Beware of Putin’s Trolls

Twitter is a strange animal as many users will attest. Some love its immediacy for following unfolding news or social events, or for stalking certain celebrities legally. While others will say it is nothing more than an annoying distraction they would prefer to live without… and yet they keep their accounts live. As a writer I suppose I fall into both of these camps; I do use it to track events but I also tweet about this or about that from time to time. My Tweets are sometimes serious or hopefully educational although I often prefer to lean towards the more humorous or self depreciating. In that sense I feel it represents a good flavour of who I am, or who I see myself as. However, some other people see Twitter, it’s freedom of expression its immediacy and mobility as not just an annoyance but as an actual menace. Living as I do in Turkey it would be very easy to go off on a tangent about how, when it isn’t shooting down Russian jets, Turkey’s ever more authoritarian government is the instigator of more complaints and Twitter service bans than any other country. But no, today I want to comment on a darker, hidden side of Twitter.

I'm gonna troll you hard

Trolls and abuse and porn and bigotry are unfortunately daily facts of life in the Twitterverse especially if you follow quite a few accounts. The answer to most of these problems is to simply stop following the offender, or, if it is really offensive to block or even report the user. Although this is not always successful, especially with the pond life known collectively as Trolls. However, there is also a dangerous subset of Trolls that I have unfortunately become familiar with over the years namely the state sponsored Trolls.

In the two and half years I have been on Twitter I have collected almost 20,000 followers, which is a few above the average. Some have come after reading my books or my blog posts or because they want to engage with one or other of my tweets. However, some people follow simply in the hope that you will reciprocate and follow them back. I will usually follow if I notice a good tweet or read an interesting profile or sometimes, if someone asks me politely too I may also just follow them back. In all I now follow about 7,000 which feels like a just about manageable ratio of 3-1. Anymore than this and your Tweet feed would wiz by a little too quickly to be of any real benefit. From time to time you have to weed out the old dead or dying accounts – inactive ones, where the user has abandoned Twitter or ones that may tweet only once or twice a year. I may then follow a few more accounts. In my first year I was more in the habit of following simply because they were following me. This is something, as I said, that many new users do unless they are some kind of star, which sadly I am not.

In that first year or so I noticed that whenever I put out a political type blog against countries like China or Russia I would suddenly get a lot more Russian and Chinese speaking followers. In my naivety I wrongly put this development down to support for one position or another that I had perhaps described in a blog so I would then follow them back. Unfortunately, as time went on my account began to suffer from a series of regular suspensions, which I could never quite figure out. Twitter Help is – as anyone who has ever tried to use it – an extremely hands off service and virtually impossible to engage with satisfactorily if your are expecting anything more than a computer generated response.

I was not breaking any Twitter rules and I was not tweeting anything overtly offensive unless you are a dictator or a dictatorship with a very thin skin of course. In the end, after a number of computer generated replies I did manage to get a human response and also discovered after searching online that other people had reported similar things happening to them. Over a period of a few days I gradually learned that certain blog accounts like mine were repeatedly reported, blocked or complaints raised until that account was suspended. The three blogs of mine in question, for which I suffered temporarily suspensions featured China on two occasions and Russia, namely Putin and his policies on all three occasions. Effectively what was happening was that several of my legitimate looking Chinese and Russian Twitter followers, were in all likelihood state sponsored trolls, who then worked in concert to log complaints against me. They did this because they know that the Twitter computer code reacts robotically once a certain level is reached and suspends such accounts, pending investigation. Of course any investigation would eventually discover that no Twitter rules had been breached – but because such automatic suspensions could take up to a week to sort out, I was effectively denied my account.

Both Russia and China are very well known for such negative online activity as well as their zero tolerance to any public criticism. So I will not elaborate any more here. However I was surprised that they even bothered themselves with such a small time user like me. As State sponsored cybercrime and intimidation get ever more sophisticated and damaging, all bloggers should be aware that if they post negatively about certain totalitarian regimes like Russia and China that an army of dark trolls is just waiting to be unleashed upon them.

In the end of course, despite knowing that one or two followers must have been genuine I reluctantly decided to strip out most of my Russian and Chinese followers and block those that I noticed had all followed me at about the same time or looked just too generic: the same smiling face or a brief profile that would read the same in several different accounts. You learn to recognise them in the end. Since then I have not followed a single Russian or Chinese account and to date I have not had my account suspended once in over a year and a half. Coincidence? Don’t you believe it.

So if you do have a Twitter account be very careful who you follow and just as importantly be more aware who is actually following you.


