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Confessions of a Former Kremlin Troll

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  • Confessions of a Former Kremlin Troll

    Because of the postings last night,,, ( UA time)

    A new report has come out on about the infamous "Kremlin troll farm" located at 55 Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg. (the name means "dog" in Russian) is a news and entertainment site in Russia's 14 largest cities.

    A woman who worked inside what she called "a giant propaganda machine" has told her story on condition of anonymity, and explained why "you can't last long at at such a job," says

    The troll farm is able to attract workers by advertising widely through head-hunting firms looking for "copy-writers" or "content managers." If they are trying to hide the nature of the work, it's a flimsy job as the pay -- 40,000-50,000 ($579 to $726) a month -- and the address (Metro stop Staraya Derevnya/Chernaya Rechka) are always the same in the ads and and have long been associated in St. Petersburg media coverage with President Vladimir Putin's "information war."

    Little is mentioned about the job in the interview, as the theory is that for such high pay by Russian standards, most people won't ask too many questions.

    The base pay for bloggers -- people who write in LiveJournal and social media -- and other "content managers" including "SEO specialists" or designers of patriotic "demotivator" posters, called "illustration" -- is 45,000 rubles ($653). Those at higher positions earn 55,000-60,000 ($797-$939).

    To enter the building on Savushkina, you have to show your passport if you don't already have a pass. The managers collect a lot of information from you; your complete work history, even your parents' workplaces; then ask you to "rewrite" a piece of current news. Says the former worker:

    "You get the impression that they hire anyone who can prove that they can write and speak Russia. Meanwhile, they don't reveal any information about where you've landed; 'a media holding company, several sites, you have to earn traffic, the pay is higher than average.'"

    Each "troll farmer" is expected to work the hours from 9:00 to 5:30 pm and produce 20 news items, of which 70% are to be original items.

    "There are a total of 12 sites in the holding, as I understand it, on various topics, but all of them deal with politics and Ukraine one way or another," says the woman.

    The business card says "Federal News Agency" (FAN) but most of the traffic comes from a so-called "Kharkiv News Agency" (ironically called Although the site feigns to be Ukrainian "all the news is made at Savushkina 55," says the source. There are several such "Ukrainian" sites including the best known one, "Anti-Maidan" which were started in July 2014. The site doesn't have outright fakes like some Russian propaganda sites, but it does hew to the Moscow line, calling the Russian-backed separatists fighting in Ukraine "militia."

    The "farm" has something of a "Big Brother feel," as workers are all seated in an open space and under observation cameras. There are never any editorial meetings or even ideological instruction; it is expected that workers know what to do, and guidance only comes at the level of the chief editors. The workers mainly seem to have come from provincial cities in Russia and they are often hipsters -- dread-locks or piercings are common. The workers are divided into three categories, says the former worker:

    1) "They pay me and I could care less, I don't even know what goes on," many of these people have families, loans to pay, etc.
    2) "Yes, I know this is a pro-Kremlin troll factory but the hell with the mental anguish -- they pay me and that's enough;
    3) "I am waging an information war against the fascist junta!" -- the last category is fewest in number.

    "Practically nothing is asked about your personal political beliefs when you are hired for the job," she says.

    FAN occupies only one floor of the four-story building on 55 Savushkina St. -- the other floors have other "troll" operations who place aggressive comments on forums, for example; those working on the Ukraine sites "regard them with an irony verging nevertheless on a certain fear."

    The bosses are only after one thing -- traffic, number of views and unique visitors per day, a number which is supposed to rise by 3,000 every day. The SEO department is engaged in crude spamming, which is why the sites are often blocked in Google and VKontakte.

    The managers whip their site editors and they in turn pressure their workers to find breaking news and be the first to re-write it. There's a focus on murders, rapes and other police blotter stories and then show business gossip, features on the Russian pop singer Alla Pugacheva or Madonna in order to get traffic. Negative stories about gays are popular, as are those about feminism and the Ukrainian activists Femen, but the main news is "Putin, Crimea, and 'Novorossiya," says the author.

