Published on May 31st, 2019 | by Jennifer Sensiba
May 31st, 2019 by Jennifer Sensiba
A few months ago, I was working on a story about the SEC and Elon Musk. I asked people on Twitter for input, and Elon actually joined the conversation. I wasn’t prepared for what came next. For several days, I had an endless supply of TSLAQ guys attacking every word, sometimes in very nasty and personal ways. Not much later, it suddenly stopped. I had been added to a list of pro-Tesla accounts for automatic blocking. But I was still curious. Why would people act like that? I couldn’t really learn more because of the blocks.
So I decided to go “undercover” and join the ranks of the TSLAQ trolls.
Yes, I found out that the crazies are, in fact, really crazy. But, getting a chance to interact with people on the more reasonable end of anti-Tesla sentiment was enlightening and helped me to be a better EV writer.
My First Days “Undercover” as a TSLAQ Troll
I started out by making the account really, really ridiculous. The name of it centered around being against Tesla and Elon Musk. The profile picture was a really dramatic horned Satan illustration, and the cover photo was of pollution and smoke. I figured they’d know it was a bogus account, but I was wrong.
When my crazy comments, crazy tweets, and even obviously false stories about Tesla crashes didn’t get people to question my sincerity, I tried for days to ratchet up the craziness to see when they’d catch on. Nothing I could think of worked. The likes continued and I got a couple more followers. I actually couldn’t act too crazy for the crowd I was interacting with.
Once I really started getting into it, it was kind of a weird thrill. I’d see a tweet from Elon Musk come up and I’d be like “Yes! Fight time!” in the back of my mind. Bothering him and telling his fans off activated some part of my brain that I wasn’t used to using. There’s this cheap thrill reward center that lights up — I’m not sure how else to describe it.
When Tesla fans would counter the utter bovine excrement I was tweeting with facts, figures, and ideas, I was surprised to find that when I was in “troll mode” that facts didn’t matter. At all. Why? Because there’s no cheap thrill to be gained arguing over facts. It’s easier to mock, belittle, and ignore, then go onto the next target for abuse.
As far as the nasty, unhinged end of $TSLAQ goes, I get it now. It’s just cheap entertainment for those guys. (Editor’s note: Maybe. I think that’s part of the population. I think there are other types of people and interests in the $TSLAQ world, as well.)
Seeing a Whole Different Side of Twitter
It was at this point that I started to actually learn something.
First, I could see a marked difference between my personal Twitter feed and the fake account’s feed. I followed many of the same people I follow on my personal account, but Twitter’s computers figured out the difference pretty quickly. It seems to give you more of what you engage with and less of what you don’t. It sets your feed up to show tweets from people who tell you what it thinks you want to hear.
My personal account is full of science, technology, EV stuff, and geek stuff. My fake account shows me all of the worst things going on with Tesla that day.
I could see how someone would get “sucked in.” I imagined that I had been an EV and Tesla-neutral person who leans slightly conservative and was just joining Twitter. All it would take is one friend posting an anti-EV or anti-Tesla story, and a response to it, for Twitter to start giving me more. And more. And more. Twitter isn’t there to show you different perspectives. It’s there to get and keep your eyeballs, and it’s very good at that.
Second, I started seeing the less crazy people who didn’t like Tesla pop up. They actually caught my interest, and as I engaged more with them, Twitter adjusted and started putting them in my feed more.
I’ve actually found that getting the different perspectives from the part of the anti-Tesla crowd that isn’t totally out of their minds has been good. I’ve been able to see different sides of the big news stories of the day, and even learned about things that aren’t good in EV World that I hadn’t really considered.
I ended up changing the account to more of a parody account. I don’t run around pretending to be a wacky troll like I did in the beginning, but I still have some fun with it cracking jokes and pretending to fight with some of the well-known pro-Tesla accounts that I’ve let in on the secret.
I learned that the crazies are crazy, but that there’s a part of the human mind that drives that kind of behavior. When you fight with them, it just encourages them. For the crazy accounts on there, it’s not worth your time.
I’m also glad I did this because I got in a position to learn about things I hadn’t considered. It can be tough to find the nuggets of wisdom with all of the crazy people bashing Tesla and pushing wild conspiracy theories. It creates a very bad signal-to-noise ratio. Once I figured out how to listen for the signal more, I found that there’s good to be found.