Lyuda Savchuk, a single mother with two children, worked in the St. Petersburg “troll factory” until mid-March. The 34-year-old journalist said she had some idea of the Orwellian universe she was entering when she took the job, but underestimated its intensity and scope.”I knew it was something bad, but of course I never suspected that it was this horrible and this large-scale,” she said in an interview in her apartment, which has colorful drawings on the walls for her two preschool-age children.
She described how the trolls manage several social media accounts under different nicknames, such as koka-kola23, green_margo and Funornotfun. Those in her department had to bash out 160 blog posts during a 12-hour shift. Trolls in other departments flooded the Internet with doctored images and pro-Putin commentary on news stories that crop up on Russian and Western news portals.
In some departments, she said, the trolls receive daily talking points on what to write and what emotions to evoke. “It seems to me that they don’t know what they are doing,” Savchuk said. “They simply repeat what they are told.”
She said most of the trolls are young and are attracted by relatively high monthly salaries of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles ($800 to $1,000).
The trolls are employed by Internet Research, which Russian news reports say is financed by a holding company headed by Putin’s friend and personal chef. Those who have worked there say they have little doubt that the operation is run from the Kremlin.
St. Petersburg journalist Andrei Soshnikov, who was one of the first to report on the “troll factory,” said about 400 people work in the building. A video he posted on YouTube this spring gave a rare glimpse inside the building; in one room trolls were shown sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at their computers. The operation moved into the building when it expanded in March 2014, the month Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine and provoked the first round of Western economic sanctions.
Soshnikov, a reporter at the weekly Moi Rayon, or My Region, said there has been a new push in recent months to hire more English-speaking trolls as part of an effort to sway public opinion in the United States.
“All of a sudden, (they) switch on Russia Today and realize that this is a holy land, Obama is a bloody dictator and true freedom of speech exists only in Russia.”
When Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed in Moscow in late February, the Serbian trolls were quick to react. “Who is to gain from this assassination but America? It must have been CIA,” was the dominant mantra that took hold in discussions on Serbian news sites. “Likes” went into the hundreds, while comments such as “Putin is responsible” received widespread ridicule.
Full article: Russia steps up propaganda push with online “Kremlin trolls” (MyWay News)