A British paper called The Guardian recently published an article called "Invasion of the troll armies: from Russian Trump supporters to Turkish state stooges" (link). It is pretty interesting stuff, and it also raises a question to two. Can it be that we are actually receiving the attention of these kinds of folks? Here is how they describe this sort of Russian contribution to some of the political discourse found on US blogs and in social media.
Russia: Long before Donald Trump met Twitter, Russia was famous for its troll factories – outside Russia, anyway. Allegations of covert propagandists invading chatrooms go back as far as 2003, and in 2012 the Kremlin-backed youth movement Nashi was revealed to be paying people to comment on blogs. However most of what we know now comes from a series of leaks in 2013 and 2014, most concerning a St Petersburg company called Internet Research Agency, then just “Internet Research”. It is believed to be one of several firms where trolls are trained and paid to smear Putin’s opponents both at home and internationally.
According to internal documents released by a group of hackers in 2013, Internet Research Agency employed more than 600 people across Russia, and had an implied annual budget of $10m – half of which was paid out in cash. Employees were expected to post on news articles 50 times a day. Those who wrote blogs had to maintain six Facebook accounts and publish at least three posts daily. On Twitter, they had to have at least 10 accounts, on which they would tweet 50 times. All had targets for the number of followers and the level of engagement they had to reach.
Later, an investigator called Lyudmila Savchuk went undercover at the company and afterwards published her experiences. These included smearing the character of the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in the days following his murder, and promoting the theory that he was killed by his own friends, rather than by friends of Putin. “I felt the bullets between my own shoulders,” Savchuk said. “I was so upset that I almost gave myself away. But I was 007. I fulfilled my task.” When a Finnish reporter called Jessikka Aro wrote about Internet Research in 2014, she herself became the target of a frightening campaign of threats and smears.
As you might expect, many Russian trolls lack a certain polish when posting in English. “I think the whole world is realizing what will be with Ukraine, and only US keep on fuck around because of their great plans are doomed to failure,” one Internet Research employee wrote on a forum. Indeed the Guardian’s own moderators have begun to notice regular clues, especially on articles about Ukraine. “We can look at the suspicious tone of certain users, combined with the date they signed up, the time they post and the subjects they post on,” says one senior moderator. “Zealous pro-separatist comments in broken English claiming to be from western counties are very common.”
Estimated troops: Several thousand.
Favourite subjects Putin and Trump being great, the opposition being corrupt, the Nato conspiracy against Russia, the effeminacy of Barack Obama.
It does explain some of the trolling we get here. It is pretty voluminous. A lot of it I do not let through because frankly it is kind of boring, and often quite repetitious. The same nonsense over and over again. Here are a few examples from the last month or so.
I don't know. Russian trolling would be one explanation, I suppose. Local native idiocy could be another. There certainly is enough of that floating around. I do get a decent amount of this stuff and like I said, I don't let all of it through. Hopefully just enough to keep things amusing.