10 May 2015

We have been Putin's trolls

Troll: a person who makes a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting.
Probably everyone who spent a sufficient amount of time on the Internet is familiar with all kinds of people blaming other kinds of people in being paid trolls for a cause. Of course, it is a standard and already quite overused coin in the anti-Zionist treasure of labels, addressed at anyone who dares to object to their vicious and, of course, totally voluntary, smearing efforts.

A real and, so far, devilishly effective, financed propaganda effort, that was undertaken in the latter years by the Russian government, so far remains mostly unheeded by the Western media. Not many people are aware of the role the Russian web brigades play in unprecedented popularity of the Russian president. You shall see that the Russians employ such trolls in languages other than Russian.

Exposure of this highly effective and so far unprecedented undertaking is a difficult task. It is thus of importance when the participants in this propaganda war disclose their work. The following article is translated from a Russian version by a blogger Piesdabolt.

The Polish edition of «Duży format» has published an extensive interview by journalist Lyudmila Anannikova with Marat and Lyudmila [in the picture above] - former employees of the Kremlin's "Ministry of Truth".

In order to become an employee of the St. Petersburg Internet Research, you have only to know the Russian language and to love Putin. Marat, 40-year-old bachelor from St. Petersburg, laughed at first at the texts that he wrote while working at the "Trolls Factory". Two months later he realized that he became a split personality. Lyudmila Savchuk, 34-year-old urban activist, went to work in the company to gather facts for journalists. She got to write blogs on behalf of fictitious persons.

- How did you get there?

Marat: I just came in and asked if they were looking for someone. I needed the money, and the trolls pay well - 45 thousand rubles (about 800 euros) - a decent salary for Petersburg.
Ludmila: I went there not for the money, but to gather material for journalists. I just called and agreed to the interview.

- How do the ads for this job look?

L: You probably will not be able to guess from them know that you will become a propagandist. They say that they are looking for copywriters and demand creativity. The ads usually contain information about wages - 40-50 thousand rubles. Precisely because of this, you can recognize such advertisements. Other companies pay copywriters half of that sum.

- How are you accepted?

M: Nothing special. First, they ask you to write a text on a neutral topic. After that most of the illiterate disappear. Then you should write an article of a more ideological nature. I wrote about the humanitarian convoy that Russia sent to the Donbas. I wrote about that how wonderful it is that Russia will not let down his friends, fellow Slavs (laughs). They liked my stance and they took me.
L: I didn't take any tests. At the interview I made big eyes and pretended to know nothing about politics. They take those who do not care, or the real fanatics of the political system.

- How was your job defined?

M: They don't formally employ you, everything is "in black". But my post was called "expert on Internet forums."
L: The salary is paid "under the table" in the literal sense. Accountant takes out from under the table a stack of banknotes and hands it over. I do not know where they are kept - a suitcase or something (laughs).

- How did your work look from the beginning?

M: I was shown my computer and sent the link to the "Catalogue of the patriot." It is something like Wikipedia, where it's explained in details that Poroshenko is bad, Putin is good, all the opposition people are liars, and Europe is in the doldrums. There's all detailed very carefully - to let the troll know how to comment.

- Marat, what did your comments look like?

M: First you get a target - for example, shooting at a school in the United States. After that you look at all the public news portals and begin to comment. Normal people do not comment on the city news portals, so we our bosses divided us into groups of three people - one "bad" and two "good" trolls. Bad troll writes: "States are not so terrible, Russia also sells weapons from under the counter", and the other replies: "What nonsense you write," and so on. And so, as a team, we have combed the city portals in alphabetical order.

- What exactly were you commenting on?

M: Everything that happens in this or the other day. I think there are some people on top which decide in advance what will be in the news and these news are then circulating on all media. During a day I was getting several jobs. We wrote a lot, for instance, about Poland. When I was working, there was a sensational case of Auschwitz, and the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs got it in the neck from us. We wrote "Schetyna - beast", "raised his hand to the victorious Red Army", "he saw Ukrainians there, how dare he!" And stuff like that.

- And about Ukraine?

M: On Ukraine, we wrote most of stuff. We wrote that it is a fascist state that they send children to make meat and the elderly - to the gas chambers.

- Were you able to cope with all tasks?

M: It was hard in the early days, because you think it will be possible to somehow negotiate with your conscience. But after a few weeks, you stop thinking about it and become insensitive. The main thing is to fulfill the quota.

- The quota is high?

L: Disastrous! In our department we could take breaks, but no one rested, because one doesn't have time. I had to write 15 posts in two days - 5 on policy, on a given topic, and 10 - about our heroes.

- What kind of heroes?

L: Well, invented non-existent people who write blogs. Traditional healer, fitness coach, a former military man. They write about their own affairs, but from time to time, write about politics. For example, the healer, on behalf of whom I wrote most of all, shared magic tips, but often also wrote: "Today, with the cards laid out I saw that Poroshenko is a scoundrel, and Ukraine is heading for disaster," or "I dreamed that Putin is the best President. "

- How many people read your blog?

L: Thousands! Of course, some of them - also trolls, but most are people who believed in it.

- Marat, what was your quota?

