The U. S. intelligence community has concluded Russian hackers stole information from the Democratic National Committee and leaked it through WikiLeaks in order to influence the 2016 election. This makes it somewhat ironic or perhaps appropriate that most of what we know about the Russian Troll Factory comes from a series of leaks in 2013 and 2014. The Guardian reports,
According to internal documents released by a group of hackers in 2013, Internet Research Agency employed more than 600 people across Russia, and had an implied annual budget of $10m – half of which was paid out in cash. Employees were expected to post on news articles 50 times a day. Those who wrote blogs had to maintain six Facebook accounts and publish at least three posts daily. On Twitter, they had to have at least 10 accounts, on which they would tweet 50 times. All had targets for the number of followers and the level of engagement they had to reach.
Later, an investigator called Lyudmila Savchuk went undercover at the company and afterwards published her experiences. These included smearing the character of the
opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in the days following his murder, and promoting the theory that he was killed by his own friends, rather than by friends of Putin. “I felt the bullets between my own shoulders,” Savchuk said. “I was so upset that I almost gave myself away. But I was 007. I fulfilled my task.” When a Finnish reporter called Jessikka Aro wrote about Internet Research in 2014, she herself became the target of a frightening campaign of threats and smears.
As you might expect, many Russian trolls lack a certain polish when posting in English. “I think the whole world is realizing what will be with Ukraine, and only US keep on fuck around because of their great plans are doomed to failure,” one Internet Research employee wrote on a forum. Indeed the Guardian’s own moderators have begun to notice regular clues, especially on articles about Ukraine. “We can look at the suspicious tone of certain users, combined with the date they signed up, the time they post and the subjects they post on,” says one senior moderator. “Zealous pro-separatist comments in broken English claiming to be from western counties are very common.”
Estimated troops Several thousand.
Favourite subjects Putin and Trump being great, the opposition being corrupt, the Nato conspiracy against Russia, the effeminacy of Barack Obama.