Putin's Internet Trolls Mercilessly Smear Finnish Reporter Simply For Pointing Them Out

from the disinformation-nation dept

We’ve noted numerous times now that a cornerstone of the Putin regime has been the use of internet trolls to flood the internet with propaganda. These armies of paid sockpuppets get paid 40,000 to 50,000 rubles ($800 to $1,000) a month to create proxied, viable fake personas — specifically tasked with pumping the internet full of toxic disinformation 24 hours a day. The practice was recently exposed by journalist, activist and mother Lyuda Savchuk, who spent three months employed as such a troll — before successfully suing the Russian government for a single ruble on principle.

Criticize this practice as a writer anywhere on the internet and you’ll pretty quickly find yourself the target of anonymous attacks in the comment section — or significantly worse. Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro recently found this out the hard way after profiling Putin’s online propaganda efforts in a series of reports for Finland’s state broadcaster Yle Kioski. Since the reports, Aro has found herself under attack by an ocean of internet pugilists that have filled the internet with claims Aro is everything from a professional drug dealer to a paid NATO stooge:

“In response to her reporting, pro-Russian activists in Helsinki organized a protest outside the headquarters of Yle, accusing it of being a troll factory itself. Only a handful of people showed up. At the same time, Ms. Aro has been peppered with abusive emails, vilified as a drug dealer on social media sites and mocked as a delusional bimbo in a music video posted on YouTube. ?There are so many layers of fakery you get lost,? said Ms. Aro, who was awarded the Finnish Grand Prize for Journalism in March.

…She (also) received a call late at night on her cellphone from a number in Ukraine. Nobody spoke, and all she could hear was gunfire. This was followed by text and email messages denouncing her as a ?NATO whore? and a message purporting to come from her father ? who died 20 years ago ? saying he was ?watching her.?

Finland is an EU member but has contemplated joining NATO — talks about which accelerated after Russia’s not-so-subtle invasion of the Ukraine. Russia, in turn, has started leaning heavily on its online disinformation puppets to try and turn public sentiment against such a move. Part of the effectiveness of Putin’s paid trolls is that it’s impossible to differentiate them from the usual wash of vitriol and idiocy that coats online interactions on any given day. As such, it’s not entirely unlike trying to have a fist fight with a running stream, reflected in the Finnish media’s confusion on how to tackle the problem outside of things like “open letters”:

“The false claim that Ms. Aro was a drug dealer triggered an unusual open letter signed by more than 20 Finnish editors infuriated by what they denounced as the ?poisoning of public debate? with ?insults, defamation and outright lies.? The Finnish police began an investigation into the website for harassment and hate speech.

?I don?t know if these people are acting on orders from Russia, but they are clearly what Lenin called ?useful idiots,?? said Mika Pettersson, the editor of Finland?s national news agency and an organizer of the editors? open letter. ?They are playing into Putin?s pocket. Nationalist movements in Finland and other European countries want to destabilize the European Union and NATO, and this goes straight into Putin?s narrative.?

The European Union doesn’t appear to be particularly prepared for this new world of online information warfare either, and has embraced arguably outdated concepts like “the truth” or by cataloging the most egregious claims in a weekly report dubbed the “Disinformation Review.” And while disinformation and propaganda is certainly nothing new (especially here in the west), it’s clear that Putin has taken online information warfare to an entirely new level. One the international community isn’t quite ready for — and is certain to respond to with no limit of bad ideas and even worse laws over time.

Full disclosure before you read about it in the comment section: I’m a former opium salesman paid by the CIA to unfairly malign absolutely everybody.

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Comments on “Putin's Internet Trolls Mercilessly Smear Finnish Reporter Simply For Pointing Them Out”

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Udom (profile) says:


Well of course Russia has people doing this. The use of fake comments has been around since the early 1900s, when it was done via letters to the editor in newspapers. This and many other techniques were invented by american Edward Bernays, (whose 1928 book Propaganda was much admired by Goebbels). The well worn in joke here is having one group of propagandists condemn their rivals as propagandists.

TheTruthWillOut says:

Re: Propaganda

You could not have put it better! Does the author of this article really think the USA does not use the same techniques or even my country of the UK? All news is propaganda in one form or another. Everyone has an agenda, one of the Techdirt agenda’s is to bring fairness in to the digital world and look at the propaganda and hate thrown at Mike by the Copyright Maximalists. It borders on outright stupidity let alone basic misinformation type propaganda. Nuff said!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Propaganda

Does the author of this article really think the USA does not use the same technique

I do expect they engage in propaganda. But I don’t think they use the same technique (of hiring armies of paid sockpuppets.) You can’t keep something like that a secret for long (and indeed, Russia failed to keep it a secret.)

TheTruthWillOut says:

Re: Re: Re: Propaganda

Whether the technique is similar or different matters little, all countries like to smear those deemed to be different. The USA has proved time and again that it views it’s system of government superior to all others and wants the world moulded in it’s image. Countries not in it’s sphere of influence resist as is natural. Propaganda is used in many different forms and by all countries but it’s still a good method of influencing people who are susceptible and suck it all up as the ultimate truth. Here is a small example: Recently the US navy has been operating naval exercises off the coast of Russia and complains when the Russians intercept and overfly their aircraft carriers however if the Russians did the same off the US coast the US would react in the same manner. This point of course is ignored in the US media because the whole pitch is aimed at painting the Russians as the aggressors. It’s the same scenario with China and the South China sea dispute. People need to wake up to the brainwashing from all sides because you can easily be dragged in to stupid conflicts where people will die if we don’t keep our guard up.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Propaganda

I agree with his post and would have posted something similar and I can assure you that I not paid, neither have I been threatened.

