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Political Trolling: The Fine Art of Obfuscation and Harassment

Political Trolling: The Fine Art of Obfuscation and Harassment

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of VanRamblings' involvement in the recent Save Kits Beach organizing activities — setting aside for a moment the anti-democratic intransigence of our elected Vision Vancouver Park Board Commissioners — revolves around the visceral, unwarranted, near constant, utterly ludicrous, and often hurtful engagement that has come as an unfortunate consequence, and politically expedient by-product, of good people attempting to bring some degree of transparency and democratic engagement to an issue — the bike path route through Hadden + Kits Beach parks — that Vision Vancouver would rather we allow be kept hidden in the shadows, along the margins of civic debate, and as far away from those who elected Vision Vancouver to govern on their behalf, as possible.

We are, of course, referring to — as the title of this post suggests — the fine art of political trolling, in service of the obfuscation of an issue, and the outright harassment of proponents of one side of a democratic debate, so as not just to marginalize those who would wish to bring out into the open for public consideration the decisions that were taken behind closed doors, but even more to devastate emotionally those who would deign to question the "good" (read: poor) judgement of our "political betters".

In 2013, our Vision Vancouver municipal government has brought the art of politics in Vancouver to a new, previously unimagined level of degradation.

Political Trolling: The Fine Art of Obfuscation and Harassment

Trolls divert online discussions into non-productive, off-topic venues.

Political trolls, in this instance, pose as part of a community — i.e. those concerned about a park destroying blacktop bike path through Hadden + Kits Beach parks, advocating only to disrupt it. Trolling is, not to put too fine a point on it, anti-social behaviour of the first order, as damaging to democratic engagement as any activity that you might consider.

Here's how Internet technologist Howard Fosdick defines trolling, as he suggests for your consideration just a few of the withering techniques online trolls employ to accomplish their obfuscatory objectives ...

  • Pithy put-downs, too clever by half, designed to cause outrage

  • Name-calling, insults and hurtful personal attack of every description

  • Ad hominem attacks that attempt to negate an opinion by alleging negatives about the person supporting it, anihalating the individual

  • Impugning the integrity and motives of those on the side that is contrary to the position that is being enunciated by the troll

  • Aggressive, coercive, intimidating, harassing, bullying behaviour

  • Posting off-topic material that makes absolutely no sense, & finally ...

  • Posting inaccurate, so-called "facts", often ludicrously misdirectful, maddening material designed to infuriate rather than inform

Filmmaker and 42-year Kitsilano resident, and creator of the Keep Kits Beach Wild Facebook page, Elvira Lount — an identifiable proponent of keeping Kitsilano Beach and Hadden parks in their natural state — has emerged over the past three weeks as an outspoken advocate for a Park Board reconsideration of the environmentally devastating, unsafe, and unpopular green space and park destroying Kitsilano asphalt bike route.

Ms. Lount has borne the brunt of almost hourly, withering attacks on her Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as online in any number of forums.

VanRamblings would direct your attention to ...

  • Scout magazine. Douglas Haddow's frothing at the mouth, ageist and altogether off-putting take down of anyone involved in attempting to bring some degree of reason to the implementation of a west side bike route through, beside or around Hadden and Kitsilano Beach parks. Fortunately, in the article's comments section, Ms. Lount manages to give as good as she gets, but migawd one obfuscatory argument after another is raised requiring response. Enough to make one's blood boil.

  • The Courier, October 15th. Take particular note of ACMEsalesrep and paid bike lobbyist / Visionite Richard Campbell's maddening commentary, and the reasoned responses the commentary generates, responses ignored by the trolls as they plunge on ahead.

  • The Courier, October 18th. ACMEsalesrep, someone named Anna — who writes, "As a biker who is petrified to cruise on the road with cars (rightfully so!) I fully support this bike path" [VanRamblings' response, "as if anyone who rides a bike could avoid the road! What planet do these people live on?] — and Richard Campbell are at it again.

