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One Professional Russian Troll Tells All (rferl.mobi)
268 points by sbt on Mar 26, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 174 comments



It is fascinating that this article comes out in context of Broadcast Board of Governors announcing that US is losing the information war with Russia. Surprisingly it does not occur to the media that telling the truth is the best antidote to Russian propaganda. Instead, the government is complaining that "broadcasters are not always in tune with U.S. foreign policy objectives." Frankly, since I'm paying my taxes to US government, I want free and independent journalism, not the one that is driven by advertisers, corporate sponsors, or US foreign objectives. We used to have that before 1990s when just 6 major media conglomerates ate up 90% of the media companies. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/25/usa-broadcasting-i...


I think that almost everyone agrees that a free and independent media is preferred, but I think that you overstate the freedom the press had before. The press is and always has been highly dependent on its patrons. In "The Free Press", Hillaire Belloc describes exactly this relation of dependence as it existed at the beginning of the 20th century and describes the technological innovations of the day that shaped it and made the modern press possible (the locomotive, for instance). The press makes very little from subscribers and must resort to advertising or funding to cover its expenses and as we know, all funding comes with conditions, both good and bad.

You also neglect two additional factors. The first is that during the Cold War, the US was playing an information war that often exceeded the Soviets in sophistication. Why? Because where the Soviets were able to employ physical violence against their own citizens, the Americans resorted to "softer" tactics to maintain the status quo. The press was often that fourth estate. Edward Bernays comes to mind. The second is that the 1990s were also met with an increase in independent internet media. The access to information became greater.


>you overstate the freedom the press had before.

I'm comparing the journalism in US before media consolidation and after. After 1987 repeal of the FCC fairness doctrine, rules of the game changed and companies started to buy up media assets knowing that they can use media to tell just their side of the story. This process finished in 1990s with 90% of media companies owned by 6 media conglomerates.

The other seminal moment in US media space the was 2013 amendment to the Smith Mundt Act, allowing US to employ the same propaganda both inside and outside of the United States.

So, I am not overstating the loss of freedom and diversity that the US media experienced over the past 25 years.


> It is fascinating that this article comes out in context of Broadcast Board of Governors announcing that US is losing the information war with Russia. Surprisingly it does not occur to the media that telling the truth is the best antidote to Russian propaganda.

Is it though? I know that in a business context I've often been told that I have an 'incredible ability to see both sides of a question'; that's actually a problem, because at some point one has to decide for one side or another on a particular question.

Likewise, in real life there often aren't cut-and-dried issues: rather, there are two (or more!) sides, each with valid perspectives, valid grudges, and they can't all win; indeed, in some cases compromise is simply impossible. And yet people must decide between them.

Indeed, the more one learns the truth about an historical conflict, the less obvious is the Right Thing to do in that situation. But what great masses of people need is a clear, obvious Right Thing. You don't win WWII by emphasising that the post-WWI plebiscites were fixed against Germany, or that Japan had some valid grievances against the U.S.


> Japan had some valid grievances against the U.S.

I'm curious what Japan's valid grievances against the Chinese, Koreans, or various Pacific island groups was...


Japan attacked other asian nations to imitate UK and US, and defend against UK and US.

Japan until mid 1800s was happily doing their own thing, and not caring for their neighbours, suddenly they had US metal ships on their docks, and the mighty China falling to UK.

Their solution was outright imitate what western powers was doing, in several aspects (even clothes, mannerisms and cultural trends were copied), with the most important one being to act imperialistic, invade weak countries, and try to build the most strong military that you could, using resources from all the colonies as needed.

Japan was only following a bad example set by the western powers, and trying to not become China.


Well, none (well I mean plenty if you want to go through thousands of years of history, but realistically, none), but modernizing largely meant copying Western ideas and that included having their own colonies and spheres of influence, just like Western powers. It's not as though that is the reason the US went to war with Japan.


> It's not as though that is the reason the US went to war with Japan.

I realize this, but WW2, for Japan, was mostly about taking over much of SE Asia and that would have happened regardless of them going to war with the US.


I think the popular American image of the wartime Japanese doesn't have much to do with that, although they certainly did brutalize the places they took over.


It's a matter of opinion that the masses "need" a simplified, black-and-white view of every historical event rather than a nuanced one.


wtbob's comment being downvoted is kind of proof in itself.


I don't see how.


My train of thought was following: 1. vote result represents opinion of "masses" 2. the comment in question says "masses of people need a clear, obvious Right Thing" 3. the comment itself is not clear and obvious as it contains double bind (asks to consider to be inconsiderate) 4. comment got downvoted which confirms #2

Just our of curiosity I've replied with another double bind "downvotes proof comment worthiness" which seems have reversed the trend.

Speaking on topic, I think that choosing between Right Thing and Full Picture for the "masses" is like choosing between acceleration and breaks for a car: it is better to have both. Right Thing mobilizes masses while Full Picture helps to avoid dumb aggression.


Good break down regarding your own comment


wow your reply is as off topic as it gets...care to connect the dots?


It didn't seem off-topic to me. The fellow he replied to stated he wanted free and independent journalism and the thesis of his reply seemed to me that free and independent journalism would cause confusion to the "great masses of people" and instead a simple narrative would be more effective instead of letting them decide for themselves who's right and who's wrong.

I don't agree with him and he could have perhaps left some bits out of his comment but I don't think it deserves downvotes and to be greyed out.


