The Trolls Who Came In From The Cold

A laptop computer and a newspaper show reports about the arrival of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden to Russia, at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, in June 2013.
A laptop computer and a newspaper show reports about the arrival of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden to Russia, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, in June 2013.

By Viktor Rezunkov

ST. PETERSBURG — Last May, Tatiana N decided she wanted a higher salary than the average journalist can expect.

After responding to an advertisement in the popular HeadHunter job-search website, she became a Kremlin-paid Internet troll. Tatiana — who, like others interviewed for this story, asked that her last name not be used — worked out of a 2,500-square-meter warehouse in the suburbs of St. Petersburg.

The job paid 40,000 rubles a month, significantly more than the 25,000-30,000 most journalists make. But it came, she said, “with pain.”

Tatiana joined a round-the-clock operation in which an army of trolls disseminated pro-Kremlin and anti-Western talking points on blogs and in the comments sections of news websites in Russia and abroad.

The operation, Internet Research, is financed through a holding company headed by President Vladimir Putin’s “personal chef,” Evgeny Prigozhin.

“So you write, write, write, from the point of view of anyone,” Tatiana, 22, says.

“You could be [posing as] a housewife who bakes dumplings and suddenly decides: ‘I have an opinion about what Putin said! And this action by Vladimir Vladimirovich saves Russia.”

The roughly 400 employees work 12-hour shifts and are split into various departments. Some focus on writing up themes and assignments, others concentrate on commenting, and others work on graphics for social media.

The daily assignments — shown in a document first published on March 11 by independent St. Petersburg newspaper My Region — are usually drawn directly from pro-Kremlin media and go into sometimes excruciating detail about the message the bloggers and commenters are supposed to relay.

One assignment instructed trolls how to frame the February 27 assassination of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov: Either it was orchestrated by Ukrainian oligarchs to frame Russia and harm Moscow’s relations with the West, or it was carried out by Nemtsov’s supporters as a “provocation” ahead of opposition protests.

Lena N, another former employee, says she stopped working at Internet Research after refusing to blog the company line about Nemtsov’s killing.

“It was necessary to bring people to believe that the killing of Boris Nemtsov was a provocation before the march and a murder carried out by his own [supporters],” she says.

Radio Free Europe

Even at $10/barrel, oil can’t match solar on cost

World News Forum

Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio, 1889

One of the biggest banks in the Middle East and the oil-rich Gulf countries says that fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar technologies on price, and says the vast bulk of the $US48 trillion needed to meet global power demand over the next two decades will come from renewables.

The report from the National Bank of Abu Dhabi says that while oil and gas has underpinned almost all energy investments until now, future investment will be almost entirely in renewable energy sources.

The report is important because the Gulf region, the Middle East and North Africa will need to add another 170GW of electricity in the next decade, and the major financiers recognise that the cheapest and most effective way to go is through solar and wind. It also highlights how even the biggest financial institutions in the Gulf…

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