That said, trolling and social media seem to go together like YouTube and cat videos. Beyond Putin’s op-ed, the Kremlin allegedly funded a “troll army” to enter the comments sections of U.S. news Web sites ranging from the Huffington Post to WorldNetDaily. Russia excels at bringing out the troll in others, too. Last August, Canada’s delegation to NATO tweeted “a guide for Russian soldiers who keep getting lost & ‘accidentally’ entering #Ukraine.” It consisted of a map featuring “Russia” and “Not Russia.” Not surprisingly, the tweet inspired a flame war with the Russian mission at NATO.
To successfully troll in foreign affairs is to disrupt someone else’s official narrative and replace it with one’s own. As Eli Lake wrote last year in the Daily Beast in praise of the foreign policy rhetoric of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.): “The best trolls are provocateurs. Their language is meant to expose a fallacy or weakness in the opponent’s position as opposed to offering a constructive alternative.”
Of course, there are also limits to the utility of trolling. Cotton is correct about the nature of the Iranian regime, but that point is somewhat extraneous to debating the merits of an Iranian nuclear deal. No negotiation was going to lead to regime change in Tehran, and a lot of international diplomacy involves dealing with unsavory governments. Nevertheless, by baiting Zarif into responding, Cotton can proudly claim to have stood up to the mullahs, 140 characters at a time.