whether to post about it in Off-Topic.
I share your feeling, about the regular posters here probably being sincere (even when wrong). 
Wouldn't the ALDF/IDSA guys (who are the ones with the PR budget and skills) have better crafted arguments, if they were paid to be here? and seem less emotionally disturbed? It looks like a hobby to me - though the people professionally associated with the Lyme establishment probably gain points for doing it, within their community, and that indirectly advances their careers. 

And Claudia, I agree that maybe it doesn't matter that much. We look at what's being offered, and if it doesn't check out, we don't buy it. People insulting and yelling at us for not seeing it their way, aren't persuasive; to the contrary, they are discrediting themselves. I guess people who drop by LNE might be influenced, but if they think hostility is appropriate from mainstream medicine, when care of the sick is being discussed, they've got bigger problems than our little site can handle.

However, PR tactics, including deploying shills, are important to know about. I read a number of books about it, after I noticed that Steere hired a PR firm to mediate his collaboration with David Grann, which produced that 2001 article in the NYT Magazine called "Stalking Dr. Steere Over Lyme Disease". That was an extremely successful attack on the dissenting patient community, spreading the idea that we were not only deluded, but homicidal. For many doctors, that is the main thing they know about the Lyme disease controversy. It instantly causes them to take Steere's side, and regard the patients with fear and loathing. Juicy drama is more memorable than dry facts. Very clever.

When I found out Steere's father was a lobbyist for an insurance company, I realized why he is so surprisingly well-versed in PR, for an academic. For example, the ALDF group was started in the early 1990's, to disseminate Steere's disease model. It is not strictly "astroturf" (=a fake "grassroots" organization), because Steere's connection to it was always discoverable on the site, for those who knew to look. But to the casual visitor, the use of the term "foundation" with its implicit connotations of patient advocacy, would make it easy to mistake it for a third-party (=unbiased) site. Very slick. So, professional-quality "spin" has been used to promote the Steere disease model and agenda, for a long time. 

My favorite PR books are Trust Us, We're Experts! and Toxic Sludge is Good for You, by Rampton and Stauber of the Center for Media and Democracy . My public library had these, and then I bought copies. They are full of facts, informal in style, thoroughly referenced, left-leaning. I suppose they would be annoying to an authoritarian personality. 

The early classics of PR are also good, if somewhat chilling, to read. These are also usually available at public libraries:

Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion (1921) is available as a free pdf: ... ppmann.pdf 

Edward Bernays [1891-1995], who tirelessly promoted himself as "the father of public relations" wrote books, including these creepily titled ones, about how the "elite" could "guide" the masses: 

Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923)
Propaganda (1928)
Public relations (1945)
Engineering of consent (1955, contributor)

He is especially famous for his American Tobacco campaign to get women to smoke, by linking smoking to feminism. (Pretty sneaky, eh? See below for details.) 
He was a "double nephew" of Sigmund Freud; his mother was Freud's sister, and his father was Freud's wife's brother. Bernays had a fairly close relationship with Freud. 
for more information. It's well-written but almost unreferenced. I have read everything in it elsewhere, in reliable sources, so I'll cite it anyway.
I think most of this information can be found in Larry Tye's The Father of Spin

Actually, it's so interesting, I'll quote some of the Wikipedia article:
Bernays, working for the administration of Woodrow Wilson during World War I with the Committee on Public Information, was influential in promoting the idea that America's war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe". Following the war, he was invited by Woodrow Wilson to attend the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. 

Stunned by the degree to which the democracy slogan had swayed the public both at home and abroad, he wondered whether this propaganda model could be employed during peace time. Due to negative implications surrounding the word propaganda because of its use by the Germans in World War II, he promoted the term "Public Relations".[6] According to the BBC interview with Bernays's daughter Anne, Bernays felt that the public's democratic judgment was "not to be relied upon" and he feared that "they [the American public] could very easily vote for the wrong man or want the wrong thing, so that they had to be guided from above". This "guidance" was interpreted by Anne to mean that her father believed in a sort of "enlightened despotism" ideology.[7] 

This thinking was heavily shared and influenced by Walter Lippmann, one of the most prominent American political columnists at the time. Bernays and Lippmann sat together on the U.S. Committee on Public Information, and Bernays quotes Lippmann extensively in his seminal work Propaganda.


Bernays refined and popularized the use of the press release, following its invention by PR man Ivy Lee, who had issued a press release after the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck. One of the most famous campaigns of Bernays was the women's cigarette smoking campaign in 1920s. Bernays helped the smoking industry overcome one of the biggest social taboos of the time: women smoking in public. Women were only allowed to smoke in designated areas, or not at all. If caught violating this rule, women would have been arrested.[11] Bernays staged the 1929 Easter parade in New York City, showing models holding lit Lucky Strike cigarettes, or "Torches of Freedom". After the historical public event, women started lighting up more than ever before. It was through Bernays that women's smoking habits started to become socially acceptable. Bernays created this event as news, which, of course, it wasn’t. He convinced industries that the news, not advertising, was the best medium to carry their message to an unsuspecting public. 

