IFTF: Government Sponsored Trolling

Authored by Carly Nyst and Nicholas Monaco. Editor in Chief, Samuel C. Woolley.

Bloomberg — A Global Guide to State Sponsored Trolling
MIT Tech Review — State-sponsored trolling is rampant throughout the world–including the U.S.

In our latest report from the Digital Intelligence Lab, we investigate how state-sponsored online hate and harassment campaigns, including in the U.S., are being used to intimidate and silence government critics at scale. This is the first comprehensive attempt to describe the phenomenon of state-sponsored trolling from a qualitative and quantitative standpoint.

The report, State-Sponsored Trolling: How Governments Are Deploying Disinformation as Part of Broader Digital Harassment Campaigns, contains in-depth illustrative examples of state-sponsored trolling in seven countries: the United States, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Ecuador, the Philippines, Turkey, and Venezuela. It includes policies that governments and businesses can implement to rein in the digital abuse of individuals, advocates and journalists critical of governments. Though state-sponsored trolling occurs in a variety of countries, they often use similar strategies. These include making death and rape threats, using bots to amplify attacks at scale, using malicious PR firms to disseminate hyper-partisan or libelous disinformation about targets, and spreading doctored images and memes.

The report finds that new laws are unlikely to stem the practice in the short term, so technology companies have a responsibility to curb state-sponsored trolling now.


Carly Nyst is a human rights lawyer, privacy and data protection expert, and independent consultant working on technology and human rights. She was previously the legal director of Privacy International, a London-based charity that defends the right to privacy across the world.

Nicholas Monaco is a research associate at the at the DigIntel Lab at IFTF and at the Computational Propaganda Project at the University of Oxford. His expertise spans the political use of social media bots, online disinformation, foreign affairs, and linguistics.


Samuel C. Woolley is the current director of the IFTF Digital Intelligence Lab, the former director of research of the Computational Propaganda Project at the University of Oxford, a Belfer Fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, a research associate at the Oxford Internet Institute, a research associate at the Center for Democracy and the Internet at Stanford University, and a visiting researcher at CITRIS at UC Berkeley. His work examines how socially-oriented online automation tools (bots, algorithms, etc.) are used to enable both democracy and civic control.