    While the managers make reference to the need to attract clicks and get advertising revenue, in fact this only draws a smile because the operation is widely understood to be government subsidized.

    Finally the soul-killing work took its toll, says the former paid troll:

    The decision to leave the "troll preserve" was long in maturing. On the one hand, I realized that such non-manual labor with a decent salary for St. Petersburg would be hard to find under the conditions of the crisis; there was never a single day on Savushkina where I encountered any insurmountable difficulties actually of a technical nature. The issue was the psychological burden of this work. By December, I had a tic in my eye from nervous stress and I dreamed all night of writing and re-writing news about Putin and Ukraine. Moreover, I hew to liberal views; among my acquaintances are quite a few opposition-minded people, and at a certain point I realized that I was simply ashamed to say where I worked. All of those factors outweighed considerations of comfort and I resigned in relief.

    Retirement sucks! You never get a day off!!!

  • #2
    AkMike, thanks for posting that article. Interesting, to say the least. The article reminded me of a couple of other articles I had saved from two years ago, prior to the Maidan. Apparently, these troll operations have been in existence for years. To be fair, many political parties in the West use troll-type operations during elections. The American Republican Party has been accused of it. However, the Russian operations, I believe, have taken trolling to an extreme level, with high pay-rates, business-like organization, and direct government support.

    Propaganda in the Age of Social Media

    Alexandra Garmazhapova
    Novaya Gazeta

    From: Best Columns: International The Week 10.11.13

    Russian youths are being paid to shill for the government all over the Internet, said Alexandra Garmazhapova. An ad ran on Russian social media networks this summer offering full-time work for about $800 a month—the average Russian wage. “Get paid to blog!” the ad promised. “Weekly paychecks and free food!!!!” Curious, I went undercover to investigate. The organization works out of an enormous mansion in St. Petersburg where the offices have signs reading “Administration of Bloggers and Commentators,” and “Rapid Reaction Department.” There, employees are instructed to comment on certain articles or posts, “praising Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and President Vladimir Putin, abusing opposition leader Alexei Navalny and America, and defending Syria.” Americans were routinely described as “loutish and greedy.” It was impossible to discover who was paying for the work; the company brass spoke vaguely of having “various clients.” But the head of the company is linked on social media to numerous pro-Putin social organizations and youth groups funded by the Kremlin, and at the offices I saw several activists known to be on the government payroll. “Who pays for this nest of trolls? You can draw your own conclusions.”


    Internet Troll Operation Uncovered in St. Petersburg

    By Sergey Chernov
    The St. Petersburg Times|September 18, 2013

    Internet Troll Operation Uncovered in St. Petersburg | The St. Petersburg Times | The leading English-language newspaper in St. Petersburg

    Local reporters have infiltrated a covert organization that hired young people as “Internet operators” near St. Petersburg and discovered that the employees are being paid to write pro-Kremlin postings and comments on the Internet, smearing opposition leader Alexei Navalny and U.S. politics and culture.

    Journalists from the website and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper have reacted to a posting by St. Petersburg local Natalya Lvova, who wrote on the Russian VKontakte social network about an interview she attended on Aug. 30 at what she described as a “posh cottage with glass walls” in Olgino, a village in St. Petersburg’s Kurortny District.

    According to Lvova, the office occupying two rooms reminded her of an “internet club with lots of computers and people.” Employees in one room wrote blog posts for social networks, while those in the other room specialized in comments.

    “To my question about a technical task — what exactly should be written in the comments — a young guy, a coordinator, told me, briefly and clearly, that they were having busy days at the moment and that yesterday they all wrote in support of [Moscow acting mayor Sergei] Sobyanin, while ‘today we **** on Navalny,’” she wrote on her VKontakte page.

    According to Lvova, each commenter was to write no less than 100 comments a day, while people in the other room were to write four postings a day, which then went to the other employees whose job was to post them on social networks as widely as possible.