M: 135 comments per shift, each of 200 characters. I calculated that in order to fulfill the norm, it is necessary to write a comment in five minutes. And on top of it it is necessary to be original, not to repeat, not to forget the keywords. Our leaders have supervised everything. If you write something poor - pay a fine. For serious errors one had to pay up to 5 thousand rubles (about 90 euros).

- What else were you fined for?

M: For laughing - 500 rubles (about 9 euros).
L:  People there are very disciplined. Some of them even compete - who has written more in a blog, whose blog gets most visits. No one talks to no one. You Leave the office, have a quick snack and return to work.
M: You can speak only during breaks, but I didn't even want to. The people who work there - it's a real "Hitler Youth." Mostly young students, but at the same time - racists and homophobes. All are brainwashed, they really believe in what they write in the comments. Some fanatics even passionately discuss what just wrote during the breaks.
L: The people there are satisfied with their salary, so they do not think about what they are doing. Probably, this is the only way you can survive there. When I wrote a negative post about an opposition leader Alexei Navalny, I felt physically ill later. Once I had even an ambulance called - I thought that I had a heart attack.

- What was the most difficult day of your work?

M: When the ruble fell unexpectedly. The dollar then was worth 70 rubles, there was panic in the stores, people bought all they had seen and I wrote that the domestic currency strengthens.
L: The most horrible day was when Boris Nemtsov was killed . When I found out about it, I could not hide my real "I". I ran around the room, could not calm down, but fortunately no one noticed. And then we were put to work - a massive attack was needed, hundreds of thousands of comments. The editor said that we have to write that Nemtsov was killed by his own, that it was a provocation, done to tarnish the people in power. It was necessary to emphasize that the opposition in Russia is so weak that it resorts to such techniques.

- How did you manage to write it all, if you have other views?

M: First I wrote and laughed over own texts, but a month later I was in a crisis. It's a dirty job, you always have to sling shit around with your comments. I tried to save face somehow, not to write too offensively, but the bosses insisted they need more powerful material, that I do not have to hesitate. I had to learn from other trolls, and in their vocabulary "Obama - black monkey" are probably the softest words about the US president.

- And who you could say something good about?

M: About Putin. For example, when on Christmas Day he went to a village near Voronezh - such an ordinary Russian man...

- How many people work in your company?

M: It's hard to say. Maybe about 600. They sit on three floors, working around the clock, even at night. There are various departments: international, where they write in a foreign language and earn twice as much, department of social networks, department for production of memes and videos.

- Who is the head of the Trolls Factory?

L: Journalists have determined that it is Eugene Prigozhin, a personal Putin's chef and owner of a few restaurants. He himself, of course, doesn't appear there. In general, as far as I know, the top management is located elsewhere.
M: My supervisors were some not very important people. Their names will not say anything to anyone.

- For how long have you withstood such work?

M: For two months, and I have finished the second month only because of the salary. I felt like a schizophrenic - it became increasingly difficult to separate what I write from what I really think. I got a second salary and just did not return to work. This didn't make anyone was interested, nobody called.
L: I was uncovered - they realized that I cooperate with journalists. I was taken to a certain room, it was full of people who started to shout at me. They were surprised that I, a mother of two, could betray them, because they  paid me so well.

- No one threatened you after you've left?

M: No. Friends said that I could be sent to jail, someone might plant drugs on me, but I wasn't registered anywhere, so I think I am not in danger. I believe that it is they who should be afraid. When our building was visited by Finnish TV, the whole day our windows were shuttered,  it was impossible to leave.
L: I received threats - not from the company, of course, but from some people that I meet at work - editors, publishers and journalists. Everyone said, "come to your senses! Why do you need this, you have children! ".

- Lyudmila, you have created a movement against the trolls.

L: Yes, it is called "Information World". We want the Troll Factory closed. We fight to make their activities recognized as extremist. If an ordinary person calls to hatred on the Internet, it falls under an [criminal] article. A troll writes terrible things in the comments and nothing happens to him.


Sennacherib said...

The surprise, at least to me, would be if these places didn't exist. Just the latest variation on "disinformation" campaigns. Actually I wouldn't be surprised if this very article is not itself a "troll" campaign. Some of it doesn't quite ring true to me, a little too manufactured, but I've been wrong (many times) before.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Do you think it's a recruiting promo?

Sennacherib said...

Don't think so Snoop and like I said I could be way off base. It strikes me as coming from the West, especially in the laundry list of points it makes of why this is so bad. A good example is the last paragraph of L's reply, the words; extremist, calls for hatred on the internet (hate speech), it's a crime, something should be done, etc etc. this is almost point for point progressive talk. Then there is the whole pseudo-intellectual (they're stupid, slave shop) theme that runs through the whole thing. Like I said I've been wrong before, but I smell something amiss about this one.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Now, don't forget that the translation is poor, even if I say that myself. Google Translate with some superficial cleanup.

But at least we know that in general the info is true, there are other sources about the so called "web brigades". Not enough, unfortunately, but you should take a look at the volumes of anti-West crud they produce on daily basis - mindboggling. Thankfully I don't have to translate it... it would cause me... er.... a split personality disorder or summat.