Trolls from Olgino


 

Trolls from Olgino is an internet slang term which appeared in late 2014, referring to a series of fake accounts registered on major discussion boards (social networks, online newspaper sites, video hosting services, etc.) that were used for promoting the Russian point of view in topics involvingUkraine and the Middle East. The extent to which the Russian government tried to influence social media became widely known after a June 2014 BuzzFeed article greatly expanded on government documents published by hackers earlier that year.[1] Stemming from a December 2014 article, the term „Trolls from Olgino” gained worldwide media attention by June 2015, when one of the offices of a Russian company named Internet Research Agency, based in Saint Petersburg, was exposed as having data from fake accounts used for internet trolling. Subsequently, there were news reports of individuals receiving monetary compensation for performing these tasks.[2]

Origin

The group’s office in Olgino, a historical district of Saint Petersburg, was exposed by Russian journalists in 2013.[3] „Trolls from Olgino” and „Olgino’s trolls” have become general terms denoting trolls who spread pro-Russian propaganda, not only necessarily those based at the office in Olgino.[4] [5]

Organizers
Strategic

Russian newspaper Vedomosti links the approved by Russian authorities strategy of public consciousness manipulation through new media to Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy of the Vladimir Putin Presidential Administration of Russia.[6] [7]

Tactical

According to journalists’ investigations, the office in Olgino was named as Internet Research Agency Ltd. (Russian: ООО «Агентство интернет-исследований»).[3] [8]The company was founded in the summer of 2013.[6]

Journalists also point out that Alexey Soskovets, who had participated in Russian youth political community, was directly connected to the office in Olgino. His company, North-Western Service Agency, won 17 or 18 (according to different sources) contracts for organizing celebrations, forums and sport competitions for authorities of Saint Petersburg. The agency was the only participant in half of those bids. In the summer of 2013 the agency won a tender for providing freight services for participants of Seliger camp.[3] [9]

In 2014, according to Russian media, Internet Research Ltd. (Russian: ООО «Интернет исследования»), founded in March 2014, joined the agency’s activity.Novaya Gazeta newspaper claim this company to be a successor of Internet Research Agency Ltd.[10] Internet Research Ltd. is considered to be linked to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, head of the holding company Concord. The „Trolls of Olgino” from Saint Petersburg are considered to be his project. As of October 2014, the company belonged to Mikhail Bystrov, who had been the head of the police station at Moscow district of Saint Petersburg.[11]

Russian media point out that according to documents, published by hackers fromAnonymous International, Concord is directly involved with trolling administration through the agency. Researchers cite e-mail correspondence, in which Concord gives instructions to trolls and receives reports on accomplished work.[5] According to journalists’ information, Concord organized banquets in Kremlin and also cooperated with Voentorg and the Russian Ministry of Defence.[12]

Despite links to Alexei Soskovets, Nadejda Orlova, deputy head of the Committee for Youth Policy in Saint Petersburg, disputed connection between her institution and the trolling offices.[3]

Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro, who extensively reported on the pro-Russian trolling activities in Finland, was in response targeted by an organized campaign of hate, disinformation and harassment.[13] [14] [15]

Offices
In Saint Petersburg
In Olgino

59°59′42.7″N 30°07′49.7″E / 59.995194°N 30.130472°E

As reported by Novaya Gazeta newspaper, in the end of August 2013, the following message appeared in social networks: „Internet operators wanted! Job at chic office in Olgino!!! (st. Staraya Derevnia), salary 25960 per month. Task: posting comments at profile sites in the Internet, writing thematic posts, blogs, social networks. Reports via screenshots. Individual schedule <…> Payment every week, 1180 per shift (from 8.00 to 16.00, from 10.30 to 18.30, from 14.00 to 22.00). PAYMENTS EVERY WEEK AND FREE MEALS!!! Official job placement or according to contract (at will). Tuition possible.”[3]

As reported by media and former employees, the office in Olgino had existed and been functioning since September 2013. It was situated in a white cottage,[4] 15 minutes by an underground railway from „Staraya Derevnia” station, opposite „Olgino” railway station.[3] Workplaces for troll-employees were placed in basement rooms.[9] [12] [16]

Savushkina Street

59°59′03.5″N 30°16′19.1″E / 59.984306°N 30.271972°E

According to Russian online newspaper DP.ru, several months before October 2014 the office moved from Olgino to a four-story building at 55 Savushkina Street.[11] [12][17] As reported by journalists, the building is officially an object of uncompleted construction and stays as such as of March 2015.[10]

