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Communications The Internet

How Professional Russian Trolls Operate 269

New submitter SecState writes: Hundreds of full-time, well-paid trolls operate thousands of fake accounts to fill social media sites and comments threads with pro-Kremlin propaganda. A St. Petersburg blogger spent two months working 12-hour shifts in a "troll factory," targeting forums of Russian municipal websites. In an interview, he describes how he worked in teams with two other trolls to create false "debates" about Russian and international politics, with pro-Putin views always scoring the winning point. Of course, with the U.S. government invoking "state secrets" to dismiss a defamation case against the supposedly independent advocacy group United Against a Nuclear Iran, Americans also need to be asking how far is too far when it comes to masked government propaganda.
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How Professional Russian Trolls Operate

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's like Valentine and Peter in real life.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:21AM (#49354029) Homepage
    Conversations in online forums havent really taken the bulk of social-political discourse in america, because we're all still convinced the news media is capable of objectively reporting wars and foreign politics. the administration, any administration really, has made perfectly clear that those outliers that do not fall lock step with the new york times, fox, nbc, and other household staples will be punished. Expect wiretaps, spying, litigation to uncover your sources, accidental shelling of your foreign offices, and outright disinformation and lies from both houses of congress. Expect Joe Libermann to pen a strongly worded letter to your hosting provider, as in the case of wikileaks, that insists you should be shut down. Credit processing will cease, bank accounts will be frozen, and dubious arrest warrents will be issued once you begin to report on the actualities of american foreign policy and interventionalism. during both the iraq war as well as the Afhan war, we censored news coverage of planes returning with dead soldiers. We didnt do it because of television censor standards, we did it because coverage of that nature led to mass protest of the viet-nam war. peaceful demonstration is fine, but whenever we grow tired of it we install agent provocateurs and quickly crush the manufactured dissent.

    narratives contrary to the song of exceptionalism aren't tolerated. In fergusson as in occupy we routinely arrested journalists that didnt belch the days talking points for 20 minutes, and immediately knock off to the hotel bar for steak and booze.
    • by KermodeBear ( 738243 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:34AM (#49354139) Homepage

      we're all still convinced the news media is capable of objectively reporting wars and foreign politics.

      I disagree here.

      I believe that a majority of people thing the major news media outlets are full of shills for one side or the other. I also believe that most of people in America, quite frankly, don't give a crap.

      As long as they have food for the day, can download porn, and watch the latest celebrity scoop, they don't care.

      Never underestimate the power of apathy.

      • Fully agree (Score:4, Informative)

        by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @11:13AM (#49355009)

        I find that most people I talk to don't trust US media. They don't do anything about it, but they don't believe what they are told any longer. Apathy works for a while, but historically this can not last. Corruption and abuse will get to a point where there has to be some form of revolution (not always bloody) and then the cycle will start over again.

        To be in line with TFA's point, sure the Russian's have paid shills and trolls. Their play books are the same as our own Government's. Whistle blowers have demonstrated that most large US companies have paid shills and trolls, the US Government pays shills and trolls, as does just every "Western" Government including the UK and Canada. Snowden's leaks give us a nice powerpoint view of the play book, no need for anecdote and hearsay trying to vilify "those other guys". Nobody likes a hypocrite..

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I have a simple question - Why do liberals only acknowledge the bias of Fox news or other such outlets, and never the more extreme bias of MSNBC or CNN? Why is this? Why? Look at CNN and how desperate and parasitic their content and clickbait titles are for views and clicks. They have nothing going for them except public memory of a former titan brand. I think I could study something like astrophysics and be less confused. How are people so dumb? I call myself a moderate

      • These days, I'm not so sure that CNN's agenda is driven by anything other than pure self-interest. They are a low-budget operation who do no serious investigative reporting, and take their "news" (if you could call it that), from warmed-over press releases and govenrment/corporate PR departments. CNN's agenda is not sinister -- it's driven by pure greed and laziness.

        The "content" is just one long, slow, dumbed-down blowjob to the preening, international-English speaking jet set.

        People paying the most for CN

  • Astroturfing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crunchy_one ( 1047426 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:30AM (#49354099)
    I believe the term is astroturfing, i.e., when someone is paid to write commentary in support of some other entity.
  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:30AM (#49354101) Homepage Journal

    On various news sites, I see what are obviously paid Republican Trolls, Paid Pro-Koch Brothers Trolls, they come in day after day under various identities but having the same writing style, and post comment after comment (sometimes the same comment multiple times on multiple sites).

    So exactly what's the difference...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:48AM (#49354267)

      If you don't think there are democratic trolls/astroturfers, you're kidding yourself. It depends on the issue, but both sides have corporations paying for Dark-PR.

  • See it on CNN (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:30AM (#49354103) Journal

    Go to any major news site and click on an Ukraine story?

    90% of the posters are about those American backed Nazi's out to destroy the freedom fighters who had enough of American backed oppression. It is stated so many times it is true that Ukraine is a puppet of the Nato and the US.