    Employees at the company, located at 131 Lakhtinsky Prospekt, were paid 1,180 rubles ($36.50) for a full 8-hour day and received a free lunch, Lvova wrote.

    The ads have been deleted since the controversy broke, but were available as cached Google pages when accessed this week. Called the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency, the company invited “goal-oriented people who like to surf the Internet” to join its “successful team.” “Now you’ll be able to surf the Internet and receive money for it,” it said. According to the ad, the positions of “blogger” and “commenter on articles, copywriter” were available. Bloggers were asked to write articles or a column, while commenters were to write comments on the articles. “The subjects are different, depending on orders,” the ad said.

    According to the ad, after the three-month tentative term, the employers would receive a salary starting from 25,000 rubles ($775) a month.

    Andrei Soshnikov, a journalist who visited the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency posing as an applicant, wrote in an article on the website on Sept. 4 that he was met by Alexei Soskovets, whose name was in the ads. According to Soshnikov, Soskovets is a young businessman who organizes festivals in the city and is associated with City Hall’s committee on youth policy. In 2013, Soskovets’s company North-Western Services Agency won 17 tenders to organize festivals, forums and sports competitions for the St. Petersburg authorities, including a tender for the transportation of delegates to the pro-Kremlin youth camp Seliger, Soshnikov wrote.

    [story continued in next post]


    • #3
      [continuation of previous article]

      “Imagine you were asked to write about an Electrolux hair dryer, the only difference is that this hair dryer is a political one,” Soskovets told Soshnikov, explaining the nature of the job, Soshnikov wrote.

      As examples of the Internet Research Agency’s work, Soshnikov gave a link to a posting called “Navalny is the Hitler of Our Time” by “alexmonc” posted on Aug. 28, ahead of the Sept. 8 Moscow mayoral election. The first comments to the posting read “Do not believe a word by Navalny (ruserk91),” “His words don’t mean a thing!!! He forgets what he says the moment he says it!!!” (koka_kola23), “If Navalny comes to power, he will sell our country to hell! He’s simply sent from the U.S.” (Vasily Sergeyev) and “America trains people to run our country. Navalny is a typical example of such an agent” (sorts2013).

      Another blog entry he referred to as an example of the company’s work was a posting criticizing American films while praising Russian ones. “Each [American film] is a flawed film […] for, dare I say it, a flawed nation,” a blogger using the moniker onerus1 wrote on Aug. 26.

      The blog by onerus1, opened on Aug. 26 and not renewed after Aug. 30, contains 19 postings and repostings against Navalny, including ones claiming that Navalny is gay (Aug. 29) and that Navalny was in favor of the Holocaust (Aug. 30), and six against the U.S.

      “Friends, wake up! America is not our friend, but really the worst enemy!” the blogger wrote on Aug. 30. “Behind America’s smile and handshake, there is only its task of genocide and the complete destruction of our country.”

      The other bloggers Soshnikov referred to were active when accessed this week, criticizing the position of the U.S. on the situation in Syria and praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.

      According to Novaya Gazeta’s local correspondent Alexandra Garmazhapova, whose report was published on Sept. 9, Soskovets said the blog postings should be based on the given “vectors” but look like they were written by real people, rather than generated by Internet bots. “For instance, you can write that the G20 summit is a great honor for Russia, but it’s inconvenient to get home [due to road closures],” she quoted him as saying.

      Garmazhapova wrote that Soskovets claimed that the organization was active in several cities, including Moscow.

      The St. Petersburg Times asked Soskovets to confirm or deny the reports in Novaya Gazeta and on the website, but received no reply as this newspaper went to press.

      Vladimir Volokhonsky, the editor of Novosti Kupchino website and an opposition activist, has been studying pro-Kremlin bloggers as part of his research as a psychologist into human behavior in the blogosphere.

      “This is not a new phenomenon, the novelty is only that this time journalists managed to enter the actual work place of such an organization,” Volokhonsky said this week.

