We often hear rumors about internet trolls who use social networking sites or blogs to spread propaganda. These commentators are usually hired by anonymous official state officers. Their main goal is to manipulate throughout public discussions in order to ruin reputation of opponents of government representatives, to spread propaganda and to protect national politics when it is approached negatively.
It’s not a new phenomenon in Russia that commentators are financed by the government, many countries use the same strategy. According to the Freedom House report, the army of internet trolls got bigger in the last couple of years, as 22 countries out of 60 were recorded using the same technique of propaganda; clear leaders were – Russia, China, Bahrain. Russian government representatives instituted internet censorship and created the army of financed commentators in order to diffuse all negative views on politicians throughout the internet so they could spread propaganda of their own. Even the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, once said that the whole internet “is a project of CIA.”
Not a long time ago, the press wrote about Natalia Lvova and how she was offered to become a member of Kremlin troll army. She was presented with these conditions: “Every commentator has to write at least 100 different comments per day and spread as many of them as he/she can throughout various social networks and news websites. Employees would get free lunch and 36.5 dollars for 8 hours of work.” When Natalia Lvova asked what specifically the comments should be about, a young coordinator replied that because of the new mayor election going in Moscow, one day they wrote supportive comments towards S. Sobyanin (current mayor of Moscow), and then the next day commentators wrote insulting remarks about A. Navalny (leader of Russian opposition, who lost the election).
Saint Petersburg Internet Research Agency is responsible for employing “trolls” in Russia and it’s amazing that they even hire English language teachers, so that comments written in foreign websites would be without any grammar mistakes. In 2014, there were about 600 employees working for the agency with a 10 million dollar budget. You can easily find comments like: “A. Navalny is a modern day Hitler,” about the opposition leaders in Russia. Or negative opinion about the United States: “Friends, wake up! America is not our friend, it’s our worst enemy. American smile hides the destruction and genocide of our country.”
According to the internet troll phenomenon explorer – Vladimir Volokhonsky (one of the Russia’s opposition activist and the editor of media website “Novosti Kupchino”): “The commentator army’s result is not that people just change their opinion, because they see that it differs from the majority in the comment section, but the fact that people are reading less of the remaining independent media sites and forums because they do not like the aggressive comments of trolls. Since trolls have occupied the comment systems, many people don’t see the point in writing meaningful comments, so they often choose government represented media, because it’s troll-free.” Russia has already blocked popular Western websites, Russian opposition websites, prohibits the establishment of non-governmental organizations that work in the West, so damage done by trolls is very harsh – people do not get alternative information from independent media sites, which are filled with insulting troll comments. And without getting any alternative sources of information – the minds of Russian citizens are furiously pumped with Kremlin’s propaganda.
Vladimir Volokhonsky says that organised internet blogger and commentator teams originally emerged after the Orange revolution in Ukraine, in 2005, when protesters demanded that disputed presidential election results would be stated as invalid, and that there would be a new election. Kremlin commentators have been associated with the Nashi youth movement, which was created with the support of the Kremlin at the same time. Such blogs are often used for a presentation of new topics, but later on they get on the media spotlight and is presented as an important news.