A New York Times investigative reporter was told that the Internet Research Agency had shortened its name to „Internet Research,” and as of June 2015 had been asked to leave the 55 Savushkina Street location „a couple of months ago” because „it was giving the entire building a bad reputation.” A possibly related organization, FAN or Federal News Agency, was located in the building. The New York Times article describes various experiences reported by former employees of the Internet Research Agency at the Savushkina Street location. It also describes several disruptive hoaxes in the US and Europe, such as the Columbian Chemicals Plant explosion hoax, that may be attributable to the Internet Research Agency or similar Russian-based organizations.[18]

In other cities

Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported that, according to Alexey Soskovets, head of the office in Olgino, North-Western Service Agency was hiring employees for similar projects in Moscow and other cities in 2013.[3]

Work organization
Highest level

Russian online newspaper Fontanka.ru analyzed documents published by hackers in May 2014. According to journalists, it appears that under the same leadership the specific plan or scheme was designed for internet agencies with hundreds of paid bloggers and commenters as well as several media in Russia and Ukraine in addition to some low key („pocket”) social organizations. The monthly budget of this plan was 33.5 million Russian rubles, 17 million of which are in cash.[5] [6]

Low level

According to the data of Moy Rayon newspaper, approximately 300 troll-employees worked in the Olgino office during its existence. Investigative journalists found out that at that time their daily quota was 100 comments.[3] [8]

According to BuzzFeed, referencing the published documents, in June 2014 600 people were generally employed in the trolls’ office.[1] According to an October 2014 report from Internet Investigations Ltd., the Savushkina Street office employed about 250 people. In March 2015, 400 employees reportedly worked there. Trolls take shifts writing mainly in blogs on LiveJournal and Vkontakte, about subjects along the propaganda lines assigned. Included among the employees are artists who draw political cartoons.[10] They are working for 12 hours every other two days. A blogger’s quota is ten posts per shift, each post at least 750 characters. A commenter’s norm is 126 comments and two posts per account. Each blogger is in charge of three accounts.[11] [12] [17]

Employees at the Olgino office earned 25,000 Russian rubles per month; those at the Savushkina Street office earned approximately 40,000 Russian rubles.[11] [17] In May 2014, Fontanka.ru described schemes for plundering the federal budget, intended to go toward the trolling organization.[5] [6]

Trolling themes

According to the testimonies of the investigative journalists and former employees of the offices, the main topics for posts included:[3] [8] [11] [17]

Journalists point out that themes of trolling were consistent with those of otherRussian propaganda outlets in topics and timing. Technical points used by trolls were taken mainly from Russia Today content.[10] [17]

A 2015 BBC investigation identified the Olgino factory as the most likely producer of a September 2015 „Saiga 410K review” video where an actor posing as U.S. soldier shoots at a book that turns out to be a Quran, which sparked outrage. The BBC found among other irregularities that the soldier’s uniform is not used by the U.S. military and is easily purchased in Russia, and that the actor filmed was most likely a barman from Saint Petersburg related to a troll factory employee.[19] [20]

The citizen-journalism site Bellingcat identified the team from Olgino as the real authors of a video attributed to the Azov Battalion in which masked soldiers threaten the Netherlands for organizing the referendum on Ukraine’s membership in EU.[21]

Organized anti-Ukrainian campaign

According to BuzzFeed, in the beginning of April 2014 there began an organized online campaign to shift public opinion in the Western world in a way that would be useful for Russian authorities regarding the Russian military intervention in Ukraine in 2014. Hacked and leaked documents from that time contain instructions for commenters posting at the websites of Fox News, The Huffington Post,TheBlaze, Politico, and WorldNetDaily. The requirement for the working hours for the trolls is also mentioned: 50 comments under news articles per day. Each blogger has to manage six accounts on Facebook, post at least three posts every day, and participate twice in the group discussions. Other employees have to manage 10 accounts on Twitter, publishing 50 tweets every day. Journalists concluded that Igor Osadchiy is a probable leader of the project, and the campaign itself is performed by Internet Research Agency Ltd. Osadchiy denies his connection to the agency.[1] [1]

The company is also one of the main sponsors of an anti-Western exhibitionMaterial Evidence.[22]

In the beginning of 2016, Ukraine’s state-owned news agency Ukrinform claimed to expose a system of bots in social networks, which called for violence against the Ukrainian government and for starting „The Third Maidan”[23] They reported that the organizer of this system is the former anti-Ukrainian combatant Sergiy Zhuk from Donbass. He allegedly performed his internet activity from Vnukovo District in Moscow.[24]

Reactions

In March 2014, the Polish version of Newsweek expressed suspicion that Russia was employing people to „bombard” its website with pro-Russian comments on Ukraine-related articles.[25] Poland’s governmental computer emergency response team later confirmed that pro-Russia commentary had „flooded” Polish internet portals at the start of the Ukrainian crisis.[26] [27] In May 2014, The Guardian noted a large number of pro-Kremlin comments on news articles relating to Ukraine, which the newspaper believed was an „orchestrated pro-Kremlin campaign”.[28]Süddeutsche Zeitung, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Der Spiegel, and Reuters reported that German-language media websites had been „flooded” with pro-Russia comments since March 2014.[29] [30] [31] [32]