> that telling the truth is the best antidote to Russian propaganda

The truth sometimes is extremely damaging and narrative is a national security concern. The US works because of a couple of key national advantages - one being that it carries very positive international political capital and soft power. Some truths if widely understood, like the US caused colored revolutions in Ukraine and the Baltics including Euromaiden and its current coup-making and revolution kindling in Venezuela, harm the US's narrative of justified interventionism. It's therefore important that the US and media don't open up about it.


Do you have any reliable proof of the claim that US is responsible for colored revolutions in Ukraine (as opposed to citizens themselves taking matters into their own hands)? By reliable I mean reputable sources, not a random website no one has ever heard before. I'm asking because what you just did here - that is make a backhanded comment suggesting countries opposing Russian agenda don't operate on their own accord, while suggesting they are steered by the US - is a prime example of how Russian trolls operate.


>is a prime example of how Russian trolls operate.

The US has had media operations for nearly a century, from Operation Mockibird to Radio Free Europe, down to the trend of hollywood movies done in co-operation with the army (e.g lending infrastructure etc) to spread official versions of issues etc. There are literally TONS of sponsored NGOs, organisations and news sites operating all around the globe, especially in areas of special interest (regarding oil, resources, etc).

If Russia has some "internet trolls" of their own, so be it. It's as if what the master does, in 1000 times the scale is looked down upon on the lesser countries, and judged as if it was on par, or even worse.


Yes. Thanks for asking. There's plenty of evidence - CSOs/NGOs/USAID/UNITER aside - let's start with CANVAS.

Here's wikileaks documents: https://wikileaks.org/gifiles/releasedate/2012-06-18-08-canv...

These are conversations at Stratfor with and about an 'export-a-revolution' group for hire. If you look through the (ppt) slides in the Introduction to CANVAS you will see them boasting about their role in the colored revolutions. Get back to me on that and if you want more there's more.


Strafor boasts about a lot of stuff, they are after all, a commercial enterprise. It remains to be seen how much of it is bullshit bluster from a bunch of desk jockeys with delusions of grandeur, and how much of it is real.

I get a heavy soldier-of-fortune wanna-bee vibe from them.

US spy agencies are relatively incompetent by historical measure, which is why it the attempts to remove all agency from foreign actors and put it into the hands of manipulations by secret groups is just nutty conspiracy theories.

Even this Russian trolling stuff is probably ineffectiveness compared to what is already forums filled with noisy trash comments. Are they really influencing anything, or just making comments worthless and untrustworthy to the average person?


Is the argument now that the US does this, but that it isn't effective?

I made no claims of particular effectiveness (god knows such efforts have failed - check the Arab Spring), but I'd paint your comment with the bullshit bluster hue before I would Stratfor...

To be more substantive: those with appropriately high levels of interest and low levels of cognitive dissonance can research the history of US spy agencies and their role in winning the First Cold War, of its partnerships with the UK and other nations known for having incredible espionage, to Snowden leaks to see a small fraction of its capabilities, as well as browse Wikileaks files to get more information on the effectiveness of spying operations. Of course they can and should also look at the source documents in question and determine for themselves whether they think the claims are bluster.

I don't think they need to - the larger point that the US is involved in covert regime change in the parent stands - no matter how ineffective you would like to paint it. But if they wanted to understand the relationship between Stratfor and the US intelligence community and the size, budget, role and effectiveness they can - they can also find very good overviews of covert US foreign regime change actions in the last decade and history online. :)

Here's a podcast from a State Department official who discusses some of the more overt (but still on the sly) operations done to start movements opposed to anti-American narratives in the middle east, and them pass them off to the private sector (so called Civil Society).

"In a way its flooding the marketplace with narratives that are 'cool' enough to attract young people... you use voices that are credible but you use images, the music, the sounds, the feel that are modern..."

"The US State Department now has this program to kind of flood social media with counter messages... this center is nothing new... variations have been done since the Bush administration... we also know that the experts in this are not in Washington - they are in Silicon Valley, they are in New York and in Banglor - all of these areas of high tech..."

And others...

http://csis.org/multimedia/combating-violent-extremism

And a DoD program to manufacture Twitter messages based on brain scans of test subjects before they are flooded into the Middle East: http://minerva.dtic.mil/doc/samplewp-Lieberman.pdf

A twitter messaging platform used to try to kindle revolution in Cuba: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/usaid-effort-t...

So out of curiousity do you have inside information on why all of this activity isn't effective - more information than Stratfor and a company that has been active and claims success in dozens of countries - or is it more of an opinion?


So you think it was the Spy agencies that "won" the cold war?

I encourage you to read this article on Stratfor: http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2012/02/d...

"Stratfor is a sleazy outfit. It was established as a money machine by George Friedman and a former Texas Congressman (now out of the picture) who served at one time on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. His being the co-founder along with the presence in the vicinity of numerous retired military people and civilian officials helps explain the selection of Austin as the company’s home. They hustle; everything they do smacks of a hustle. They exploit the student interns while playing on their desire to partake of the mysterious and the romantic. Those they do hire for regular positions get the skimpiest of wages. Expertise and languages are little valued. Their hallmark tool is an electronic pair of scissors. One student had spent four years as an interrogator for the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. He served as an employee of a contract firm there. His first assignment as a junior member of the Stratfor team was to prowl around the Rio Grande Valley looking for stuff on the drug cartels; he never had been there before.

Stratfor cultivates a mystique of secrecy and insider intelligence because in fact they have little to sell that is exceptional. They use open sources and communicate with old pals in and around government to get a feel for what’s going on. The Wikileaks material corroborates this, and it provides the further insight that they pay people for information and/or contacts. Those people include journalists, politicos, the occasional academic and professional tattlers. Sources and clients seem to overlap, i.e. Stratfor plays both ends against the middle. Having been shown a couple of Stratfor reports, I am singularly unimpressed by the supposedly inside information and the quality of the analysis."

