In the wake of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s about-face regarding fuel prices on Monday, claims have emerged that fuel companies are resorting to spreading dissent in order to counter opposition to continued price hikes.
Ardern came out swinging this week, putting the blame on fuel companies for skyrocketing prices and accusing them of ‘fleecing’ New Zealanders at the pump.
This announcement came as a surprise to some, given her assertion last week that the rapidly rising prices wouldn’t hurt New Zealanders much because the Government was giving them an average of $75 extra a week.
The fuel companies, unsurprisingly, were offended at this accusation and hit back. However, their mealy-mouthed excuses are unlikely to garner much sympathy with the New Zealand public.
Our herald spoke to a whistleblower who has insider information into the strategies fuel companies are using in response to the backlash from the public, politicians and economists.
“They employ people to cause conflict on social media and in comment sections”. claims our source. “It’s a common tactic used by big companies to distract from what they’re doing.”
The concept of paid trolls, sometimes referred to as shills, is one that has increasingly come under scrutiny in the last few years as access to the internet becomes widespread.
“It’s so easy now. Most people have a smartphone and a data plan of some sort, and wifi hotspots are everywhere. Paid trolls can act quickly both at home and on the go.”
We asked our whistleblower exactly what these people paid by the fuel companies were doing.
“They join groups and pages on sites like facebook, or follow activists on twitter, then make negative or critical comments in these forums and also in the comments on news websites. The aim is to just go in and stir people up, cause arguments, stuff like that.”
“It’s easier to slow down protest action if people are too busy arguing with each other to unify and work as a team. People end up fractured, all doing their own thing instead.”
How much these ‘shills’, if they do indeed exist, get paid is unclear, but rumours from inside sectors such as pharmaceuticals and politics overseas indicate high-level shills may earn as much as $1 per comment, with a bonus for replies and reactions.