In late May 2014, the hacker group Anonymous International began publishing documents received from hacked emails of Internet Researches Agency managers.[6] [8]

In May–June 2014, newspapers The Washington Post[33] and The Guardianinformed on invasion of Internet-trolls, who massively posted pro-Russian messages in broken English in comments at news media sites. The Guardian even faced issues on comments moderation for that cause.[6] [28]

In March 2015 a service allowing to censor sources of anti-Ukrainian propaganda in social networks inside Ukraine was launched.[34] [35]

Assessments

According to the opinions of the Russian bloggers Anton Nosik, Rustem Adagamov, and Dmitriy Aleshkovskiy, paid Internet-trolls don’t change public opinion. Their usage is just a way to steal budget money.[5] [6] [8]

Leonid Volkov, a politician working for Alexei Navalny‚s Anti-Corruption Foundation, suggests that the point of sponsoring paid Internet trolling is to make the Internet so distasteful that ordinary people are not willing to participate.[18]

In June 2015, The New York Times Magazine published an extensive article byAdrian Chen, claiming that the Columbian Chemicals Plant explosion hoax in September 11, 2014, was the work of the Internet Research Agency, one of the trolling organizations linked to the Russian Government.[18]

Additional activities of organizers

Based on the documents published by Anonymous international, Concord holding company was linked to the funding of several media outlets in Ukraine and Russia, including Kharkiv News Agency,[8] News of Neva, Newspaper About Newspapers, Business Dialog, and Journalist Truth.[5]

Lawsuit

In May 2015, a trolling company employee Lyudmila Savchuk in Saint Petersburg sued her employer for labor violations,[36] seeking to disclose its activities. Ivan Pavlov from human rights defending initiative Team 29 represented Savchuk, and the defendant „troll-factory” agreed to pay Savchuk her withheld salaries and to restore her job.