Stratfor is just another K-street style retirement house and military industrial money milking machine. There's no evidence they produce any more value than say, Foreign Intelligence magazine. They just charge more for it and claim special abilities no one has seen (and have often been hilariously wrong) Basically the military "intelligence" version of a Gartner Group report.

The Soviet Union primarily collapsed because it was a poorly run system. Hell, if you believe the libertarian/Austrians it was practically inevitable it was going to crash. The story that Saint Reagan ran them into an arms race which bankrupted them, or spy agencies toppled them is a form of massive survivorship bias. You could claim that external events could set a match to fuel that's already there, but the basic weaknesses that put it teetering on collapse were internal economic and political issues that were wholly self made.

If one day North Korea collapses, are you going to claim spy agencies get the credit, or that the basic economic and political system is not sustainable in the long term.


I want to be straightforward here because I respect you: I don't find this line of discussion very interesting and it's unlikely you'll get much substantive conversation back from me, though I may try.

Mostly this is because I think this entire branch of conversation, as interesting it could otherwise be, seems orthogonal to the point and the claim. I don't want to get too far from the main claim and the discussions from the grandparents.

I would not argue that intelligence operations 'ended' the cold war - nor that it was just intelligence that won it. They had an important role in winning the war - by that I mean the cold war was an intelligence war as much as a diplomacy war and an arms war and a proxy war. It's like saying that the intelligence services had a role to play winning WWII. They did. The war wasn't won solely by intelligence. In any case, as you can tell, not an interesting conversation or point - it's mundane.

Factoring out whether someone thinks that Stratfor actually provides something of value to the US government or is mostly a place to couch retired generals who have too many secrets to let loose into the private sector it stands that independent of Stratfor, CANVAS was involved in starting colored revolutions and is today involved in trying to kindle revolution in Venezuela - in those same links for example are documents from 2012 providing analysis about how to do that that reflect very accurately the mobilization and activities happening today (getting students to protest, support for Leopoldo, etc).

What's more, there's far more than CANVAS that the US government uses to accomplish these things.

So if you'll allow me to exit what I'd like to leave while bowing out is that Stratfor's record of efficiency doesn't matter so much - we're only barely talking about Stratfor.


As a Russian, yep, I saw these people online, they're easy identifiable, though...

Also, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are the motherlands for hackers of all sorts, we have bots who post pro-Kremlin comments on social networks too.

My favorite example is this one: http://apikabu.ru/img_n/2012-02_4/5c7.jpg

The description says "DO NOT POST COMMENTS, who post a comment will be banned", and underneath it different bot accounts post messages about how bad it is to join protests and American government controls the opposition, nonsense like that.

Don't worry about hacker news or other sites like this one — the government thinks people don't know English to be on these sites. Partially it's true, though, most people still are unaware of real situation because they don't have internet connection (they get news from television, as here it's called "ZomboTV" ("Зомбоящик"), you guys have it too, imagine if all the channels were like CNN) and most of their time they spend on trying to survive in this economic situation (google "dollar to ruble"), they have no time to protest or find true information about their government and "president" (a mafioso Putin, google "dacha consumer cooperative Ozero")


I can tell you that the comment section on FT.com is positively trolled by at least a few accounts. They seem to have allocated some of the smarter ones to the site, but they are easily identified because..

* They sometimes drop determiners in English. (A pattern I've noticed).

* They post a lot of comments.

* They fill up the comment section early in the morning (Europe) and then nothing.

* Rampant quoting (especially zero hedge), like someone spent their whole day researching the issue.

* Assumptions in arguments are official Russian talking points.

Now, how do I distinguish these guys from just gold buying Max Keyser followers? Mainly the time that seems to have gone into it. If I were to post as prolifically I would need to dedicate at least several hours to this every day.


This comment is actually quite interesting.

For a while, I've stuck to the Wikileaks suggested formula of "Scientific Journalism" [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_journalism] and I've seen the progression of State Actors (both automated and manned) across the www.

What's telling that I did a CTRL+F for the term - and it's not mentioned. Added to that, even mature news sources (such as the Guardian or Telegraph in the UK) have only ever dabbled at it - for instance, the Guardian provides links within its own articles, but the links are entirely self referential. i.e. recursive back into their own site. Even with actual science articles, actually getting a link to the paper [pay-walled or otherwise] is rare.

I will say that certain writers for the Guardian (Monbiot recently on soil), however much their bias, actually source links to multiple first / second tier sources, which is a good thing.

The upshot of this is: there [b]is[/b] a solution, and you can often spot the genuine comments by virtue of first and second tier links (wikipedia being second tier).

The actual real issue (again, not mentioned in the comments here) is to break the media consumption mold whereby people read comments as personal anecdotes / opinions. It's a form of conditioning around since forever [the TV turn to the camera, eye contact, personal little look].

What might be a fun project for HN viewers would be an independent (eff?) project that pattern matched text and caught similarities. Probably using a modified code base from a commercial plagiarism detectors. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism_detection]

Note: the US at least has spent a lot of money on their own versions. As probably have the Russians / Chinese: you can be fairly sure comments are chucked through an automated detector to see the (likely) source: yours, theirs, randoms, bots or the 'Other'.

[Let's see if this comment gets flagged by evul bots!]


