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08 April, 2014

When banksters recruit trolls!

"I call you because I'm ashamed and I needed to tell it to you. I was a student of yours, but what could I do, this was the job I found". This was, more or less, the start of a telephone conversation with a graduate of my department (in Athens University) a few hours after uploading an article for a specific bank concerning the cover up of bank's illegal activities (furthermore, bank's reward with public property) from the government, bank of Greece and troika.

The article was written the day before, and to my surprise, although it has been sent on time, it was not uploaded. Someone from the editor in chief's team of the website told me that they somehow "hesitated" to upload the article, since the specific bank was a sponsor of this website. Two hours later, after my intense response, they told me that it was a "misunderstanding" and the article would be uploaded with one day delay, as indeed happened.

Just imagine my big smile when I realized that the banner over my article, when it was published, was advertising this bank! But this was not the end of the story. In five minutes, not enough time for someone to read the article, twitter was flooded by hundreds of "deconstruction" messages of me and my article. While I was watching those messages flooding internet, I smiled and returned to my work until the phone rang and I started talking with my former student.

After he told me that he was ashamed, he explained: "I work a few months now at the press office of the bank for which you wrote the article. Yesterday, sometime during the afternoon, people of the bank distributed the article to all of us (before its publication), and asked us to prepare tweets and comments for your "deconstruction". They also asked me if you were my professor at the University because they knew that I was graduated from the Kapodistrian University of Athens. I lied, denying this. Today, after your article was uploaded, three of us continuously upload tweets of these comments since 8 a.m. and respond obscenely to everyone who will dare to defend you. I had to say this to you. I feel guilt about this, but what can I do Mr. Varoufakis, this is the job I found with my degree of your department".

I told him that I don't blame him and that I suggest to keep his job in such hard times under the condition that he will not try to persuade himself that his work in the bank's press office is something good and right.

This incident, beyond what tells us about the quality of the public dialogue and democracy in Greece of crisis, can be a general lesson for all the world. We tend to consider the internet as a mean to democratize society promising new forms of electronic democracy. It is true that internet gives the opportunity for everyone to express himself freely and spreads the information and opinion in every corner of this world with the speed of light.

However, not only democracy is enhanced by this, but also her enemies. When organized interests are threatened, they have the power to "kidnap" internet, maximizing what engineers call as "signal-to-noise ratio". Like hackers bombing a website with access requests, until they crash it, trolls destroy public dialogue into a sludge, until everything turns brown and nothing can be separated as true. In Greece, where work became cheap through contracts, the danger for the democracy is bigger.

Key parts from a story by Yanis Varoufakis published under the title "Troll with working contract" at http://www.lifo.gr/mag/columns/6364

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