The Military Army Blog

What spawned Russia's 'troll army'? Experts on the red web share …

Trolls were the solution for a very particular problem the Kremlin faced in the mid-2000s: an internet dominated by critics. By 2005, more and more Russian journalists were losing their jobs, squeezed from TV channels and the press as part of Putin s offensive against independent media. For many of these journalists, the internet was the only place to express their opinions, and many reporters turned to writing columns on blogging platforms such as LiveJournal.com[1].

A phenomenon was born: highly opinionated, sometimes brilliantly written journalism that was highly critical of the Kremlin, spurring the government to find new methods to drown them out. Trolling became the answer, and the pro-Kremlin youth movements proved their worth[2]. Many trolls were recruited from among their ranks, some were paid, others inspired and encouraged by government propaganda.

Related: Hacked emails allege Russian youth group Nashi paying bloggers[3]

Users can post anonymous posts on LiveJournal, an option exploited by the trolls , who often launched personal attacks on writers, provoking a fierce response.

Then came the Moscow protests of 2011[4], and it was immediately clear that the trolls had largely failed in their objective: to silence the opposition and liberal opinion leaders. Then came Russia s annexation of Crimea in 2014 a strategic win for the Kremlin in the eastern Ukraine crisis and hundreds of trolls were mobilised to defend the government both at home and abroad .
[5]

Trolls began to appear in the comments sections of traditional news outlets and on social media in the UK and the US. French and Italian journalists told us that they were attacked too.

The objective now was to enforce a Russian-dominated narrative of the Ukraine conflict worldwide. This may have failed in the US and the UK, but in Ukraine[6] and eastern Europe, it was a different story. Faked reports and photos from eastern Ukraine flooded the internet. Trolls were paid to claim the violence was caused by Ukrainian fascists , borrowing images from war films to illustrate their argument. Although many of these claims were later proved false, they struck a nerve.

The images appealed to the historical memory of the Soviet Union where an estimated 30 million lives were lost in the second world war and carried a highly emotional message to the internet audience in eastern Europe: the fascists were coming again.

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, The Red Web authors

References

  1. ^ LiveJournal.com (www.livejournal.com)
  2. ^ proved their worth (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ Hacked emails allege Russian youth group Nashi paying bloggers (www.theguardian.com)
  4. ^ Then came the Moscow protests of 2011 (www.theguardian.com)
  5. ^ strategic win for the Kremlin (preview.gutools.co.uk)
  6. ^ Ukraine (www.theguardian.com)

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