Edit is apparently not working:

Data, Text, and Image Mining—Analysis of data stream in real time as well as cluster analysis and their applications to data, text, and image mining are important tools for anomaly detections in the global war against terrorism. New and unifying methodologies are needed in order to provide efficient search for patterns or meaning from the analysis of usually huge data sets that consist of multivariate measurements. Developments of mathematical theory for data, text, and image mining techniques are also highly desirable.

http://www.arl.army.mil/www/default.cfm?page=185


Huh. So the situation is worse than I expected.

The sites like the one you mentioned should close their comment section when it's morning in Europe and open it at night when their work day is over.

I hope people won't judge other Russians just because of these trolls...


Yes, I have counted at least five accounts on FT.com that I am confident are professional trolls.

The upshot of all this trolling is that all legitimate support for Russia is effectively ignored. The Kremlin troll phenomenon is now so widespread that it is working against whatever intentions they could have had.

Basically, anyone who holds a pro-Russian opinion is now either dismissed as a troll or a victim of propaganda. Unfortunately, this is just as it has to be. They have destroyed any sensible debate and have rendered themselves and their followers labelled.


> Don't worry about hacker news or other sites like this one

There are russian trolls here as well. Just search for topics on Ukraine.


I think there are putinbots on reddit and maybe even HackerNews. I've had situations where I would see a ridiculously revisionist pro-Russian comment with 10+ points on reddit, then I would reply with a totally reasonable comment asking for sources, and I would get downvoted 10+ times within a very short period of time (~5 minutes). Then I would come back to it a couple hours later and the initial comment that I replied to would be -10 points and my comment would be +10.

What I am guessing is happening is the initial post is made by a putinbot and upvoted by other putinbots. When I make my comment asking for sources, they all downvote me. Then after sometime the reddit community gets a chance to vote on the comments and they adjust them to the actual score they should be. Obviously this doesn't confirm the existence of these bots, but it is very suspect.


Zombotv "Зомбоящик"?? You are obviously not from Russia, nobody is using such words here, I bet you are from Ukraine


I am from Russia and we do indeed use the word "Зомбоящик".


I am from Russia, Moscow to be precise. And if your friends or people around you doesn't use that word it doesn't mean nobody uses it.


Surprised this post didn't come with a link to a picture.


Is that a sarcasm?


At this point I don't think there's any way to determine that. Given the nature of the article, all comments are suspect. I like it - I think it's time for me to re-read Pale Fire.


The other side does the same. Here is the story. I have a client - small market research company, covering Russia. I made bilingual website for them. When Ukrainian conflict started, their Russian contact form was heavily abused by some pro-Ukrainian trolls, posting physical threats to company employees (UK-based, by the way). I coded check against vocabulary, but it appeared, trolls were restlessly trying to bypass my hidden rules for business conversation. It took a week of polishing vocabulary rules. And I added math captcha. In the end I won. They even wrote me a give up letter. Their IPs were mostly Polish and French.

UPD: The hosting was US-based. So they were deliberately looking for Russian forms.


It's not quite the same though? I doubt there is a facility somewhere in Ukraine where people are getting paid to peddle government propaganda on the Internet.


http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article37599.htm

"Victoria Nuland Admits: US Has Invested $5 Billion In The Development of Ukrainian, 'Democratic Institutions'".


Since 1992. I am also not sure that the described activities are within the purvey of the peace corps, doctors without borders... that the $5B paid for.


That's it guys, case solved. This guy doubts it. :P


What's your point?


That you are the villain type (from the article)



Sure...propaganda generated for the direct purpose of trying to influence the masses. It has been around forever and is used by everyone from governments to multinationals to mom-and-pops up the road.

However, my question is this...is a "troll" just defined as someone who disagrees with you?

For example, I am sure, as unpleasant as it may seem, that there are plenty of people who sincerely think it's good that Russia invaded Ukraine...if these people voice their support, are they "trolling"?

How are you supposed to tell the difference?

Is calling someone a "troll" just a way to try to quickly marginalize any POV they may be trying to defend or promote? And if so, isn't it just a shortcut to censorship of any ideas you may not agree with? Is that the way we want discussions to work?

These are serious questions that I, personally, have about this issue. Am I considered a "troll" for having these questions?


The point of this "trolling" is not to influence opinions directly, but to "work up" tribalism with the amplified/fake controversy. The goal here is to increase the divide between the West and Russia, and it seems to be working [0][1]. In this case, I think the activity could be called trolling.

[0] http://qz.com/341322/russian-hatred-toward-the-west-charted/

[1] http://www.gallup.com/poll/181568/americans-increasingly-rus...

Edit: Changed [1] to a more recent poll.


The problem you are describing is due to the fact that the word "troll" is a semantic stop sign http://lesswrong.com/lw/it/semantic_stopsigns/

People judge someone as a troll and immediately stop thinking about the subject matter, e.g. "Russia invaded Ukraine" is that a fact or an opinion?


I believe this is one of the main reason people try to call out the presence of trolls (particularly as government or corporate shills) on forums, especially if they do it preemptively.

If you believe that an opposing point of view is objectively wrong and mostly upheld by propagandists, you want to prevent people from actually considering "the lie" for their own safety.

Of course, doing this usually leads to an argument and tea-leaf reading session that creates a bigger distraction than the trolls (whether they exist or not) probably could have managed.


His former job is most accurately described as "propagandist". The word "troll" is probably unsalvageable, one more victim of semantic creep.


a "Troll" on the Internet is someone who causes problems or conflict for you, but is doing so for reasons other than that he actually disagrees with you.

In this case, it's because he's paid by the government.

In (most) other cases, it's because the troll wants to see you get angry.


> In (most) other cases, it's because the troll wants to see you get angry.

Do people really do that?

I've been posting to newsgroups for 35 years...I have never once even considered betraying my personal beliefs just to make someone angry.

