SC professors create website to help voters spot trolls, disinformation ahead of the election

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Two Clemson University professors are making it easier for voters to spot disinformation and trolls on the internet ahead of the 2020 election with a website they created.

It’s called SpottheTroll.org, and it’s like a game where users sift through eight social media accounts and have to decipher which ones are real and which ones may be fake and promoting disinformation.

“We created it because there’s no one answer to facing the challenge of disinformation,” said website co-creator Darren Linvill, an associate professor in the Department of Communications at Clemson University.

He built the website alongside colleague Patrick Warren, an associate professor in the John E. Walker Department of Economics at Clemson University, to expose internet trolls trying to influence and engage voters ahead of the 2020 election.

“We’ve identified other activity that we just don’t know who’s responsible,” said Linvill. “Maybe it’s China, maybe it’s Iran. Maybe it’s my neighbor, who knows!”

Five of the accounts they’ve put on the website were real Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts at one point created by trolls in St. Petersburg, Russia.

You have to play the game and find which of the eight accounts have the facts.

“We’ve had half a million users so far, a lot of people saying, hey, this is hard,” said Linvill. “This is harder than you think!

In fact, Linvill and Warren have worked to suspend a number of Twitter accounts.

The professors analyzed three million tweets of the 70 million accounts Twitter shut down in 2018 according to Clemson University.

“Just this past spring, we identified and worked with CNN and others to shut down a troll operation that was funded by the Russians,” Linvill pointed out.

It hits home for South Carolinians. That troll operation was working to hire an employee in Charleston.

Linvill says the state is a target for disinformation in part due to its long history of dealing with issues of race.

“That is often a sore spot that folks, especially like the Russian Internet Research Agency, that’s a sore spot that they like to press and inflame,” he said.

Linvill says he and Warren are hopeful that teachers will use the website in the classroom to teach important lessons related to digital media literacy.

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