    Really? How can anyone believe this. It is obvious Russian trolls. Also Crimea is a place with tons of political censorship and political prisoners now. All the comments say it is propaganda and paradise now under Putin. Uh yeah

    • "90% of the posters are about those American backed Nazi's out to destroy the freedom fighters who had enough of American backed oppression."

      What a bunch of bulls*. 90% is people trying to convince people about Russian equipment and/or soldiers in Ukraine. What these people fail to notice is 100% of the people they are telling that to go "yeah I know". I don't think this is the desired reaction because they keep doing it over and over. Maybe those posting these comments and threads in forums and social

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:32AM (#49354123)

    So we have evidence of a government doing it, but can we get a whistleblower from the lobbyists/PR/Corps? In just a recent example, the amount of comments on many websites' (particularly right-wing websites, but even on some more mainstream sites) articles about Net Neutrality and Title II far exceeded the normal levels, and most of the comments were negative and looked to me like they were scraped from other sites or autogenerated, plus there were large groups of trolls that were using every trick in the book to drown-out or malign anyone who posted pro-NN/T2 comments. Aside from the rampant astroturfing, there were fake 'grassroots' websites and social media accounts that spouted the same anti-NN talking points.

    I'm far less worried about government propaganda right now when the corporations and lobby groups are undertaking orwellian large-scale psyops to sway public opinion.

    • Fox News is the largest Psyops campaign ever run on the american people. You have an entire channel (actually several) whose news and stories are being scripted by one of the political parties.

      It's amazing to me how many people aren't horrified by this. The old FCC regulation about fairness wouldn't have allowed that, but it was sunk years ago, and rather deliberately.

  • by Lew Perin ( 30124 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:36AM (#49354163) Homepage

    This has been going on a long time in China, though there [wikipedia.org] the troll workplaces are decentralized and the pay's a lot lower.

    • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @10:42AM (#49354797) Journal

      Yeah, this happens on Slash too, so apparently the Chinese astroturfing squad seems to lurk here as well. For example, in regards to cheating exams:

      You have this guy [slashdot.org] mentioning that cheating test scores is also a big problem in China, followed by some more detailed posts as to why.

      Then you have a response [slashdot.org] by an AC who basically says "oh it's just Westerners trying to make China look bad. We don't do that anymore! Look, I'm in the US now so I'm believable. Despite posting AC and having stereotypical Chinese grammatical mistakes common to non-landed Chinese astroturfers, modded +1

      I point out [slashdot.org] that the previous response is an obvious astroturfer (aforementioned grammatical errors etc), and am modded down twice rather readily. But seriously, read the astroturfer's post out with a bad accent and it will sound like a Chinese villain from an old movie. The linguistic keys make it pretty clear the guy isn't somebody who's been living in the west for any length of time.

      For the record, I have plenty of Chinese friends etc whom I've worked on language skills with. Missing pronouns is usually a fairly basic thing that gets fixed earlier on, as is the use of infinite verbs ("keep to spread" instead of "spreading"). So unless the poster had been living in Chinatown for the last few years, one would expect those language'isms to have cleared up by now.

      Also, "flied lice", though attributed to a Chinese restaurateur in Lethal Weapon and added for humour, would be more of a Japanese/Korean language issue as they lack distinct "L" and "R" sounds in their language (or rather, "L" and "R" exist as single character/sound). Chinese don't really seem to have issues with consonant swaps in English.

  • ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD!
  • lets talk about the american troll tv stations and the american troll movie industry and ...
  • Good one! - like anybody actually pays attention to comments posted to online forums...

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:48AM (#49354265) Homepage Journal

    Compare our invasion of Korea with that of Vietnam only a few years later. Before you say "Korea was UN-approved" — no, that's a lame excuse. Stalin boycotted UN at the time action on Korea was decided, but by the time of Vietnam USSR has changed its approach. That's all.

    In both cases American military was sent to fight in remote lands against people, who didn't threaten America directly in any way — for fear of the domino effect of Communism [history.com]. In both cases the fighting was heavy and numerous war-crimes have taken place.

    And yet, there was no domestic opposition to the Korean war — virtually none. No protests against the draft, no accusations of returning soldiers being "baby-killers" [wikipedia.org]. John Kerry, for example, has gained more political capital for opposing the war (and returning his medals [go.com]), than for fighting in it (for an entire 4 months).

    Vietnam was widely considered a national shame long before the war was lost. Meanwhile the only source of any negativity about the Korean war in mass culture was the M*A*S*H series.

    Why was the domestic reaction to the two wars so drastically different? The theory of propagandists controlled and funded (with or without their own knowledge) by the USSR [wikipedia.org] would explain the known facts.

