I knew fake news were real, but I didn’t know there was an agency with thousands of employees spreading them.
For my seventh and final assignment for my New Digital Media and Social Media class my classmates Solimar, Natalia, Paola and Yairimar and I had to investigate about the Internet Research Agency, Trolling and Bots.
Likewise, for this assignment we had to do a general presentation of the topic in class and afterwards, create a journalistic article presenting our findings from our investigation.
For this assignment, only one of us had to post the journalistic article which in our case was Solimar. Here’s the link to see the assignment.
If you want to see the English version, here’s the link of the translated journalistic article, by my classmate Natalia.
For this assignment, I investigated about the Internet Research Agency, what is it, where is it, what does it do, its employees and its events.
Here are my findings:
According to an investigative report of The New York Times Magazine called “The Agency”, the Internet Research Agency is an internet agency, founded in 2013, and located in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Likewise, the author of the letter stipulates that the company is mainly dedicated to publishing false content, in favor of the Russian business and its political interests, in the most used and recognized social networks in Russia. Specifically, employees of the agency disclose pro-Kremlin propaganda. Also, according to an article in The Sporcle Blogcalled “What Is the Kremlin and How Does It Relate to Russia?”, Kremlin means castle and, although through the history of Russia there were many castles, in the contemporary world when the Russians talk about the Kremlin they refer to the Moscow Kremlin, where it is located, the residence of the president of Russia, the Great Kremlin Palace. For this reason, when it is stated that the Internet Research Agency publishes pro-Kremlin content, it refers to the fact that it publishes content in favor of the Russian government. On the other hand, the company is known to employ thousands of Russians who spread false information under false identities in the most used social networks in Russia and in the world. Thus, the illusion is created that many people support the current administration of the Russian government, an act to which the term “troll farm” is assigned.
According to a former employee of the company called Ludmila Savchuk, the company is divided into several departments where they post fake content on LiveJournal, a Russian social network where users can keep a blog or journal as they publish on VKontakte, a social network that is as “the Russian version of Facebook”. They also publish on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and in the comments section of the Russian news media. Savchuck says the company recruits young people with little education to publish false political information and opinions using false identities. She also mentions that the employees, when she worked for the agency, worked 12-hour hours, from nine in the morning to nine at night and they had very high incomes.
[Photo by Dmitri Lovetsky. CC licensed.]
On the other hand, upon reaching the Internet Research Agency building, employees become “trolls” and switch to an Internet proxy service that hides the “IP addresses” of the places where they post, so that if someone tries to track the publication they will not be able to know where it originates. Savchuck was given a daily list of opinions he had to enact on the networks. On the other hand, it is believed that the Internet Research Agency is funded by Evgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch restaurateur called “the Kremlin Chef” by the independent press for his lucrative contracts with the government and his close relationship with, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. And since they are not sure where the money comes from, you can not estimate how many “trolls” work in the agency even though they are thought to be thousands.
Regarding the number of employees, a Russian newspaper estimated that there were approximately 400 workers with salaries of $ 400,000 per month. In the same way, the report mentions that in the social networks the “trolls” had common characteristics. On Twitter, when the farces occurred in the United States, they could identify that the profiles that tweeted about both events were the same. On Facebook, it was identified that all accounts were created in 2014 and that they were profiles with pictures of well-dressed young Americans who seemed to have no friendships and spent all their time leaving anti-Obama comments.
The Internet Research Agency began to be known in the United States due to two farces that it created, one in Louisiana and the other in Atlanta, Georgia. The first farce occurred on September 11, 2014 and was known as the explosion of Columbian Chemicals. The residents of St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, received a text message that said there had been an explosion at the Columbia Chemical plant in St. Mary Parish, and that it was dangerous to go outside because of the fumes that were released. Later, several Twitter users began to tweet about the event; Some even presented evidence such as photos and videos that made Louisiana residents believe that the explosion had occurred. All the content that was produced in the social network caused the hashtag #ColumbianChemicals to be in the hashtags of trends in Louisiana. However, the event was a hoax because it was declared by the employees of the plant and the legitimate media because they had not reported anything. In the same way, that same year, on December 13, the same accounts began to say, falsely, that there was an Ebola outbreak in Atlanta, Georgia causing panic on social networks.
To show how trolls may work in favor of the government just like the Research Internet Agency, I presented this troll’s case acting in favor of the government in Puerto Rico.
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https://www.facebook.com/ellennakashimapost. (n.d.). U.S. Cyber Command operation disrupted Internet access of Russian troll factory on day of 2018 midterms. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from Washington Post website: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-cyber-command-operation-disrupted-internet-access-of-russian-troll-factory-on-day-of-2018-midterms/2019/02/26/1827fc9e-36d6-11e9-af5b-b51b7ff322e9_story.html
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Телеканал Дождь. (n.d.). Ex-Russian «troll» reveals the goal «to set Americans against their own government». Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb9jRxC5KlQ
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Lapowsky, N. T., Issie. (2018, December 17). How russian trolls used meme warfare to divide America. Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/russia-ira-propaganda-senate-report/
What is the kremlin and how does it relate to russia? | sporcle blog. (2018, May 12). Retrieved April 30, 2019, from The Sporcle Blog website: https://www.sporcle.com/blog/2018/05/what-is-the-kremlin-and-how-does-it-relate-to-russia/
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These and a couple more of references appear in my Diigo account. You can check that out here.