I guess that's why I struggle so hard with the whole "troll" meme.


> Do people really do that?

Yes, though true trolling is actually pretty rare. But yes, trolls try to completely disrupt an otherwise functioning forum by keeping a fake "discussion" going.

The most obvious one I know of is Mike Vandeman who has been trolling mountain bikers online since the 90s: http://www.bicycling.com/blogs/thehub/anti-mountain-bike-vig...


I was a professional gamer for a few years. You have peoples entire personas based on the fact they are good at getting people mad. Even happened at real life LANs too.


Yeah, although I wouldn't call that trolling because it's actually a valid tactic to gain advantage in competition.


Getting called a "nigger" and "faggot" roughly 600 times a day only dulls me, doesn't get in my head.


Yeah, and having a gypsy swab my windshield with a muddy rag doesn't clean my car, that doesn't mean car washes are useless.


Oh yes, and then there are the griefers, who just want to make you sad, afraid and/or frustrated.

I do think trolls have gotten an undeservedly bad reputation because of being conflated with griefers. To me, trolling is relatively harmless attention-seeking vs. GamerGate, which is definitely griefing.


Don't forget the contrarians.


You never read alt.fan.warlord?


Some people may really do that, but whenever I see the troll label applied during a forum discussion it's usually because the "troll" is simply not agreeing with the rest of the hive.


The word we're looking for may be "shill".


Presumably he's a "professional troll" because he's paid to go onto Web sites and post pro-Russian comments with the idea to make such views appear more common than they actually are.


Couldn't he then also be called a "public relations" specialist and make a very comfortable living in corporate America?


My experience with these trolls is that they not only do "PR work" or propaganda; they actively attack people who disagree with them, using very nasty language and smear tactics. That's something that "public relations" specialists don't regularly do.

Their modus operandi is not to convince people by the force of argument; their goal is to frustrate people who disagree with them and make any reasonable discussion of Russian policies impossible. They make excessively exaggerated claims; it is hopeless to refute those claims by reason because their goal is not dialogue at all, but to make all discussion about Russia obscure and distrusted.

If they manage to destroy trust in any regular media or reasonable discussion partners, they have achieved their goal. And that works quite well.

To For Russian Trolls (or Russia Today) to succeed, they don't need to be believable. It is enough if they make all media not believable so that no one trusts anything, even good sources.


look, everyone uses the same tired, predictable tactics against each other. what else do you expect? at the end of the day, you just have to decide which side you're on. except if you're switzerland.


For those who are using the argument that other countries do it too: No. Many US news outlets (Fox News, Newsweek, Yahoo news, etc.) often post overtly biased stories in favor of US interests. But they do it not because they are instructed, but because it makes many Americans feel good. Although it's not pretty, they do it for business reasons. You need only hang out a while on /r/worldnews before you realize that completely valid pro-Russian arguments are down voted for no reason, while 'Fuck Russia' posts are up voted. The same with stories. But this is folly, not malice.

Russian news is of an entirely different nature. They were famous for industrious propaganda during the cold war. They are now at it again in full force. The troll factories are just one facet of it, but it encompasses nearly all of Russian media.


>For those who are using the argument that other countries do it too: No.

>...valid pro-Russian arguments are down voted for no reason, while 'Fuck Russia' posts are up voted. The same with stories. But this is folly, not malice.

You can say this all you want but it's merely conjecture. You can see the exact same trends you'll find with these Russian "trolls" (shills is a better word) on almost every topic on the internet.

It is not a stretch to believe that the NSA and other organizations, private and public, are waging a public/private war of popular opinion all over the internet and media.

Remember when the NSA and DOD lied to American congress about collecting American's cell phone data and stuff? If they're willing to BLATANTLY lie to congress then what's a couple million of their hugely bloated budgets to pay an office of trolls to throw smoke screens over any topic they please?

And if you're inferring that private corporations don't offer this service...well...if that's true, I just found my next business.


I saw this all over reddit when that airplane was shot down over Ukraine.

Vote brigading and shill accounts corrupted reddit long ago. These tactics have probably been in use since before reddit even existed.

The internet is essentially a big propaganda machine and you can't till what is what unless you are keen and aware.


>The internet is essentially a big propaganda machine and you can't till what is what unless you are keen and aware.

Indeed.

Governments including those in the Five Eyes, Russia, China, Israel and more have been shown to have massive operations - JTRIG for one - that seek to disrupt and manipulate online discourse, create and spread false information, etc.

PR firms run rampant across social media sites, forums, etc. and disrupt and manipulate online discourse and the flow of information. Everything from the largest companies in the world to small local restaurants engage in manipulating how their company and its actions are perceived.

News entities, small and large, serve their corporate interests and promote whatever they want promoted, or rally against whatever they want rallied against.

And then people, with their inherent biases, buying into propaganda, toeing the party line, etc. do their own part in the same, whether it's in spreading purposely created disinformation that they believe to be true, trying to silence those that disagree with them and more. One of the most toxic things I've seen is the rise in very rapidly dismissing a statement that one disagrees with as being that of "trolling" or "shilling" in order to shut down the discussion.

With regards to Reddit, the fact that moderator accounts, accounts with large numbers of upvotes, etc. can be readily bought online says more than needs to be said about the bizarre behaviour on display on that site every day.

Wikipedia has been utterly bastardized.

And so it goes on.

It's a shame to see a tool that was created for sharing information being so heavily corrupted. Widespread propaganda from all sides, mass surveillance, the active actions of intelligence agencies such as the recent CIA attempt to inspire an uprising in Cuba, etc.