One of Bernays's favorite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the indirect use of "third party authorities" to plead his clients' causes. "If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway", he said. In order to promote sales of bacon, for example, he conducted a survey of physicians and reported their recommendation that people eat heavy breakfasts. He sent the results of the survey to 5,000 physicians, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs...
The BBC documentary Century of the Self, which is also available at many public libraries, is a fascinating set of videos about the Freud, Bernays, and PR connection, and its lasting influence on our information sources. 
"I have to understand the world, you see."
Richard Feynman

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Re: Internet Shills

Post by TicksSuck » Wed 21 Jan 2015 6:05

nochroniclyme wrote:The CDC has posted this video to save patients such as myself, and I am grateful to see this happening. All of my symptoms looked like Lyme symptoms on paper. I spent several months avoiding proper treatment, and was even diagnosed by a supposed Lyme “Literate” Doctor as having Chronic Lyme. It started out as a single tick bite which was never found on my body, supposedly from my recent travels, which would mean at most 3 months of antibiotics. Then over the course of a month, he had me upgraded to Chronic Lyme, having been bitten years ago, which would mean antibiotics for an unknown length of time. He diagnosed me based on one positive IgM band and a low CD57. Those two things already are countradictory. A low CD57 is supposedly indicative of Chronic Lyme (even though it really should never be used as a diagnostic tool, as it is only a marker) and I had zero positive IgG bands. He diagnosed my husband solely on a low CD 57. He didn’t even give him a Lyme test. He was asymptomatic. He had it then traced back to my mother and father in law, and even down to my children. I sought out a second LLMD that told me that he wasn’t convinced and told me, if I had the money, to go to a specialized lab. Fortunately, I continued to research and came to find science-based medical reports. I understand that many patients are frustrated because they go from doctor to doctor and are unable to find a diagnosis and it feels as if they are alone and desperate. I was there. I went to ten different doctors over the course of seven months. I began to get my own blood work reports online, and analyzed every small abnormality. It turned out that I did not have Lyme Disease, and I now have found an excellent doctor, have a solid diagnosis, and am almost completely symptom free. I really believed in those first months that I had "Chronic Lyme." LLMDs can convince you that every symptom you have is related to "Chronic Lyme." And I believed it. At first. You must look at the way this is designed. If the test is negative, they will tell you it is a false negative, that the tests are inaccurate, or to go to a specialized lab. If you have a symptom, it is caused by Lyme. If you feel worse when on antibiotics, it is a herxheimer reaction. If you have a metabolic condition, it is caused by the bacteria. If you have no symptoms, the bacteria is hiding in cysts. My point in all of this is that everything can and will be linked to Chronic Lyme if you allow it. Do your research. Many people do have Lyme Disease, and I am not discounting this. However, I think a lot of patients are being taken advantage of because they have not found the true cause of their symptoms. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet, and people are feeding off of each other, creating myths that look like truths because of the numbers of people believing them. Be smart and do your own research by looking up peer-reviewed studies by scientists. The CDC is not evil, nor is the infectious disease doctor. But if you are told that they are, perhaps you will stay away from those people that might actually help you rather than putting long-term harmful, expensive antibiotics into your body. Very clever by design, I have to admit. I hope that this might help someone else that is out there searching like I was 8 months ago. “Maybe It’s Not Lyme Disease!”
This post, professionally written by a brand new member in the discussion on the recent CDC propaganda video "Feeling worse after treatment? It might not be Lyme" reminded me of this topic... I have re-copied it completely here as I fear it might get edited by the user.

I bet admin can check that the IP address of the poster is, if not same, from a range used before by some known user of this board. Would he be allowed to share this info if that was the case?


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Re: Internet Shills

Post by Lorima » Wed 21 Jan 2015 13:58

I agree it looks suspicious. I wouldn't want to set the precedent of breaking anonymity on LNE though. Also I'm sure the propagandists know how to hide their IPs.

I've been thinking about exactly why it seems so fake. I think it would be interesting to have a discussion, maybe in the Lyme Cafe section, about what signs coalesce to give one that creepy feeling that manipulation is being attempted. This one isn't very subtle. I don't have time right now to work on it, but will post about it later.
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Re: Internet Shills

Post by TicksSuck » Wed 21 Jan 2015 14:05

Oh, no need to post the IP addresses, but just a "Yes, that user was posting from the same IP as a frequent contributor" would be sufficient info and wouldn't break anonymity. But I agree, they must know not to do that.

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Re: Internet Shills

Post by ChronicLyme19 » Wed 21 Jan 2015 21:18

Ok, so I'm not the only one who had a weird vibe from that post. I think one of the reasons I guess I found it strange is that the screen name chosen was "nochroniclyme". I suppose that could be a real person, but I guess the lack of details on what it was if it wasn't Lyme struck me as odd too. Why wouldn't you have said that in the first post on it?
Half of what you are taught is incorrect, but which half? What if there's another half missing?

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Re: Internet Shills

Post by ChronicLyme19 » Wed 21 Jan 2015 21:20

Then again, there are some people who don't have to be paid to be trolls. I've had experiences on other forums where I knew the folks in real life and some people just like to be trolls.
Half of what you are taught is incorrect, but which half? What if there's another half missing?

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Re: Internet Shills

Post by nochroniclyme » Wed 21 Jan 2015 21:52

Oh wow, thank you! I take it as a compliment that you think I am a hired professional. I have never posted on this site before, although I did search it quite a few times while thinking I had Lyme. The reason why I didn't say what I had been diagnosed with is the same reason I listed in the post. Everything, and I mean everything, can and will be ultimately linked back to Lyme Disease in the minds of certain people. Not only that, but my story is a long one. But if you are interested, I am about to answer some of the questions on the original post. Perhaps my post looks suspicious because I have spent months on end researching this. And I am tired of being screamed at that I need Lyme treatment by people that cannot seem to get their minds wrapped around the fact that not everything is Lyme. I am hoping that other people that are in my situation searching on this site will be helped by my comments. I am not a conspirator, but this really reinforces in my mind that there is a great amount of unnecessary paranoia about there being a conspiracy revolving the CDC and ID docs.

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