This week Beth and Kelly are back to talk about troll farms. Not just any troll farms either - we got you the best, most prolific Russian troll farm in the world - the Internet Research Agency - aka the IRA. Not like that other one. Or the other other one. This is the Russian one that was placed under sanction by the US government for their role in interfering with the US elections in 2016. Sound fun? Let's dive in!
Wikipedia defines a troll as someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
The recent Mueller Report cited evidence of “dozens” of political rallies in the US organized via Facebook and Twitter by the Internet Research Agency, also known as the IRA. The report found that the IRA purchased 3,000 political ads on Facebook and maintained several hundred accounts attempting to influence the perspectives of Americans during the 2016 elections.
Just last year Twitter released 9 million tweets from nearly 4,000 accounts originating from the IRA - most filled with anti-Clinton rhetoric, conspiracy theories and extreme right wing talking points.
Wait, what's the difference between a troll and a bot?
A troll is different from a bot because a troll is a real user, whereas bots are automated. The two types of accounts are very different, but a troll can use bots to amplify their messages.
So, how does the world know about the IRA? Well, there is a woman behind this story. Russian journalist Lyudmila Savchuk went undercover in the IRA after she noticed websites and social media accounts attacking local opposition activists in her hometown of Saint Petersburg with very similar comments and coordination she had never seen before. During her time undercover Savchuk saw hundred of young Russians working in 12 hour shifts in departments like ‘social media seeders’ and ‘demotivators’. (Demotivators are Russian internet memes. The images are meant as visuals to accompany Russian troll postings on social media and blogs. They are not generally smart or clever, and just like most memes in English, they aren’t based in fact either.)
Savchuk concluded from her two and half month undercover work that not only were the troll farms a Kremlin project, but also they were run by Evgeny Prigozhin, also known as Putin’s chef. Prigozhin was placed under US sanctions last year for his role in interference in the 2016 elections in the US. Despite this, Prigozhin’s government contracts have grown, while Savchuk has been blocked on Facebook after trolls attacked her account after her report came out and she flew to DC to talk to government officials about what she learned. This backlash has taken a toll on her mental health, and while she doesn’t regret taking on the story, she is not optimistic that things will change.
How can I tell if this is a Russian troll?
(Please see more complete list by Digital Forensic Research Lab on Medium)
Here are just a few of the ways to spot a troll farm employee:
-hyper-partisan (not necessarily just alt-right)
-does not use the articles of speech ‘a’ or ‘the’ correctly.
“With Hillary in charge, America will burn in flames of a shame. So don’t let this happen!” — @tpartynews, February 2016.
-How are questions phrased?
“ Why I need a credit card? What you think this cash for?” — @logan_whatsup, February 2015.
-Look for the narrative - just because someone commenting is Russian doesn’t mean it’s a troll account. Look for the deeper narrative. Have they posted a number of times about ‘Ukrainian Nazi coup’, or any other key phrases that are considered pro-Russian government?
Kelly's Jam of the Week: Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow
Derek Black grew up at the epicenter of white nationalism. His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the Internet. His godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard. By the time Derek turned nineteen, he had become an elected politician with his own daily radio show – already regarded as the “the leading light” of the burgeoning white nationalist movement. “We can infiltrate,” Derek once told a crowd of white nationalists. “We can take the country back.”
Then he went to college. Derek had been home-schooled by his parents, steeped in the culture of white supremacy, and he had rarely encountered diverse perspectives or direct outrage against his beliefs. At New College of Florida, he continued to broadcast his radio show in secret each morning, living a double life until a classmate uncovered his identity and sent an email to the entire school. “Derek Black…white supremacist, radio host…New College student???”
The ensuing uproar overtook one of the most liberal colleges in the country. Some students protested Derek’s presence on campus, forcing him to reconcile for the first time with the ugliness his beliefs. Other students found the courage to reach out to him, including an Orthodox Jew who invited Derek to attend weekly Shabbat dinners. It was because of those dinners–and the wide-ranging relationships formed at that table–that Derek started to question the science, history and prejudices behind his worldview. As white nationalism infiltrated the political mainstream, Derek decided to confront the damage he had done.
Rising Out of Hatred tells the story of how white-supremacist ideas migrated from the far-right fringe to the White House through the intensely personal saga of one man who eventually disavowed everything he was taught to believe, at tremendous personal cost. With great empathy and narrative verve, Eli Saslow asks what Derek’s story can tell us about America’s increasingly divided nature. This is a book to help us understand the American moment and to help us better understand one another.
Beth's Jam of the Week: Best Friend by Sofi Tukker
Mueller identified 'dozens' of US rallies organized by Russian troll farm
The trolls are winning, says Russian troll hunter
The Most Poignant Photo of Michelle Obama You've Ever Seen
A guide to Russian ‘demotivator’ memes
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey reportedly explained to Trump that his follower count might fall as the company deletes spam accounts and bots
Inside the Russian Troll Factory: Zombies and a Breakneck Pace
Inside look at a Russian troll farm
Twitter released 9 million tweets from one Russian troll farm. Here’s what we learned.
#TrollTracker: How To Spot Russian Trolls
The Origins Of The Demotivator Meme
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