It’s no secret that Russia has an army of trolls to lead Vladimir Putin’s online propaganda campaign. Those “Kremlin trolls” have intensified their campaign in the past year. They are hiring hundreds of online operatives to counter Western pressure over Moscow’s alleged involvement in the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s disinformation campaign yielding visible results
The trolls work out of a four-story building in St Petersburg, according to the Associated Press. They work 12-hour shifts around the clock. Results of the massive propaganda campaign are already visible. Serbia, which was moving closer to an EU membership, is now coming under Russia’s influence. Popular support for Serbia’s EU membership has dropped below 50% for the first time since 2000.
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Jelena Milic, a political analyst at the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, said that it will be “very hard” for Serbia to recover this public support. When Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in February, Serbian trolls quickly reacted, “Who is to gain from this assassination but America? It must have been CIA.”
According to the Associated Press, trolls are hired in Serbia through right-wing parties that are both politically and financially supported by Russia. Serbs learn about happenings in Russia mainly through Moscow-backed media, and Kremlin trolls reinforce their anti-Western views.
Russian trolls are hard at work
Lyuda Savchuk, one of the operatives who worked in the “troll factory” until mid-March, said that trolls manage multiple social media accounts under different usernames. The St Petersburg troll factory has several departments. The department Savchuk worked in required each troll to churn out 160 blog posts during a 12-hour shift. Other departments flooded the Web with pro-Putin commentary on news stories on Russian and Western media portals.
In some departments, trolls were assigned a daily talking points regarding what to write about and what emotions to evoke. She said most trolls join the troll army due to the relatively high monthly salary of $800 to $1,000. The trolls focus more on the United States, Germany, and a few other European countries. In response, a concerned European Union is preparing a blueprint for fighting “Russia’s disinformation campaign.”