  • Twitter. Vancouver library web guy James Gemmill engaged in a heated Twitter "debate" with several Save Kits Beach proponents, offering this picture as response to commentators, as if the posting of such a ludicrous picture in support of tearing up green space adds anything of value to the reasoned debate over the best bike route through or around Hadden + Kits Beach parks. Earlier this week, VanRamblings was engaged in a Twitter dialogue with People Are Spicy's Kim, who offers, "more cyclists is very good for the environment, and with the finished seawall plans; tourism. grass is very resource heavy." Huh?

Of course, Facebook comes into the mix, as well, as a place for trolls to harass and harangue proponents of democratic engagement in the decision-making on a west side parks bike route. Articles covering the debate on an acceptable west side parks bike route — in the Vancouver Sun, The Straight, The Province, Metro Vancouver, 24 Hours, or any other online media — are targets and forums for the political trolls to misdirect, misinform, and otherwise advocate for a Vision Vancouver style of faux consultation and unilateral, destructive political decision-making.

Dispiriting is all one can say in response to such cynical conduct.

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Over the course of the past five years, several different credible sources have reported to VanRamblings that Vision Vancouver attack dog Marcella Munro — one of the most unpleasant Visionites you'll ever hear on radio attacking any hint of opposition to Vision Vancouver — oversees a squad of up to 20 "team members" whose sole job it is to monitor online media, and comment on any online story, Facebook, Twitter or blog post so as to deride commentary negative to Vision Vancouver's interests.

The suggestion has been made that Ms. Munro's employment with the Earnscliffe Strategy Group — a prestigious lobbying "public affairs" company — is simply a front for Ms. Munro's activities "lobbying" for Vision Vancouver, that her boss, Bruce Young — a longtime NPA insider — given the way the political winds blow on the municipal political scene, "sanctions" (but just barely) Ms. Munro's activities, her salary paid "indirectly" from Vision coffers, rather than directly from the Earnscliffe Strategy Group.

Further, VanRamblings has been told that Vision has placed its trolling operatives in city-paid jobs, or in jobs in the non-profit sector that are funded in part by the City, and in greater measure by Vision Vancouver financial backers. In Vision Vancouver's world, as in the world of all big league politics, money talks, and cynical, self-serving conduct reigns.

As we've written previously, where most other Vancouver municipal parties play some form of the gang who couldn't shoot straight, or let's see who can shoot who in the foot, Vision Vancouver moves like a powerhouse. These are folks who know what they're doin', and they're going to do. Not necessarily for us, of course, but for their supporters (developers, the Hollyhock/Tides gang), and by extension, one must grant, for themselves.

To be fair, the political trolling of the new millennium is simply an updated, more sophisticated approach to the Socred's Letters to the Editor scandal of the 1980s, where the government of the day paid party staff to flood newspapers across the province with letters to the editor deriding opposition opinion, and supporting government initiatives, on a range of hot-button issues. That Vision Vancouver has refined the cynical art of political trolling for a new age of online engagement is simply more of the same utterly corrupt and unethical conduct that has defined a particularly cynical approach to politics, dedicated solely to maintenance of power.

Make no mistake, the federal Conservatives are engaged in similarly disruptive conduct, although if the truth be told, the folks on the Vision Vancouver team of miscreants make Stephen Harper's befuddled Conservatives look like Sunday school teachers when its comes to spinning the debate in favour of imposing perspective on legislative initiatives.

The difference in 2013, as opposed to 20 and 30 years ago: no one in the media calls out our governing political parties on their unethical trolling conduct. Rather, it's simply seen cynically as the way "one plays the game."

VanRamblings is here to say that the work Vision Vancouver's well-funded trolling literary "hit squad" engage in each and every day does a disservice to our citizenry, and the notion of what it means to live in a democracy.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at October 31, 2013 2:03 AM in Save Kits Beach


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