      “The effect created by such Internet trolls is not very big, but they manage to make certain forums meaningless because people stop commenting on the articles when these trolls sit there and constantly create an aggressive, hostile atmosphere toward those whom they don’t like. These include commentary systems on the web sites of every major media outlet in the city that the trolls began to occupy a long time ago and react to certain news with torrents of mud and abuse. This makes it meaningless for a reasonable person to comment on anything there.” According to Volokhonsky, the organized teams of pro-Kremlin bloggers and commenters first emerged soon after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2005, when protesters managed to have the results of the contested presidential elections annulled and a rerun arranged. Paid pro-Kremlin bloggers were associated with the Nashi youth movement created by the Kremlin at the same time. The alleged email correspondence of Nashi “commissar” Kristina Potupchik that was hacked and uploaded on the Internet in February 2012 revealed the names and amount of payments to bloggers for participating in pro-Kremlin and anti-opposition web campaigns.

      Volokhonsky said that such blogs are frequently used to introduce a subject which is then picked up by the conventional media and presented as news.

      “The funniest thing happened when Navalny ran as a candidate at the recent Moscow mayoral elections,” Volokhonsky said. “Sobyanin’s observers were told to open Twitter accounts and repost texts sent to them via text messages on [Sept. 8] election day. At one point all of them posted the phrase ‘This is the most honest election ever.’ One hour later, this exact phrase was broadcast by [Ekho Moskvy radio editor Alexei] Venediktov and the media immediately started to cite Venediktov. I had the impression that Venediktov might have received the same text message.”


      • #4
        Oh dear, it appears there was a Ukrainian mole (Savchuk) in the organization! It’s so hard to get good help these days!

        Okay, I’m only joking, maybe she’s only a Russian with a Ukrainian surname, but at least she’s attractive.

        Russian internet 'troll' sues former employer | World news | The Guardian

        Russian internet 'troll' sues former employer

        Lyudmila Savchuk says lawsuit will shed light on secretive practice of paying people to post political comments online.

        The Guardian May 29, 2015

        A former Russian internet “troll” hired to promote political views online is suing her ex-employer in an attempt to draw attention to the country’s “information war” , a news report said on Friday.

        The grounds for the lawsuit filed by Lyudmila Savchuk, which is expected to be heard by a St Petersburg city court next month, is the employer’s failure to provide any labour contract or other paperwork supporting her hiring and eventual dismissal, Kommersant reported.

        Savchuk said she was fired after speaking to the media about her employer, Internet Research, which she described as part of Russia’s “troll factory”.

        Internet Research is reported to be linked to another company with a similar name, Internet Research Agency, which in the spring merged with a firm called New Technologies, whose official registration documents identify it as a construction company.

        “The ‘troll factory’ operates based on very weird schemes, but all those firms are connected to each other, even though they are separate legal entities,” Savchuk was quoted as saying.

        Since her dismissal, Savchuk has been organising a public movement against online trolling called Informatsionny Mir – a name that can be translated both as “Information World” and “Information Peace”.
        “There are both opposition activists and supporters of the government among us, but we all believe that such methods of information war are unacceptable,” she said.

        Internet Research was not immediately available for comment. Lawyer Darya Sukhikh from St Petersburg-based human rights organisation Kommanda-29 (Team-29), which is representing Savchuk, told Kommersant that the lawsuit was “a pretext to force this rather secretive organisation into public view”, allowing lawyers to demand documentation.

        Savchuk said she was hired in December after responding to a job advert. She said she had been asked to work 12-hour shifts posting political comments on various websites for a monthly salary of 41,000 roubles ($778), which was paid in cash until her dismissal in March.


        • #5
          Good article. Wish her cause well but doubt anything will come of it.

          See whats been posted in the past day.

          Contact forum moderators here.


          • #6
            Hi, Dear Friends!
            Once upon a time I was taught that winning in a positional war is primarily a psychological victory and victory in the minds of people and demoralization of the enemy...
            Φ! æ! Good Luck Friends of Ukraine!