It has become very hard to know what to trust online now. It's sad, but not unexpected, and one can only wonder what the future holds for it.


> Vote brigading and shill accounts corrupted reddit long ago.

Too many people in one subreddit killed reddit. Go to the outskirts. It's fine.


A while back there was a post on Reddit, (maybe from their blog?) about the most addicted [to reddit] cities in the US and the top city was Eglin Air Force Base, FL. Reddit is alright if you like to congregate in the small subs that exist, but wondering into the large ones and defaults are going to be filled with people shilling for various reasons.


I don't have a strong opinion on the situation (I'm pretty ignorant of the history and politics between Russia and Ukraine) but I definitely saw anti-Russia trolls on the first CNN article about this. I have definitely seen both pro and anti Russia comment trolls.


Ukrainian situation is a complex one and brings out the worst in people, at least in post-Soviet countries. It's not uncommon for people to have different view on this issue. I know families who fight over it, people breaking up over it, it's pretty emotional subject. So with this in mind, I don't think there is some sort of conspiratorial force at work to post pro-Kremlin position on online. I don't doubt that there are paid people who spam forums but just because someone is voicing their opinion in favor of Russian official stance it doesn't mean automatic paid shill. I've been following this conflict since 2013 and I have to say that all involved sides are offenders of "their" version of events in mass media.


I think the cause for skepticism in this circumstance was the heavy handed pro-Russian voice that seemed to dominate the conversation online over the situation in Ukraine.

That and the mountain of evidence which demonstrates how Russia makes a concerted effort to command the media narrative of a story through online comments.


Just the other day Russia announced additional cuts in their annual budget. Almost every expenditure was cut across the board, except for the military and propaganda (e.g. Russia Today received a 5 bln increase).


> I don't doubt that there are paid people who spam forums but just because someone is voicing their opinion in favor of Russian official stance it doesn't mean automatic paid shill.

This article is just about these paid people and doesn't question that there are people with pro-Russian government position. But in this case bandwagon effect[1] and propaganda take major role.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandwagon_effect


What do you mean "you don't think" there is such a conspiratorial force? The article being discussed states explicitly that there is exactly such a force. You don't believe it? Then talk about the article. The situation being complex and your following it since the beginning are totally irrelevant.

(What I think is that the only thing these paid trolls cannot admit is that they are paid trolls. They can write anything, criticize Putin and such, but they cannot admit they exist.)


The fact that there are two sides debating the story doesn't invalidate the idea that Russian would hire pro trolls.


this reminds me C&C Red Alert game. But in the end hypnotizing Yuri fails in front of the good old American nuke. Russians may employ a thousand of pro-trolls. But they cannot filter (and possibly change) global traffic realtime like NSA does.


Russians have similar system to filter local traffic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SORM


I think the Chinese government used to do this with The Economist's forums. I think they've stopped, for some reason. I don't really read the comments there much, though; it's all garbage.


The 50 Cent Army is still at it. I think newspapers have become a lot better about filtering them out. The Globe and Mail (Canada) was absolutely overrun for a while and they still pop up now and again.


Could it be the "50 Cent Army" just got better ? They learned from their mistakes, and are becoming more subversive ?


I noticed this also. A shame really since they were so much better than their russian counterparts. Those guys were REALLY well briefed and had lots of different strings of argument ready.


I'm fairly sure someone smarter and with more time than me could trace an interesting parallel between East and West policies when it comes to the internet, comparing the leaks about GCHQ[1] and this post. Perhaps an "infinite monkeys" vs "carefully targeted" approach?

Also, I may or may not be an employee who was told to come and disrupt the discussion here. So there's that too.

[1] https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipula...


Here's a start for the US.

Incomplete list of domestic stuff: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8856218 like "public opinion campaigns": http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/us/20generals.html?pagewan...

Incomplete list of international stuff: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8709976 like using social media to kindle revolutions: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/usaid-effort-t...

Some things almost sound like science fiction, like the DoD program to predict successful overseas propaganda by observing brain scans of test subjects: http://minerva.dtic.mil/doc/samplewp-Lieberman.pdf


The Romanian independent press publishes from time to time inquiries (sometimes undercover) about similar paid structures used by local parties (PDL, PSD...) during electoral campaigns and not only. First time I've read how they are organized and how much they get paid was like in 2009 (here the Google Translate version https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&pr...), but I'm sure the technique is in place since long.


I find it interesting that they use a "villain" troll as a virtual strawman to knock down -- I feel like that adds a layer of subtlety that wouldn't really exist with solely the pro-Russia content.


The good guys are known to use much more in-depth techniques than that, see: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipula...

especially: https://prod01-cdn02.cdn.firstlook.org/wp-uploads/sites/1/20...

Based on the state of that powerpoint slide they're probably achieving fuck-all in practice.


Here's a link to the non-mobile version:

http://www.rferl.org/content/how-to-guide-russian-trolling-t...


It would be foolish to think our countries don't do this. The U.S., Canada, Israel, they all have propaganda campaigns of their own.


Source? Never heard of a US, Canadian or Israelian troll factory.


One current example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Operations_Roadmap

"The operations described [include] a major disinformation project to plant false stories in any available news media."


Didn't Snowden release something?

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipula...

Way more professional.

Also Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has been around for ages.


Radio Free/Voice of America/Al Arabiya/etc are not secret projects, they are publicly acknowledged.


NO............! Not US!

/s


Yeah, just like we also jail girl punk band members if they express something against the government or religion.


When they also vandalize a church? Um yes. Yes we do.


That's a straw man argument though, as Pussy Riot didn't vandalize any church unless there's a new event I don't know about.


They did not vandalize a church.

