In this article we’re going to take a look at Paid Shills and Attack Agents what they do, what their goals are, some common tactics, and ways you can combat them. This article has 12 sections it’s most useful if its read in its entirety, but if you have a short attention span feel free to jump ahead to the section that you’re most interested in.
This article should be considered a companion article to our Operational Security article.
- JUMP TO:
- How Paid Shills and Attack Agents are Used
- Spotting Paid Shills and Attack Agents
- How to Combat Paid Shills and Attack Agents
- Concern Trolling
- Psychological Attacks
- Probing Attacks
- Pointless Arguing With No Central Theme
- Frustration Arguing
- Formal English and Awkward Non-American Phrasing
- Attack Bait
- Old Tweets and Deleting Tweets
- Strategies to Block Paid Shills and Attack Agents
- Paid Shill and Attack Agent Block List
How Paid Shills and Attack Agents are Used
In 2016 Twitter became a tool used by political parties to advance media narratives and to try and sway public opinion. To maximize the effectiveness of Twitter fake accounts were created by the thousands and used by political parties and advocacy groups to push agendas. Some of these fake accounts were coordinated and used as an attack force. These Attack Agents adversarially engaged other accounts in arguments that caused the other side to make angry aggressive replies and activate the Shadowban Penalty . Their ultimate goal was to get their opponents to make an emotional or angry tweet that violated Twitter’s rules, resulting in the account to be placed on temporary suspension or permanently banned. These Paid Shills and Attack Agents primarily protect the replies of BlueCheckMark Journalists that advance Democrat Agendas and hashtags. These accounts are a combination of automated bot accounts, and human controlled accounts.(Return to Top)
Spotting Paid Shills and Attack Agents
There are certain common factors many attack agents share which make them easy to spot:
- Low Number of Followers: These accounts will typically have a low number of followers, usually less than 100, and rarely more than 300.
- Followers Share No Common Theme: When normal people use Twitter most of their followers will be around an interest like TV Shows, music or super hero movies. Paid Shills and Attack Agents will have followers that automatically follow anyone that follows them. There’s little to no interaction with these accounts and their followers.
- No Mundane Postings: Paid Shills and Attack Agents use accounts purely for adversarial engagement, there’s no person with down time talking about day to day nonsense everyone deals with. This is one of the big tip-offs there’s no single person running the account.
How to Combat Paid Shills and Attack Agents
The tactics discussed below are those most commonly used by Paid Shills and Attack Agents. The worst thing you can do is to react emotionally or in anger to one of these accounts. A more effective strategy is to reply once to the account and block them. You should export your block list on a regular schedule, like once a week. If you are forced to respawn into a new account, you can import the block list from your old account blocking their ability penalize you in the future. You can also use the Twitter ID Tool to get the accounts Unique ID. Then tweet or post a Gab Update with the ID and the following hashtag and after we confirm it we’ll add it to our Shill Block List .
This tag was last updated on 08/06/2019 and is changed periodically to thwart people using it for unintended purposes.(Return to Top)
Concern Trolling is a form of adversarial engagement where a person talks with people who have an opposing ideology and attempts appear concerned about them and manipulate their behavior through public shaming. Some of the most common concern trolling uses mental health, racism, social acceptance, lack of family/friends or financial stability. They attempt to make you feel internal shame over your position, trying to make you doubt yourself and change your mind. Once you have identified this tactic, reply and immediately block the account. (Return to Top)
Psychological Attacks are an upgraded or Level 2 version of Concern Trolling. Attack Agents using this tactic are specifically attacking something they feel has a high likelihood of upsetting or angering you. In some cases a Paid Shill who is Concern Trolling noticed they got a strong reaction from you and called for a Wingman to assist in the attack. These engagements will really try to focus in on your emotions trying to exploit a weakness. Do not get sucked into a protracted back and forth with these attacks, it almost always results in you being Shadowbanned . Make one non-emotional reply, and immediately block the account. You want to export your Block List as soon as possible, these exchanges often result in accounts being banned. Once your account is banned, you can’t export your Block List. (Return to Top)
Probing Attacks are an adversarial engagement tactic where a paid shill tweets out random topics to see which gets a strong reaction from you. They are searching for a topic where they can exploit your emotions and manipulate you into or into making a tweet about a Danger Word that violates Twitter’s rules and get your account suspended or banned. Some of the common topics used in a Probing Attack are: abortion, gun rights, racial themes, crime news stories, religion, immigration, border security, and the Mueller Investigation. If a person tries to engage you in a debate about more than one of these topics, it’s highly likely they are conducting a probing attack. Once you notice the behavior, reply once and immediately block them. (Return to Top)
Pointless Arguing With No Central Theme
Many times a paid shill will try to engage you adversarially across a wide variety of topics, with the goal of making you upset or emotionally agitated, while a second attack agent is Concern Trolling or conducting a Psychological Attack. Sometimes it’s done by two different people, sometimes it one person running two accounts, but either way it’s coordinated. You can spot this tactic when an attack agent isn’t interested in defending something they believe in, but are instead only interested in things they think you will respond to emotionally. Avoid a lengthy back and forth exchange, and instead block them immediately. (Return to Top)
Frustration Arguing is a weird but often effective tactic Attack Agents use is to try and engage you in Frustration Arguing. They will deny that something that is factual actually says what it says. If you include a link to support your argument, they will completely misinterpret what it says. If you include a screenshot of your link with the fact highlighted, they will continue to say it doesn’t say what it actually says on the page. It’s an extremely simple but very effective tactic. The goal is to get you so frustrated you lash out and Shadowban Yourself or say something that will get you suspended/banned. Resist the temptation to reply quickly with an off the cuff spicy comeback or putdown. Reply once, and immediately block the account. If you think you made an emotional response that could get you banned, quickly export your block list so you don’t fall victim to the same tactic in a respawned account. (Return to Top)
Formal English and Awkward Non-American Phrasing
Many of these Paid Shills or Attack Agents are operating out of call centers where there is plenty of cheap labor available. For most of these people, English is their second language, and they will use overly formal phrases. An American would say, "We went to the mall today". Someone whose native language isn’t english might say something more formal like "Today we went to the city shopping center". It’s a subtle difference, but once you know to look for it, it’s easy to spot. A similar tactic you can use to spot Paid Shills from other countries is their use of phrases that people in America don’t use. I once had an exchange with someone who was bragging about his "Bespoke Kitchen Cabinets". I’ve lived in the United States a long time, and I’ve never heard an American use "Bespoke" to describe anything. Have a laugh about it, block the account and move on.(Return to Top)
One of the most effective tactics for getting accounts suspended or permanently banned is to engage in attack bait. The idea is to try to provoke someone into tweeting about one of Twitter's Protected Groups and using a Danger Word that usually carries a suspension/permanent ban penalty. In some cases you can modify your language to convey your message, but be ambiguous enough to avoid the ban hammer. In other cases there isn’t a way around the term, so the best course is to avoid it. It’s my opinion, that Twitter has drawn a hard line in the sand on these topics listed below because they are an effective moderation weapon:
- Transgender and not recognizing the Trans change.
