New details about a ‘troll farm’ shed light on Russia’s election meddling


Vladimir Putin
Vladimir
Putin

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  • A person who worked for the Russian “troll farm,”
    Internet Research Agency (IRA), revealed in an interview with
    independent Russian news outlet, Dozhd, what it was like at the
    organization.
  • The secretive factory had several components,
    including a “Russian desk,” a “foreign desk,” a “Facebook
    desk,” and a “Department of Provocations,” according to the
    former troll, who went by the name, “Maxim.”
  • The Russian desk operated bots and trolls that used
    fake social-media accounts to flood the internet with pro-Trump
    messages and made-up news.
  • The foreign desk was more sophisticated, where trolls
    were required to learn the nuances of American politics in
    order to “rock the boat” on divisive issues.

  • “Our task was to set Americans against their
    own government,” Maxim said, “to provoke unrest and
    discontent.”


Recently-revealed details about how an infamous Russian “troll
farm” operated and its role in Russia’s disinformation campaign
shed new light on Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential
race.

One former troll, who was interviewed by the independent Russian
news outlet Dozhd
and went by “Maxim,” or Max, spoke of his
experience working for the Internet Research Agency, a well-researched Russian
“troll farm”
located in St. Petersburg, whose function is to
spread pro-Russian propaganda and sow political discord in
nations perceived as hostile to Russia.

The secretive firm is bankrolled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, CNN reported, a
Russian oligarch and close ally of President Vladimir Putin.

Up to a third of the IRA’s staff was tasked with interfering in
US political conversation during the 2016 election, according to
an investigation conducted by Russian
news agency RBC
and detailed by Meduza.

The IRA, Max told Dozhd,
consisted of a “Russian desk” and a “foreign desk.” The Russian
desk was primarily made up of bots and trolls, which used fake
social-media accounts to flood the internet with pro-Trump
agitprop and made-up news throughout the campaign, especially in
the days leading up to the election.

The foreign desk had a more sophisticated purpose, according to
Max, who worked in that department. “It’s not just writing ‘Obama
is a monkey’ and ‘Putin is great.’ They’ll even fine you for that
kind of [primitive] stuff,” he told Dozhd. In fact, those who
worked for the foreign desk were restricted from spreading
pro-Russia propaganda. Rather, Max said, their job was more
qualitative and was geared towards understanding the “nuances” of
American politics to “rock the boat” on divisive issues like gun
control and LGBT rights.

“Our goal wasn’t to turn the Americans toward Russia,” he added.
“Our task was to set Americans against their own government: to
provoke unrest and discontent, and to lower Obama’s support
ratings.”

The IRA had an entire department, called the “Department of
Provocations,” that was dedicated to that goal: its primary
objective was to disseminate fake news and sow discord in the
West, according to CNN.

The troll farm also had its own “Facebook desk,” whose function
was to relentlessly push back against the platform’s
administrators who deleted fake accounts as they began gaining
traction. When IRA employees argued against having their accounts
deleted, Max said, Facebook staffers would write back, “You are
trolls.” The trolls would in turn invoke the First Amendment
right to free speech — occasionally, they won the arguments.

Facebook is currently at the center of
congressional and FBI Russia probes, which are examining the
extent to which Russia utilized social-media platforms to
influence American political opinion.

Facebook has turned over more than
3,000 Russian-bought ads
to Congress. RBC’s investigation
found that in 2016, Russia’s propaganda network on Facebook,
Instagram, and Twitter could have reached 30 million people per
week, and a Columbia University social-media analyst published research
which found that Russian propaganda may have been shared billions
of times on Facebook alone.

In addition to spreading fake news, Russian Facebook accounts
went one step further by organizing events, rallies, and
protests
, some of which galvanized dozens of
people
. To be sure, RBC found that the IRA hired 100 American
activists over the internet to hold 40 rallies across different
US cities. Those people did not know they were working for a
Russian organization, according to the investigation.

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