BuzzFeed broke the news that the Kremlin has been actively operating a disinformation campaign targeted at readers of a number of American-based internet publications including, but not limited to, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and BuzzFeed. Additional reports name Fox News, Huffington Post, The Blaze and World Net Daily in the list of targets. Russian agents would act as trolls on these sites, filling comment sections with various forms of anti-American propaganda.
In a report dated May 21, Internet Research Agency commercial director Svetlana Boiko discussed the progress of the trolling project’s $75,000 trial period, which began April 10. The report says that during that period, the trolls left more than 2,500 comments on 30 different news websites, tweeted 1,220 times from 12 accounts, wrote 85 Facebook posts, posted 175 times in an unspecified number of forums, and made five bizarre YouTube videos attacking the U.S. government andHarry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe.
As with many previous disinformation campaigns, the goal of the trolling operation is to:
…turn public opinion against the U.S. government on 40 different subjects ranging from Russia’s role in the world and the Ukraine crisis to unrelated American domestic issues like gun rights, taxes, and religion. The trolls also campaigned heavily against U.S. President Barack Obama on Twitter, where they used the hashtag #Obama to promote the keywords “fuck obama,” “ass obama,” and “ObamaCare.” The most popular account, @I_am_ass_, has 3,363 followers.
Millions of dollars are being spent on the Kremlin’s latest disinformation campaign, meant to manipulate internet freedom abroad while simultaneously increasing control within Russian territory:
The bizarre hive of social media activity appears to be part of a two-pronged Kremlin campaign to claim control over the internet, launching a million-dollar army of trolls to mold American public opinion as it cracks down on internet freedom at home.
…A new law that comes into effect in August also forces bloggers with more than 3,000 followers to register with the government. The move entails significant and cumbersome restrictions for bloggers, who previously wrote free of Russia’s complicated media law bureaucracy, while denying them anonymity and opening them up to political pressure.
“The internet has become the main threat — a sphere that isn’t controlled by the Kremlin,” said Pavel Chikov, a member of Russia’s presidential human rights council. “That’s why they’re going after it. Its very existence as we know it is being undermined by these measures.”
The trolls have also set up YouTube accounts to post anti-American and anti-LGBT propaganda videos. Comments on these videos illustrate the poor English skills of some of the Kremlin’s trolls, one of the dead giveaways of the now defamed disinformation campaign.