What has been known by rational people for years, now became more transparent and proved.
A Russian agency has an army of trolls who spread panic in the US, propagandize the policy of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and cause chaos on the Internet.
According to the NYT Magazine report, the Russian agency called ‘The Internet Research Agency’ sign ups with hundreds – if not thousands – of accounts and supports the Kremlin, while throwing mud at Washington.
Trolling is not something new, however, IRA’s management has managed to bring trolling to a new level and not only make business out of it, but also influence mass opinion of the entire country.
According to IRA’s former employee Ludmila Savchuk, such agencies work in buildings of about 400 employees. The employees are very well-paid but have to work at least 12 hours a day.
Such employees create a great number of accounts and spread thousands of posts, glorying Putin and the Kremlin, while slamming the West, particularly the US, and spreading terror in Eastern Europe – Ukraine and the Baltic states in particular.
Trolls have gotten to the US
However, the trolling of the US doesn’t just end on slamming and bad-mouthing of the Obama administration.
On Sept. 11, 2014, hundreds of IRA’s social media accounts reported to have witnessed a chemical leak in St. Mary Parish, La.
The trolls shared news articles about the leak from such websites as CNN, BBC and local news outlets through Twitter and other social media websites. Some residents of St. Mary Parish even received text messages urging them to seek shelter.
However, when the supposed chemical leak had gotten checked due to the widespread fears of the Americans, it turned out that the information came from a nonexistent company called ‘Columbian Chemicals’. The news articles turned out to be fake and were simply cloned to make them look legitimate.
Three month later after the fake chemical leak news, the same social media accounts, which as it now became evident belong to IRA, began posting ‘news’ about an outbreak of Ebola in Atlanta.
The fake news spread fears pretty quickly and the hashtag #EbolaInAtlanta briefly trended in Atlanta. The troll campaign also featured fake pictures and videos for intimidation purposes and trying to make it look legitimate.
Russia intimidates the US
On the same day as the Ebola hoax, December 13, there were reports of an unarmed black woman being shot by police. However, this time, the hoax was spread by a different group of accounts. The hoax included a blurry video that purported to show the shooting with an onlooker’s narration.
Adrian Chen, who is the author of the story that exposed IRA, wrote in the article entitled ‘The Agency’ about the purported video of the shooting, saying “Watching it, I thought I recognized the voice — it sounded the same as the man watching TV in the Columbian Chemicals video, the one in which ISIS supposedly claims responsibility. The accent was unmistakable, if unplaceable, and in both videos he was making a very strained attempt to sound American. Somehow the result was vaguely Australian.”
The Sept. 11 chemical leak hoax featured screenshot of CNN’s home page, claiming that the story had already made national news.
ISIS had claimed credit for the attack, according to one YouTube video. In the video, a man turned on an Arabic news channel, on which masked ISIS fighters delivered a speech next to looping footage of an explosion.
However, as people started checking the CNN’s homepage, it turned out that the news of an ISIS September 11 attack was all fake: the screenshot, the videos, the photographs, and the posts.
Russian trolls among us
Ludmila Savchuk compiled the shocking and exclusive information while working for the company and leaked it all to a local newspaper before quitting the job, she told Adrian Chen.
“I can’t say they clearly explain to you what your purpose there is,” Ludmila Savchuk said. “But they created such an atmosphere that people would understand they were doing something important and secretive and very highly paid.”
According to Savchuk, one Russian newspaper put the number of employees at 400, with a budget of at least 20 million rubles (roughly $400,000) a month.
The ‘troll farm’ consisted of a great number of departments that created content for such social network websites as: LiveJournal, which remains popular in Russia; VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; and the comment sections of news outlets.
Employees of such trolling organizations usually sign a nondisclosure agreement but no official contract. Salaries are pretty high for this kind of work, especially for Russia’s standards. Savchuk’s salary was 41,000 rubles a month ($777).
A link between IRA and the Kremlin?
At this point, the link between the IRA and the Kremlin is unclear, but local news outlets reported that IRA was funded by Putin’s friend Evgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch restaurateur called “the Kremlin’s chef” in the independent press.
However, neither Prigozhin nor representatives of his company, Concord, responded to The New York Times’ requests for comment.
According to Adrian Chen, “by working every day to spread Kremlin propaganda, the paid trolls have made it impossible for the normal Internet user to separate truth from fiction.”
And that is a true statement considering the extent of Russia’s people support for Putin’s regime (up to 86%) and their unwillingness to look at the facts that prove they are being lied to.