Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the country has an image problem. Since the events surrounding Ukraine’s revolution and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, public sentiment on Russia has been becoming increasingly more negative across the globe.
Apparently, the Putin administration believes that a big part of this is the way in which media outlets in America have portrayed the situation. So he decided to deploy a million-dollar army of internet trolls to help mold public opinion.
Svetlana Boiko, one of the team members for the project, said this:
“Foreign media are currently actively forming a negative image of the Russian Federation in the eyes of the global community. Additionally, the discussions formed by comments to those articles are also negative in tone.”
Boiko continued by elaborating on the importance of maintaining the Russian “brand”:
“Like any brand formed by popular opinion, Russia has its supporters (‘brand advocates’) and its opponents. The main problem is that in the foreign internet community, the ratio of supporters and opponents of Russia is about 20/80 respectively.”
The project specifically targeted Fox News, Huffington Post, The Blaze, Politico, and WorldNetDaily. E-mails obtained by the enigmatic Russian hacking collective Anonymous Internet detailed exactly how these blogger-trolls would carry out their job.
The trolls were expected to make around 50 comments on news articles every day. In addition, they were expected to maintain 6 Facebook pages, posting 3 times daily about the news and discussing new developments in groups on Facebook twice daily.
On top of that, the bloggers were expected to have 500 subscribers by the end of the first month. On Twitter, they were expected to maintain 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers each, tweeting at least 50 times daily.
E-mails hacked from the project’s leader, Igor Osadchy, reveal that the program is run by the firm Internet Research Agency. Starting in April, the firm began paying people to disseminate pro-Putin and pro-Russian content all across the web.
The Internet Research Agency leak is the first time that specific comments have been traced back to the campaign. These comments were made by Katarina Aistova, a 21-year-old former hotel receptionist on a WorldNetDaily article:
Though the Kremlin is denying the accusations and Internet Research Agency is refusing to comment, many feel that the evidence is overwhelming.
“What, you think crazy Russians all learned English en masse and went off to comment on articles?”,
said media executive and Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky, who also added rather hilariously that,
“If it looks like Kremlin shit, smells like Kremlin shit, and tastes like Kremlin shit too — then it’s Kremlin shit.”
Internet Research Agency is on pace to spend $10 million dollars this year, and half of that budget has been earmarked to be paid out in cash.
The reports have also been substantiated by two local Russian media outlets. Last week, the business paper Vedomosti claimed that the campaign was directly orchestrated by the government, citing sources close to Putin’s administration.
Then earlier this week, the Novaya Gazeta claimed that the project is being orchestrated by restauranteur Yevgeny Prigozhin, who catered Putin’s re-inauguration in 2012 and has reportedly helped run several other similar campaigns for the Kremlin over the years.
The hacked e-mails also include numerous exchanges with an accountant at the Internet Research Agency approving payments to Concord, the holding company for Mr. Prigozhin’s catering business.
The hacking group Anonymous Internet is not affiliated with the well-known American hacking group Anonymous. In an e-mail exchange with BuzzFeed, who broke the story, the hacking collective distanced themselves from your every day code-breaker:
“[We are] not hackers in the classical sense. We are trying to change reality. Reality has indeed begun to change as a result of the appearance of our information in public.”
To date, none of their leaks have been proven false.
Read the full story from BuzzFeed here.