The Guardian has a doozy of a report on Russia's secret troll army: hundreds of bloggers and commentators paid to flood the internet with pro-Kremlin posts. Two former employees gave the paper a rare glimpse inside the troll army's headquarters.
The bloggers and commentators work in 12-hour shifts inside a St Petersburg office building, where the work environment is described as "humourless and draconian." The Russian government, of course, does not officially acknowledge the work: the workers have to keep their jobs secret and are paid in cash.
One former blogger churned out posts for LiveJournal accounts. To keep from the propaganda being too obvious, they had to disguise the blogs as real personal blogs:
"We had to write 'ordinary posts', about making cakes or music tracks we liked, but then every now and then throw in a political post about how the Kiev government is fascist, or that sort of thing," she said.
Scrolling through one of the LiveJournal accounts she ran, the pattern is clear. There are posts about "Europe's 20 most beautiful castles" and "signs that show you are dating the wrong girl", interspersed with political posts about Ukraine or suggesting that the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is corrupt.
The Guardian also spoke to a second former employee, who was tasked with seeding pro-Russia comments in online municipal forums. He describes how the teams worked methodically in threes: One commentator would kick off the discussion, sometimes with a complaint, which would be followed by two commenters posting Kremlin-friendly links and image macros. Their designated topics? Everything from the political situation in Ukraine to praising the Russia-made Yotaphone.
The two former employees worked in Russian, but the Guardian's report suggests that elite English-language trolls are assigned to target western news sites like The New York Times and CNN as well. The next time you see a suspicious pro-Russia comment, it might actually be a state-sponsored troll. [The Guardian]