4 November 2014
A phenomenon gaining worldwide recognition as something more than idle conspiracy theory since the EuroMaidan Revolution in Ukraine is that of internet “trolls” working for the Putin regime. Trolls are professional commenters who leave posts and remarks on popular websites to advance or attack a particular point of view. Since EuroMaidan in February 2014, this activity has intensified rapidly, and stories like the one below (and those to which it features links) have emerged in the international press to expose this development in the Russian propaganda war. The consistent theme is the demonization of US President Barack Obama, the belittlement of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and the glorification of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin-financed propaganda operation is a coordinated, well-organized effort involving legions of Russian writers (many in need of money), the establishment of hundreds of special IP addresses, and the renting of office and apartment space in Russia to run the operation. Some popular news and opinion websites running articles on Ukraine – including the English-language Moscow Times – have disabled comments to stop their sites being used for attacks and insults. The below article from The Interpreter links to a translation by the EuroMaidan Press of a Russian-language piece that appeared on the website DP.ru on 28 October…
Thriving on Forums, Paid Kremlin Trolls Move Into New Offices
18:46 (GMT), 3 November 2014
The independent Russian news site DP.ru (Delovoy Peterburg, or “Business St. Petersburg”) published an article October 28 about the “Kremlin Troll Army.” (We’ve covered these paid trolls flogging the Moscow line in past issues.)
DP.ru says the trolls, based in Olgino, a historic district of St. Petersburg, are now moving into new offices in a four-story building, somewhere along tree-lined Savushkina Street.
The trolls needed more space as they have a growing staff already at 250, working round the clock to produce posts on social media and mainstream media comment sections, mainly in Russia, but also in the West.
Some are getting professional salaries as high as 10 million rubles a month (US $229,594) to manage the stream of invective against targets from President Barack Obama to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.
DP.ru was able to get an interview with a former paid Kremlin blogger who worked at International Research, Ltd (Internet Issledovaniya OOO), the name of the company created to perform this task.
EuroMaidan Press has translated most of the DP.ru article here:
Around 250 people work 12-hour shifts, writing in blogs 24/7, working mostly in the Russian blogging platform Livejournal and a Facebook-esque social network Vkontakte. This is a full-cycle production: some write the posts, others comment on them. Most often they comment each other in order to boost the ratings. The refrain is always the same: the good Putin, the bad Poroshenko and the ugly Obama. The former workers at the Internet loyalty factory told dp.ru about its inner workings.
They sit at an ordinary kitchen in an ordinary apartment. No portraits of the leaders on the walls. There’s a smell of soup. A cat gets under everyone’s feet. A young man and woman who met there and quit on the same day. They don’t regret this decision one little bit
W: We worked 12-hour shifts for two days with two days off. A blogger’s quota is 10 posts a day, 750 characters each, a commenter has to write 126 comments and two posts. A blogger has three accounts to manage. You have to distribute the 10 assignments between them. An assignment consists of a talking point, most often news, and a conclusion you should reach. So you have to fit the solution to the answer. Roughly, you write that you’ve baked tasty pies which means that life in Russia is great and Putin is a good guy. Visit Russia Today’s website – all our assignments are there.
Read more at The Sad Life of Putin’s Troll Army.
This piece follows up on an investigation done by Max Seddon of Buzzfeed.
Before that, Russian journalists investigated the first troll farms which they found were paid for out of United Russia coffers, working with an ideological formula which they deployed at home and abroad. Their research was first covered in Wikipedia in an entry on “Web Brigades,” then became the target of an editing war and was removed when Kremlin operatives intervened and got the text changed to marginalize them.
The first study of Kremlin manipulation of the burgeoning Internet goes back to 2003, when researchers first identified and called out these firms and their paid trolls.
All of these original authors were forced into exile from Russia, and appear to have gone silent since.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick