Wonder if MTF has any professional trolls doing ATP's dirty work like this guy?
Out with it!
I(was)A Professional Internet Poster. I got paid to turn internet opinion in favor of our clients, or against our clients' opponents. AM(almost)A (self.IAmA)
-submitted 16 hours ago by Pro_Tester-
Today I started a new job as a software test engineer. It's not fun; I'm in a den full of smelly guys doing the same test over and over again until something breaks. I'm loving it. I haven't felt this good, this clean about work in years. Though I have an unending Non Disclosure Agreement with my last company, the focus of this post, I want to do this to help... I don't know, assuage my guilt (?) at what I've done for a paycheck for the past [X] years. This is my story; I hope I can get it all out during my 45 minute lunch break.
I was hired by a commercial marketing company about [X] years ago. At first I was started off simply polling the internet for opinions, getting the general feel of the public and using that to make suggestions on how the clients could change their marketing to get a better acceptance rate. Slowly, almost unnoticeably (though, maybe I had my own blinders on), our direction started changing. When I was hired, there were [a dozen or two] other guys like me doing "market research." We expanded as the company took on more clients, and the bigger we got, the more our directives changed. Eventually we stopped polling for opinions almost entirely and, instead, we were instructed to directly manipulate public opinion via posting as users on forums and community boards. We were supposed to be the catalysts to set off sparks of support (or outrage) for (or against) some person or product. Chances are you've read my posts before without knowing it; Digg and, eventually, Reddit were good places for "general" work, though most of our time was spent on forums with more specific topics.
I've worked for more than a few well-known clients, and worked to change opinions on people, companies, and products that frequently (though not always) went against my personal convictions. We worked for politicians, video game publishers, media companies, phone companies, food companies, a shoe company... everyone you can imagine, really.
On a typical job, the client would get six to twelve "researchers" and we would actually start by doing real polling to find a basis. What do people already think? What emotional platforms can we exploit? Each of us has a reservoir of hundreds of accounts on dozens of forums and community boards. (In some cases we paid the website owners to create "old" accounts for us, complete with backdated registration date, increased post count, and whatever community points/ranks they used, if any.) This way we could frequently work on a particular community without it seeming like one person (or group of people) was always being the vanguard for things. Even though each of us had multiple accounts on a particular forum, we seldom work alone, as spotting similar writing styles between different accounts proved to be detrimental early on. We also added a repertoire of hundreds of paid, private ******* around the world. (We didn't give internet detectives enough credit, and we were called out a couple of times.) Most of the time we have a group of guys go on a forum and publicly discuss the product, talking it up and hyping it, but with a real "grassroots" genuine feel to it. At least, that's the goal. Other times we would purposely start disagreements between us, with one side meant to lose in such a pathetic way that readers would be shamed to be on "that side" of the argument. We started using this more and more as time went on, as we saw better results from it. People liked feeling that both sides of an issue had been weighed and a clear winner had been determined... even when it was all a staged show. The point is that we were supposed to start a movement and then walk away, letting the natural momentum carry it into a useful marketing tool.
We were not the only group doing this. On two occasions we were told to work with another marketing company to really drive up support for [a US political candidate] and against [his opponent]. This instance really got to me, though, as I was a supporter of and voted for [his opponent]. I think that was the turning point that really made me realize I wasn't okay doing that anymore. Still, that was some time ago, and it wasn't until just recently that I found a neutral pretense to leave while I went and found another job.
And that's where I am now. I'm making 30% less than I used to, it's contract work, and by all external appearances, it's a much worse job. Maybe it'll sink in later, but I tell you guys, I feel great about it. Even just writing this has made me feel a lot better. (The power of confession, eh?) Who knows; maybe this is the last Reddit account I'll ever need. Oh, what a nice thought that is!
I've redacted a couple details and put generic terms between [ and ] brackets. While there are enough people that do this that I don't think it's likely that I'll be caught, I know that some of my old colleagues are likely to stumble upon this at work (and if they have any decency they'll keep it to themselves!) and I don't want to wind up in court over this public confession.
*edit - 5/3*
My droid is getting low on batteries, and I don't think I'm supposed to be spending quite this much time on my phone while at work. I'll check back after work and again at lunch tomorrow.
Here is a link to the complete original thread: