Putin Hires Pro-Russia Trolls to Spread Propaganda
Russian President Vladimir Putin is exploiting a new avenue for pro-Russia propaganda. According to the British newspaper, the Guardian, the comments page on its website is being overrun with trolls.
Unlike the ogres of childhood fairy tales, trolls are people who stir up contention on the Internet by posting abusive, inflammatory and other such comments on articles, blogs, chat rooms and forums. It has come to light that Putin has begun employing such people to spread Russian propaganda.
Allegations of the Kremlin paying Russians to champion Putin’s political activities and denigrate anyone who would otherwise disagree are nothing new. On Feb. 7, 2012, the Guardian reported on pro-Putin groups that were being paid to dominate the comments pages of news sites and blogs.
Since the Crimean crisis, however, the number of hateful comments has spiked. The Guardian cited a number of telltale signs that were clear indicators of a determined and coordinated effort being made by pro-Kremlin groups to dominate and spread propaganda through comment boards.
Firstly, many of the hateful comments come from users who have suddenly appeared in the last couple of months, coinciding coincidentally with the escalation of Russian activity in Ukraine. Secondly, moderators from the Guardian noted a correlation between many of the comments. Certain phrases are being repeated, indicating some form of template is being used.
Then there is the timing. Moderators can see when the trolls are posting, and whether it matches Russian work hours. The moderators can also see which articles the trolls are posting on. The most vehement pro-Russian comments are on Ukrainian subjects.
The Guardian cannot produce conclusive evidence indicating where the comments are stemming from, but when the aforementioned factors are taken into account, it is enough for the newspaper to call foul.
Trolling may not seem an egregious problem in itself, but it is one small part of a larger Russian initiative to delegitimize opposition and give validity to the Kremlin’s policies. The international community relies heavily on the Internet to provide information on the Ukrainian crisis. Putin knows it, and employs his trolls to shift any online discussion.
Understanding Putin’s strategy is vital if the international community wishes to contend with the judo master, be it online or on the Ukrainian battlefield.To get a better handle on Putin’s policies, be sure to read “How Judo Shapes Putin’s Foreign Policy.”