The New York Times published a mind-blowing story Tuesday about Russia’s Internet Research Agency, a propaganda tool of the Kremlin that would spread disinformation and pro-Putin messages all over the web. While the story is shocking enough on its own, the really interesting piece comes from how one source describes their attacks on TheBlaze.
Reporter Adrien Chen spoke to a former member of the troll factory, Ludmila Savchuk. Here’s a snippet of The New York Times story exposing Russia’s troll factory.
Every day at the Internet Research Agency was essentially the same, Savchuk told me. The first thing employees did upon arriving at their desks was to switch on an Internet proxy service, which hid their I.P. addresses from the places they posted; those digital addresses can sometimes be used to reveal the real identity of the poster. Savchuk would be given a list of the opinions she was responsible for promulgating that day. Workers received a constant stream of “technical tasks” — point-by-point exegeses of the themes they were to address, all pegged to the latest news. Ukraine was always a major topic, because of the civil war there between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian Army; Savchuk and her co-workers would post comments that disparaged the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, and highlighted Ukrainian Army atrocities. Russian domestic affairs were also a major topic.
In addition to spreading propaganda about the Ukrainian crisis, Savchuk also left positive messages about Putin and the Russian economy on stories about the collapse of the Russian ruble.
The Agency created content for almost every social media network, as well as comments on popular news websites…including TheBlaze.
The only person I spoke with who worked in the English department was a woman named Katarina Aistova. A former hotel receptionist, she told me she joined the Internet Research Agency when it was in a previous, smaller office. I found her through the Anonymous International leak, which included emails she had sent to her bosses, reporting on the pro-Putin comments she left on sites like The Blaze and Politico. One of her assignments had been to write an essay from the point of view of an average American woman.
After reading the story on radio, Glenn felt like America should look at this like a “shark bump”, a warning and a test to see how far the people can be pushed.
“We’ve always done disinformation. They’re very good at disinformation. And disinformation makes you not trust the news. Not trust the legitimate sources. So you don’t know what to believe anymore,” Glenn said.
“And I think there’s a couple of things that are happening. One, just by discrediting Twitter, Facebook, the Internet, where you just don’t know who it is, that’s the way most of us are getting our news now, is on the internet,” he explained. “It just undermines credibility. It undermines faith in one another in what you can and cannot trust.”
“This is a shark bump. This is early now. When you give us another year of this kind of atmosphere, you ratchet it up…you can escalate this country so fast. Then you have the outside. You have the Russians doing something like this. No one will believe it. It will be too late. You’ll burn a city down. You won’t stop it,” Glenn said.
While the disinformation strategy for a digital age was incredibly fascinating, Glenn said this type of campaign has been done before.
“There’s no difference between what he’s doing to us and what Cass Sunstein recommended that our own government do to us. This is what Cass Sunstein said we should do. The government should set up a disinformation and go to sites like the TheBlaze.com. He didn’t use that. But go to sites and pretend to be one of them and just start throwing firebombs,” Glenn said.