They stood on the altar. Afaik, they caused no physical damage to the church, nor defaced anything.

I don't think people get multi-year sentences for saying bad words in a church ;)


Yes they vandalized a church!

Just like Russians or their assisted rebels didn't shoot down that passenger plane.

It's all made clear in the Russian press, blogs and forum postings!


This seems fishy about this article: He is making 45,000 rubles ($700) for a 12 hours shift in Saint Petersburg. With his English knowledge skills alone he can easily make double that money just by working as a translator in a regular 8 hour job.


Did you read the article? He got the job purely to have the job, not for the monetary compensation. He described it as "adventurism".


Yeah sure, working two month in 12 hours shifts just for adventurism. Either he is a spy or this story is a complete joke


Its 2 on, 2 off.

2 months in 12h shifts working 4 days a week is not that bad.


45,000 per month in Saint Petersburg is a low paying job salary, this job however requires basic computer knowledge and from what I understand english knowledge as well to post comments on western websites.


No, 45k ruble is for non-English speaking people to post on Russian municipality websites.


its still an underpaid position for somebody who knows basic computers in Saint Petersburg


It would be straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel that this guy is not really a troll, but he's a fake troll, and the article itself is the troll :)


As it's coming from Radio Free Europe - an organisation who's founding purpose was pretty much to provide pro-Western information/propaganda (delete as applicable) to Eastern Europe, it's not exactly improbable that this is at least partly a troll article.


RFERL. Enough said.


lol. Nice catch.

RFE/RL is supervised by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an agency overseeing all U.S. federal government international broadcasting services.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Free_Europe/Radio_Liberty

And so we enter the wilderness of mirrors...

(FWIW the radio in my kitchen is set to the BBC world service, which is funded exclusively by the foreign office...)


You have to separate the medium and the message. Does the RFE/RL have self-interest in disclosing a story that is critical of Russia? Probably.

Are the facts of the story in dispute because Radio Free Europe happened to publish the interview? This I'm not so sure of.

Also writing a comment like this in the context of the linked article fills me with a sense of dread. Am I merely emulating the villain troll perspective by refuting your claim and (seemingly) suiting my biases? Will it be possible to have discussions in the future without a subtext of having some covert motive?


How do you think I feel? The first thing I did in this thread was link to an image!

(For the record, I agree with your view. If you want to feel even more confused about the issue, check out this video concerning Vladislav Surkov: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcy8uLjRHPM)

We should start a pool on who and what is being funded by the russian govt.

    UKIP        10/1
    Pussy Riot  8/1
    Adam Curtis 9/2
    Uber        12/1
any takers?


Yeah that segment is incredibly insightful. Tactics of deliberate misinformation and confusion reek of 1950s/1960s Cold War sentiment (on both sides).


It's no longer funded by the FO


Interesting. It still sounds like it is.


No, you're not right; everything here is totally correct.


I see what you did there. (Tip to others: Read the article first.)


You were supposed to post at least 200 words. You're fired.


If it is written, people believe it.

I think a general education in reasoning, criticism and logic, that would happen along with the typical primary/secondary courses( math, english ) would help not just in this case, but also in many other areas.


Set up a straw man, then knock it down with graphics (pathos, "I've seen it") and links (logos, "it's researched, and true"). Oh and ethos too, because it's a response to a villain with "arguments", rather than being an unprovoked attack.

Simple and beautiful. Just don't think it's only happening in Russia.


How is this different from Israel or China? Genuine question.


There is no difference procedure-wise. In execution however, Israel and China aren't invading foreign nations and using the online peanut gallery to try and sway public opinion on the matter.

Maybe you could make a case for Palestine or the Senkaku Islands dispute but I don't think those examples would hold muster for a multitude of reasons.


Well, Palestine is already invaded and occupied, I guess that's different...


> Israel and China aren't invading foreign nations

err Tibet ? hmm Palestine ?


No one disputes that those are occupations (well except for China and Israel respectively) but in the context of propagandizing online comments to create a false popular opinion on the matter, Tibet and Palestine are different than Ukraine.


> Israel and China aren't invading foreign nations

Noone?


> Israel and China aren't invading foreign nations and using the online peanut gallery to try and sway public opinion on the matter.

China still wants to annex Taiwan, and the 50 Cent Party reliably speaks out in support of "reunification" when Western media bring up the topic. Still not quite the same, but at least the PRC has lots of missiles pointing to Taiwan (more than to the Senkakus).


>China still wants to annex Taiwan

It's slightly more complex than that. Officially, for the past 65 years both Republic of China and People's Republic of China have been agreeing that there is only one China, of which Taiwan is a province. There's no question about either one "annexing" what is already considered part of the country.

They have just disagreed which one is the legitimate government of that one China. Only more recently the idea of a separate , independent country on the island of Taiwan has been gaining popularity on that island.


Yup, by "still" I didn't mean since 1949, just recent years. But this was in the context of online propaganda, which is a recent enough phenomenon to begin with :)


If you have interviews with people who used to work for either of those doing the same thing, I'd love to see them.


http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2012/10/china%...

An interview with a member of China's 50 Cent Party.


That's interesting. Do you have anything from Israel?


No.


Things are a lot more sophisticated nowadays.

Back in ancient times, around the beginnings of Eternal September, we had Serdar Argic. He used to piss off half of Usenet with his repetitive denials of the Armenian Genocide.[1]

We also had Canter and Siegel (who I affectionately referred to as Cancer and Slime). They were the first massive commercial Usenet spammers.[2]

Ahh, good times. Such humble beginnings for the Information Superhighway.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serdar_Argic [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Canter_and_Martha_Sieg...