Who Wants to Live Forever

A few days ago I watched the very clever video below of a woman aging from a child to a late middle age woman. What struck me the most was how beautiful the woman was throughout the process. More than anything it seemed to confirm, for me at least that age is mostly a state of mind. Of course it is a little bit more than that as we are all destined to die from the moment we are born. However, for most of us who are lucky enough to be able to be the architects of our own lives, we can make that long journey, that circle of life in a myriad of very different ways. Although the end is always the same, the life-span the quality and the grace with which we do age on our journey are all up for negotiation, all very changeable. Anyway, before I go any further please watch the clip and remember to make sure your speakers are on, as the music is an integral part of the experience:

Of course I can spout on about the beauty and honesty of aging naturally until I am blue in the face, but few people would wholeheartedly agree with me. We have after all been raised during a time when youth and youth culture seems to be prized higher than most things; usually by advertisers and media companies and absolutely by the billion euro beauty industry. There is after all a long tradition of slapping this or that on our bodies and in recent years even injecting inert deadly bacteria and chemicals like botox into our faces. Nutrition is also an area the marketers have been keen to seize upon under the banner anti-aging. Although, this off shoot of the beauty and lifestyle industry is still regarded as a bit of an upstart because it has barely been around for more than a couple of decades, it has not been slow in making people quickly rich. I won’t try and deny for a second that I have not been influenced by the claims of both industries, I have taken supplements in the past and must confess that I have been moisturising my skin, with this cream or that for many years. But does it work, does any of it really work for long?

There was a time, perhaps up until about 10 years ago when I was a healthfood shop’s dream customer. I took multi-vitamins, multi-minerals, antioxidants, fish oils, extra B vitamins, Coenzyme Q10 and stuff like gingko biloba. However, after studying the science a bit more closely and eventually co-authoring a couple of bestselling books on the subject, I realised that my normal diet was giving me almost everything I needed, even as a vegetarian/ pescatorean (fish and seafood only). So I stopped almost all of these supplements and now only take a multi B vitamin and a spoonful of ground linseed on my breakfast muesli, which makes up for any shortfalls in my diet because I don’t eat meat. I should also point out that if you take nothing else – a spoonful of linseed (make sure you grind them as whole seeds mostly just pass through your body) is possibly one of the most beneficial things you can take for your body.

Pharmacy Drugs
Photo by Health Gauge

Health foods and vitamin supplements may be one thing but what about the magic creams and potions we rub, spread or inject into our skin every day? I won’t deny that there are some visible benefits – especially if you want part of your face to lose its muscle strength so your wrinkles temporarily decrease as with Botox or dermal fillers in your face and lips. But because these have no significant long lasting affects you quickly become a tidy cash (or credit) sum of repeat business for whoever injects these things into your face (not always a doctor or surgeon). However, most beauty creams are little more than expensive moisturising creams – which despite a dizzying array of pricy ingredients all essentially try to do the same job. It’s about here that you point out that I just confessed earlier to using a moisturiser and you would be right to a certain extent. What I do use at night, in order to lock in moisture and hence keep my face looking a bit fresher and less lined, is a baby-bottom-butter. Waitrose baby-bottom-butter to be precise. This inexpensive (about £3) cream, initially intended for the care of a babies delicate skin actually came top in a 2011 survey and pushed aside other creams that retailed at over £100+ for the same amount. So go on try it and save yourself a load of money!

There are many other alternatives to achieve similar results as those declared in most expensive product marketing, which far too often stray towards making unrealistic claims and telling downright lies about this product or that. These industries rely to a certain extent on baffling the consumer with science and fancy ingredient names such as sodium lardate, lardium or tallow (all lard), ambergris (whale vomit) or hyaluronic acid (human placenta). Let’s face it you wouldn’t pay too much for anything containing these things if they overtly told you the common ingredient name for what you were about to smearing into your face… or would you?

Anti Wrinkle
Photo by Traveller_40

How a word count creeps up on you – I actually wanted to give you a list of about 25 or so beauty or nutrition industry myths that could be debunked, but I must end here with a promise that if there is enough interest I will return to this interesting but sometimes very confusing area later in the year. Until then, if you want to look good and age more gracefully: eat well, stop smoking or drinking too much, avoid stress as much as possible and oh yes get moisturising at night with baby bottom butter!

So… was that enough of a departure for you guys who needed a change from my thoughts on the disintegrating situation in Turkey… what too Metrosexual? Really? Oh well I’ll definitely fix that for you next time!