The Trolls on Putin's Payroll
BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, June 3 2014
“If it looks like Kremlin shit, smells like Kremlin shit, and tastes like Kremlin shit too — then it’s Kremlin shit,” says Moscow-based writer and columnist Leonid Bershidsky, about Internet trolls-for-hire who have been paid to post laudatory comments about Putin and Russia on English-language news articles. Buzzfeed's Max Seddon reports on the leaks that reveal Russia's offensive strategy to win friends and influence people abroad.
Seddon reports that they have been active in the comment sections of Fox News, the Huffington Post, The Blaze, Politico and WorldNetDaily. Last month The Guardian reported suspicious pro-Putin comments on their coverage of the Ukraine crisis. We're not talking about a handful of comments either, but roughly 40,000 a day.
One Guardian reader complained in March, writing "[I] have become incredibly frustrated and disillusioned by your inability to effectively police the waves of Nashibot trolls who've been relentlessly posting pro-Putin propaganda."
The reader elaborated:
The quantity of pro-Kremlin trolling on this topic … which has been documented extensively since 2012 as a real and insidious threat to online communities of idea and debate, has rendered commenting on these articles all but meaningless.
Cory Doctorow points out at Boing Boing that these tactics are hardly new or surprising:
Rebecca MacKinnon's indispensable book Consent of the Networked describes the Chinese government's "Fifty Cent Army," each paid 0.5RMB per message pro-government postings. And of course, the 2011 HB Gary leak revealed the existence of a US Air Force RFP seeking "persona management" software that would let US psyops operatives maintain up to 20 fake identities from which to post pro-US messages on Arab-world websites.
In addition to China's 50 cent party, techPresident has covered similar pro-government commenting schemes in Spain and in Turkey, a trolling tweeter in Rwanda that was linked to the president's office, and the United States' State Department program that has been said to be “trolling the terrorists” since 2011.
At this point it'd be stranger if Russia weren't trying to influence online opinion through paid comments.
And it could be working. Although Buzzfeed points out that many of the pro-Putin commenters use "barely coherent English" it appears as though at least one news outlet they targeted has heard their cries.
Jon Stewart reports on how Putin propaganda has worked its way into Fox News commentary:
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