- Criticism of Islam or Muslims.
- Jewish concentration in media and power positions.
Old Tweets and Deleting Tweets
One of the strategies used by Paid Shills and Attack Agents is to search through your old tweets, looking for something that is against Twitter's Terms of Service, and using it to report you, hoping to get your account suspended are permanently banned. Since Twitter selectively enforces the rules and targets Right Wing Accounts it's a good idea to start using a defensive strategy, and delete your old tweets.
Tweet Delete is a free service that you can schedule to delete your tweets after a certain time period (7 days to 3 months). It claims to delete all of your previous tweets, but that's not really what happens. It will only delete 3,000 of your most recent tweets. If your account has more than 3,000 tweets, all of the other older tweets exist in a limbo state, they won't show on your profile, but they will show up if someone does a search. This will help you delete tweets going forward, but you're going to need another solution for those older tweets that are in a limbo state.(Return to Top)
Twit Wipe is a free service that deletes all of your old tweets. We've tried it a few different times and the results can be hit or miss. Sometimes it deletes everything in a few minutes, other times, the progress bar just limps along and some random subset of your old tweets get deleted. It's free, so if you know going in that it may take a few tries to really delete all of your old tweets it's not a big deal.(Return to Top)
Tweet Deleter is an extremely powerful social media tool, it's designed to be used on BlueCheckMark, celebrity or other high profile accounts. It's more powerful than most people will ever need and is a lot like showing up with a Flamethrower to roast a few marshmallows . It does an extremely good job of letting you decide with surgical precision exactly which tweets you want to delete and which you want to keep. You can only delete 3,000 tweets a day, so if you have a very active account, it may take a few days to delete all of them, but it does a very thorough job and doesn't leave any weird ghost tweets hanging out there in limbo. The downside is this is a premium tool, at the time this article was written it was $9.99 per month. You have to decide if your need to delete your old tweets requires a premium solution of not.(Return to Top)
(Editors note we aren't affiliated in any way with the websites listed above, so if you want to be a dick and attack them that's all on you.)
Strategies to Block Paid Shills and Attack Agents
Once Twitter implemented the Shadowban Penalty the most effective strategy for combatting Paid Shills and Attack Agents changed. In the past you could argue a Paid Shill into giving up if you tried hard enough. The Shadowban Penalty punishes aggressive interactions, especially over a short time period, so it’s no longer in your best interest to argue with Paid Shills. Your best strategy now is to block them as soon as you are reasonably certain it’s a Paid Shill. It’s very important you export this block list regularly, and import it into any Multiple Twitter Accounts you may be using. When you do get suspended or permanently banned it’s extremely likely one of the Paid Shills or Attack Agents played a role in reporting you. If you block the account, you prevent them from succeeding twice. If you carry the block list to alternate accounts or into newly respawned accounts, you make it much harder for them to do it a second time.
If you encounter a Paid Shill or Attack Agent and would like to make sure they aren’t able to suspend or permanently ban other accounts we’ve setup a way to create a public list anyone can use. The first thing you’ll need to do is get the account ID using a Twitter ID Tool . The reason we need the account ID is it never changes. If you identified the account @ShillyMcShilerson as a Paid Shill and shared the account name, all they would have to do is change their account name to @MyNewShillName and we’d never find them. However if you shared, that account ID 1051112163094515715 is likely a Paid Shill there’s nothing they can do to hide. Once we verify they are a Paid Shill or Attack Agent we’ll add them to the Shill Block List . This list is publicly shared, so everyone can benefit from it. Use the hashtag below to post a status update to Gab or Twitter and we’ll check it out.
This tag was last updated on 08/06/2019 and is changed periodically to thwart people using it for unintended purposes.(Return to Top)
Paid Shill and Attack Agent Block List
The current Twitter Paid Shill Block List has 2142 entries and was last updated on 9/22/2019.
This list is provided as is and you use it at your own risk, if it blocks an account(s) you wanted to follow, you assume all responsibility. This list was created manually, and the Twitter Corporation has no affiliation with this list or it's creation.(Return to Top)