Dmitry Volchek and Daisy Sindelar talk to former professional Russian troll Marat Burkhard about his well paid work perpetuating a pro-Kremlin dialogue online:
There are thousands of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and vKontakte, all increasingly focused on the war in Ukraine. Many emanate from Russia’s most famous “troll factory,” the Internet Research center, an unassuming building on St. Petersburg’s Savushkina Street, which runs on a 24-hour cycle. In recent weeks, former employees have come forward to talk to RFE/RL about life inside the factory, where hundreds of people work grinding, 12-hour shifts in exchange for 40,000 rubles ($700) a month or more.
St. Petersburg blogger Marat Burkhard spent two months working at Internet Research in the department tasked with clogging the forums on Russia’s municipal websites with pro-Kremlin comments.
RFE/RL: How many departments are there at Internet Research?
Burkhard: It’s a modern building, four floors. There’s a LiveJournal department, a news department, a department where they create all sorts of images and demotivators (Editor’s Note: Demotivators are satirical graphics that tend to undermine their subject matter), a department where they make videos. But I was never in those departments. Each of them has its own office, tables, and computers, and no one prowls around from place to place. Everyone stays in their spot.
The entire article is fascinating and includes multiple example case studies. These trolls work in teams of three — a troika with a well defined process: Villain Troll > Link Troll > Picture Troll.
Burkhard: Our department commented on posts. Every city and village in Russia has its own municipal website with its own comments forum. People would write something on the forum — some kind of news — and our task was to comment on it. We did it by dividing into teams of three. One of us would be the “villain,” the person who disagrees with the forum and criticizes the authorities, in order to bring a feeling of authenticity to what we’re doing. The other two enter into a debate with him — “No, you’re not right; everything here is totally correct.” One of them should provide some kind of graphic or image that fits in the context, and the other has to post a link to some content that supports his argument. You see? Villain, picture, link.