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @11:25AM (#49355121)
      I think for Korean War it was 1950s and less than 10 years since WWII, there was no counterculture/question authority types during that decade. Also wartime coverage was limited but skyrocketed during Vietnam War. Though video was 16mm film, it quickly be developed and broadcasted on TV (there was less TV sets in homes in early 50s than in 1960s). Also during Vietnam War, media had much free access to battle zones. If there's room in the Huey, a reporter or camera guy can hop on board. Military only denied them on special ops missions. Of course all that had major impact on opinion. Civilians can see what battles are really like (chaos, nobody knows WTF is going on,etc.) and not like choreographed battles in the movies. After Vietnam, military forces realized they need tight control of media. We witnessed that during Falklands campaign which news was sporadic with much unsaid, first Gulf War where CNN kept showing the same footage of a cruise missile impacting a rooftop door but not much on the biggest tank battle since WWII.
    • Compare our invasion of Korea with that of Vietnam only a few years later. Before you say "Korea was UN-approved" — no, that's a lame excuse. Stalin boycotted UN at the time action on Korea was decided, but by the time of Vietnam USSR has changed its approach. That's all.

      So what? You're talking about the public perception of the war, UN approval forms part of that public perception.

      In both cases American military was sent to fight in remote lands against people, who didn't threaten America directly in any way — for fear of the domino effect of Communism [history.com]. In both cases the fighting was heavy and numerous war-crimes have taken place.

      And yet, there was no domestic opposition to the Korean war — virtually none. No protests against the draft, no accusations of returning soldiers being "baby-killers" [wikipedia.org]. John Kerry, for example, has gained more political capital for opposing the war (and returning his medals [go.com]), than for fighting in it (for an entire 4 months).

      Vietnam was widely considered a national shame long before the war was lost. Meanwhile the only source of any negativity about the Korean war in mass culture was the M*A*S*H series.

      Why was the domestic reaction to the two wars so drastically different? The theory of propagandists controlled and funded (with or without their own knowledge) by the USSR [wikipedia.org] would explain the known facts.

      It's possible, but a far more likely factor is the fact they were very different wars at very different times.

      The Korean war was over in 3 years. In Vietnam the US stepped into a long running conflict which ran a lot longer.

      The US was also coming straight out of WWII, so the idea that you should deal with belligerent countries pro-actively sounded like a really good idea and provided a great narr

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      It was vastly different political era.

      There was a lot of paranoia about Communist conspiracies. The Rosenberg trials. Joe McCarthy was making headlines "exposing" Communists. In some sense, there was some legitimate fear of Communist actions -- the Soviets had blockaded West Berlin, leading to the Berlin airlift in 1948.

      Not only was the political climate dangerous for anyone opposing fighting Communist expansion in Korea, it wasn't irrational to believe that expansionist communism was a real threat, espe

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        There was a lot of paranoia about Communist conspiracies. The Rosenberg trials.

        Is it really "paranoia" (a mental disease involving ungrounded fears) if the fear is substantiated? Rosenbergs [wikipedia.org] really were Communist-spies, you know, who helped USSR obtain nuclear weapons sooner.

        it wasn't irrational to believe that expansionist communism was a real threat

        Well, it didn't stop being a real threat — as Budapest in 1956 [wikipedia.org] and Prague in 1968 [wikipedia.org] kept proving. But, somehow, that clear and present danger of Communism

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          Is it really "paranoia" (a mental disease involving ungrounded fears) if the fear is substantiated?

          Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?

          I'd say the number of non-threats who were actively and vigorously blackballed might call into question as to where the boundary between legitimate fear and paranoia fear is on this topic.

          But, somehow, that clear and present danger of Communism no longer played the role it played during Korea War. Why?

          Probably no one single answer. I don't think the early years of Viet Nam faced that much ideological opposition. I do think that the political-based mismanagement of the war led to "conventional" opposition to it. Then add in civil rights discontent, th

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27, 2015 @09:50AM (#49354291)

    Those are not trolls, those are sockpuppets; there's a difference.

  • Look at any forum - especially news forums.

    It's usually pretty obvious to see who is paid to troll.

    Comments that are responded to by paid trolls are usually peppered with words and phrases such as "the Liberal government...", "what a conservative thing to do", "If the republicans were in power", "blame Obama", "Harpercrytes", "the far right", "leftist", etc. - which is very telling.

    The same is true of any criticism of Israel regarding the illegal and brutal occupation of Palestine. Anyone who di
  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @10:07AM (#49354453)

    FTFY

    Social media trolls have been with us for years. On the good side, they're trivial to spot and ignore - a fact completely lost on their employers.

  • by Computershack ( 1143409 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @10:41AM (#49354781)
    Well they're not doing very well especially on Reddit. Propoganda posts stick out like a sore thumb there.
  • by Drewdad ( 1738014 ) on Friday March 27, 2015 @11:11AM (#49354991)

    Inside each Russian troll is another, slightly smaller Russian troll.

  • Who cares abouy Russian trolls when slashdot already has its share of government shills (cold fjord), telecom / cable shills (Sarten X), and fossil fuel shills? Russia is the least of our worries when it comes to disinfo.
    • You'd think people on /. would be smarter than mainstream-fed USians and actually think more than 1/2 move ahead, but to do so risks "talking like a fag", as a certain Mike Judge movie once labeled it, so it's not done.

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