This is eerily close to what two of the main characters in Ender's Game are doing in order to change events. Internet, the blogosphere, comments, trolls, it was all predicted with quite a bit of detail in that book from 1985.


If I recall, that was a hilarious optimistic view of things, where there was high level/scholarly debate online and people were persuaded by great rhetoric.. quite a departure from the race to the bottom, cesspool of online commentary as it exists today.


I agree. Also the impact today doesn't turn out to be that big as described in the book (although that might be because we haven't yet had someone like the Wiggins family?). But still, the mechanism itself was all there.



This particular operation is relatively crude. However, consider what it would take to build a better operation. I always think about this when I am reading Wikipedia on any contested subject where an organization with a PR arm is in play.

There was a report of a similar operation in the US a few years ago (I lost the link, can't find it, no PDF), where this kind of thing was done as a paid service for political groups within the US. The author of that article had worked there as part of some "pro-Isreal" group. It was better than this Russian op - there was a relatively deeper briefing of the material at hand.


I have been following politics since "Arab Spring" and I have always experienced the online propaganda.

Pro-Putin propagandist: 1. Sides with Iran/Assad 2. Bash U.S/NATO 3. Claim USG is supporting terrorists and CIA is training them. 4. Claim "Arab Spring" is a conspiracy to destabilize the Middle East. 5. Claim 9/11 was an inside job. 6. Everything bad happens is a conspiracy by USG to attack the Democratic Putin. (lol)

If you want a look, check the comments of Reddit or Youtube topics about Ukrine, Syria, Russian/Middle East related, etc...


It's all about propaganda. Looks like not much has changed in Russian government ideology over the last 25 years.


USA are smarter , they co-opt leaders with scholarships so they can be sure they'll have american puppets everywhere.Blatantly true in most European countries and the EU itself. Most of our leaders joined the "young leader" program at some point.


Wow didn't know this. What is the young leader program ?


Doesn't every well financed institution do similar things? I thought that was the substance of public relations: getting your side of the story out there. It even happens on a small scale e.g. Yelp reviews.


No, every well financed institution does not hire people to role play hundreds of sockpuppets to create a false impression of support for its message.


Actually the US has an entire (metaphorical) army of think tanks and other propaganda outlets which do exactly that.

The sockpuppets tend to be more influential than drive-by commenters though. Some of them actually pretend to be respectable journalists and opinion-formers. The Church Committee in the 1970s blew the lid on this.

Operation Mockingbird is a famous historical example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird

The National Endowment for Democracy is more recent:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Endowment_for_Democrac...

Given history, it would take someone with more faith in open government than I have to believe there are no equivalent online operations today.


It's one thing getting your side of the story, and another one blatantly overflooding the forums with your side of the story. In electoral campaigns there are rules against such practices, but bought reviews or fake followers are issues way more difficult to address. And as somebody else put it, financial institutions seldom try to justify with it an invasion of other countries.


Really even yelp reviews? How much vigilance does one need to not be coopted by propaganda . . .


The guy's english is too good to be from that region. Probably a script by the Americans and their allies.


The original story in Russian, here http://www.svoboda.org/content/article/26913247.html This is a translation.


He's using English, that's enough to brand him as American spy, right, comrade?

Damn, it's like stalinist times all over again...


Could this be a good marketing tactic to acquire users for consumer facing products?


Absolutely. Compare this to effects of positive or negative reviews on Amazon. I say - hire Russian troll if you are on the mass-market with review-based reputation on product descriptions. Imagine you have +100 positive reviews overnight. For a hundred bucks its a bargain!


Funnily enough, I saw many comment trolls defending Toyota during the "rapid acceleration" fiasco. I believe this is a very commonplace thing for both governments and businesses with image problems.


they seemed to have increased salaries during last year - i guess in response to falling ruble - various Russian sources were putting it at ~30K a year ago :)

Not surprising that the major amount of propaganda is directed onto domestic sites. And, yes, clear visible double standards applied by the major powers in the world do make that propaganda work much more successful.


Truly fascinating. They should make these services for hire, there are some brands that would kill for this kind of content farm.


Ah yes, until now no one has had the idea to abuse comment forms and Web forums to promote products and services. You could become rich with this unique idea.


They do.


I'll wait for RT to write a retort and just ignore both of these government mouth pieces.


Patiently waiting for villain troll, link troll and picture troll to work this thread.


That part freaked me out because that was one of the ways I thought I could tell authentic from propaganda. I thought people in power didn't know how to blend in naturally to forums and their comments always stood out, but it looks like they do get it. Now I'm worried that my propaganda/astroturfing indicators don't work as well as I thought they did.


The article covers it quite well. The trolls generally don't really know what they're talking about and often don't make sense.

So if you ignore the nonsensical people you will ignore the trolls too. It's a pretty good rule to follow anyway.


At least in Guardian comments they make no sense, are intensely rude, and tend not to reply to comments. As you say it makes them very easy to spot.


From what I understand from the article, I think you are overestimating the quality of the arguments they bring forward.


You probably need constant vigilance to be aware how propaganda is being spread. Everyone is probably constantly trying new ways to spread it. Truth seems to be under attack in every direction.


Astroturfing is usually fairly easy to spot.

Of course, it can be difficult to tell those who are a bit fanatical about an issue from astroturfers, usually because the fanatical people are sourcing from blogs etc written by the astroturfers


I was scanned the comments looking for suspects. My best guess are: osipov, usaphp, and ibi7.


I made the same assessment, strongest on ibi7


I wonder if fox news has the same setup?


The USSR/CCCP lives on.




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