See also
References
  1. Max Seddon (2014-06-02). „Documents Show How Russia’s Troll Army Hit America”. BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2016-06-12. Russian reprint: Документы показали, как армия российских ‚троллей’ атакует Америку (InoPressa).
  2. „Everything you wanted to know about trolls but were afraid to ask”.ShareAmerica. U.S. State Dept. Bureau of International Information Programs. 4 November 2015. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  3. Alexandra Garmazhapova (2013-09-09). „Где живут тролли. Как работают интернет-провокаторы в Санкт-Петербурге и кто ими заправляет” [Where are the trolls: The internet provocateurs in St. Petersburg and who funds them].Novaya Gazeta (in Russian). Retrieved 2016-06-12. Ukrainian reprint: Де живуть тролі у РФ: як працюють інтернет-провокатори в Санкт-Петербурзі і хто ними заправляє (finance.ua).
  4. „СМИ: Под Петербургом за умеренную плату ругали Навального” [Near St. Petersburg there are those being paid a modest fee to abuse Navalny]. Lentizdat (in Russian). 2013-09-04. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  5. Denis Korotkov (2014-05-29). „Сотни троллей за миллионы” [Hundreds of millions of trolls]. Fontanka.ru (in Russian). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  6. „В США начали охоту на проплаченных интернет-троллей из России” [The hunt for Russian internet trolls started in the U.S.]. Criminal Ukraine (in Russian). NEWSru.com. 2014-06-05. Retrieved 2016-06-12. Ukrainian reprint: Американці розпочали полювання на проплачених Кремлем інтернет-тролів (zik.ua).
  7. Ilya Klishin (2014-05-21). „Максимальный ретвит: Лайки на Запад” [Maximum-retweet: Laika West]. Vedomosti (in Russian). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  8. Andrew Soshnikov (2014-05-30). „Интернет-тролли из Ольгино заговорили на английском и украинском” [Internet trolls from Olgino start talking in English and Ukrainian]. Moy Rayon (in Russian). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  9. Andrew Soshnikov (2013-09-04). „Под Петербургом обнаружено логово троллей, которые клеймят Навального и хвалят русское кино” [Near St. Petersburg lies the lair of trolls that brand and praise Russian cinema]. Moy Rayon (in Russian). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  10. Diana Khachatryan (2015-03-11). „Как стать тролльхантером” [How to become a troll-breaker]. Novaya Gazeta (in Russian). 24. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  11. Sofia Korzova (2014-10-28). „СМИ: „Ольгинские тролли” стали „савушкинскими”” [‚Trolls from Olgino’ have become ‚savushkinskimi’]. Lentizdat (in Russian). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  12. Victor Ryezunkov (2015-03-16). „”Кремлівські тролі” розповіли про себе: де сидять і чим займаються” [‚The Kremlin trolls’ tell me where they sit and what they do]. Radio Liberty (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  13. Jessikka Aro (2015-11-09). „My Year as a Pro-Russia Troll Magnet: International Shaming Campaign and an SMS from Dead Father”. Yle Kioski. Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  14. Jessikka Aro (2015-06-24). „This is What Pro-Russia Internet Propaganda Feels Like – Finns Have Been Tricked into Believing in Lies”. Yle Kioski. Retrieved 2016-05-31.
  15. Higgins, Andrew (2016-05-30). „Effort to Expose Russia’s ‚Troll Army’ Draws Vicious Retaliation”. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-05-31.
  16. „Тролль из Ольгино: Над Лукашенко отрывались как могли” [Troll from Olgino: After Lukashenko, came out as best as they could]. Khartyia’97 (in Russian). 2014-09-09. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  17. „Тролли из Ольгино переехали в новый четырехэтажный офис на Савушкина” [Trolls from Olgino moved to a new four-story office on Savushkina]. DP.Ru (in Russian). 2014-10-28. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  18. Adrian Chen (2015-06-02). „The Agency: From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid ‚trolls’ has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet – and in real-life American communities.”. The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-06-03.
  19. Andrew Soshnikov (2016-03-23). „Фейковый расстрел: кто стоит за роликом об уничтожении Корана” [Fake shot: Who is behind the filming of the destruction of the Quran]. BBC Russian Service (in Russian). Retrieved 2016-03-24.
  20. Ross Logan (2016-03-30). „Video of ‚US soldier shooting Qur’an’ is a fake made in Russia”. Daily Mirror. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  21. „Behind the Dutch Terror Threat Video: The St. Petersburg ‚Troll Factory’ Connection”. Bellingcat. 2016-04-03. Retrieved 2016-04-03.
  22. Andy Cush (2015-08-20). „Emails Link Kremlin Troll Farm to Bizarre New York Photography Exhibit”. Gawker. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  23. „Maidan” refers to Independence Square in Kiev, which became synonymous with mass political protests following the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2013Euromaidan, i.e. the two Maidans.
  24. Lana Samokhvalova (2016-01-21). „Московський слід колорадського Жука, або Хто і як готує „Майдан-3″” [Moscow’s cyber roaches, or who’s calling for ‚Maidan 3’]. Ukrinform (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  25. Wachnicki, Michał; Olwert, Paweł (4 March 2014). „Wynajęci Rosjanie cyber-bombardują polski internet?” [Hired Russians cyber-bombarding the Polish internet?]. Newsweek (Polish version) (in Polish). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  26. Czekaj, Matthew (29 April 2015). „Russia’s Hybrid War Against Poland”. Eurasia Daily Monitor. The Jamestown Foundation. 12 (80). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  27. „Raport o stanie bezpieczeństwa cyberprzestrzeni RP w roku 2014” [Report on the state of Poland’s internet security in 2014] (PDF) (in Polish). Rządowy Zespół Reagowania na Incydenty Komputerowe CERT.GOV.PL. March 2015. Retrieved2016-06-12.
  28. Chris Elliott (2014-05-04). „The readers’ editor on… pro-Russia trolling below the line on Ukraine stories”. The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-12-23.
  29. Gathmann, Moritz; Neef, Christian; Schepp, Matthias; Stark, Holger (30 May 2014). „The Opinion-Makers: How Russia Is Winning the Propaganda War”. Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  30. Hans, Julian (13 June 2014). „Putins Trolle” [Putin’s trolls]. Süddeutsche Zeitung(in German). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  31. Bracher, Katharina (29 June 2014). „Prorussische Propaganda aus der Schweiz: Twittern für den Kreml” [Pro-Russian propaganda from Switzerland: Twittering for the Kremlin]. Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  32. Barkin, Noah; Rinke, Andreas (25 November 2014). „Merkel hits diplomatic dead-end with Putin”. Reuters. Retrieved 2016-06-12. German media have been complaining for months about their news sites being bombarded with pro-Russian comments. German security sources say they are part of an organized offensive steered from the Kremlin.
  33. Caitlin Dewey (2016-06-04). „Hunting for paid Russian trolls in the Washington Post comments section”. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  34. Olga Minchenko (2015-03-25). „В Україні запустили сервіс блокування антиукраїнської пропаганди TrolleyBust” [Ukraine has launched a service to block anti-Ukrainian propaganda source TrolleyBust]. Watcher (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  35. TrolleyBust service (in Ukrainian and Russian).
  36. У Росії колишня співробітниця подала в суд на „фабрику інтернет-тролів” [Former employee sues ‚Internet Troll Factory’]. TSN (Television production) (in Ukrainian). Ukraine: 1+1. 2015-05-29. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
Further reading
External links
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