The problem is this. Before 1917 Russia had an empire roughly equivalent to what later became the Soviet Union. Within that empire and on its immediate borders were peoples of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Many of these were hangovers from previous empires in the region (the Mongols , Poles and Lithuanians) and hence not truly indigenous. These peoples resented the Russians and looked back to earlier eras when they had been in charge.

The revolution (and some of the stupidity that followed it) temporarily weakened Russia and, between the wars some of these peoples gained independence. The war forced the communists to be a bit more pragmatic and restored Russian power.

After the war the Soviet Union expanded back to cover most of the old Russian Empire – and also gained control of a chunk of central europe (Poland, Hungary, East Germany etc ).

In our attempts to undermine communism we enlisted the help of disaffected nationalist groups in Central Europe and the old Russian Empire. This may have been a natural thing – since these groups were the best organised opponents of communism BUT their agenda was never purely anti-communist. It was always partly anti-Russian. We made the mistake of continuing to support them uncritically after communism fell. At that point we should have taken a deep breath and resolved not to take sides in any dispute that did not concern us directly. Instead we have simply continued to back any individual, group or government that opposes Russia no matter how bad they are. It is no surprise that the Russians are fed up with us and back Putin’s hard line. They see a west that is determined to rub Russia’s nose in the failure of the Soviet Union forever. I’m really quite surprised that Putin needs to bribe them to put his point of view on the net,

A little magnanimity in victory at the end of the cold war might have been a good idea.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Propaganda

ABSOLUTELY agree with the thetruthwillout’s posts (hattip, colbert), as well as also going to say something similar along the lines of mote/beam: um, WHY is it the US MILITARY’s intel depts are buying sockpuppetware which allows each operator to set up hundreds of social media sockpuppet accounts to disseminate propaganda ? ? ?
why ever would that be ? ? ?
and thanks to a poster either here or some other seditious site, who retold how a midnight rider (why IS it NO ONE can ever find out who/where/how these mysterious midnight riders get snuck in bills ? gee, that seems so-o-o-o odd it happens again, and again, and again… yet NO ONE has a clue how it happened… what are the odds…) had been added to an unrelated 2013 bill which completely eviscerated the legal proscription from taxpayer monies being spent to propagandize the US population…
funny, don’t remember hearing that little news nugget in the media…
oh, wait, now i get it…

oddly enough, happened about the same time as the military’s sock puppet software purchases were revealed…

TheTruthWillOut says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Propaganda

You just brought to mind something that blows away the premise by a few on this forum that anyone who points out the truth must be a pro Putin troll. A little test to prove the point. Go to a pro copyright forum and disagree with the posters, you will instantly be accused by many of being a troll. Go to a site like this which looks into the problems with copyright, and then make out you are a copyright maximalist and yes! You guessed right! You are called a troll! It’s much easier to have an intelligent discussion than insulting people when they disagree with you. Best always to look deeper in to subjects before calling out trolls who probably ain’t trolls in reality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Propaganda

But I don’t think they use the same technique (of hiring armies of paid sockpuppets.)

Funny that you would say “armies” as the US military is deeply involved in this practice (and I do believe that US soldiers are paid). They even have special software to make it easier for the soldiers to manage all their sock puppets. “Armies” indeed.

TheTruthWillOut says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Propaganda

Of course I am serious! I would never take money from any government agency of any nationality ever, to troll on the web. I hold all politicians of all colours in the same contempt. I am of the older generation and have seen and heard enough to understand how manipulative politicians are. I am an avid reader of History and like to read both sides of a story and not just the one I am told is correct. Nationalism and Jingoism exists in all nations. I suggest maybe a quick look at John Pilgers website to see just how manipulative our world leaders and those who pull the strings really are. In addition to that just look at the hatred spewed out to people like Mike Masnick just because he challenges the wrongs of perpetual copyright. The attacks are way over the top and so vitriolic. But then again, when fleecing the general public is the only way you can keep your old business model it’s no surprise they get panicky when someone points out the problems.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Propaganda

Interesting about Pilger, but he has had association some quite ingenious propagandists himself, in the likes of Charles Perkins (a very rabid racist – a description of the man from a full-blood aboriginal elder).

There is no doubt that he highlights and documents various tragic problems. But he is no less immune than anyone else in believing propaganda that appeals.

I suppose this is the problem with all men (women and children). Propaganda that appeals to you is going to be effective. Things like Trump is the Demon Spawn of Republican Hell and Clinton is the Saviour of Womenkind will appeal to some people. Likewise, things like Clinton is a Warmongering Hellion of the Democrats and Trump the Saviour of The Glory of the US will appeal to others.

When the real truth is probably that both are politicians and both are lying through their teeth to get your vote for presidency and neither actually cares about the general citizen of the US.

Likewise, here in the Land of Aus, we have three parties that on the face of it are different. But the reality is that each of them is as bad as the other. They each have their agendas and their specific beneficiaries that do NOT include most of the citizens of this country. At this point, I don’t care for any of the candidates of the major parties as they are all party animals. I don’t know about the minor candidates as yet, though in the past, many of them were just as bad. Occasionally, you will get a decent candidate who actually will represent all of the citizens in his electorate, but it doesn’t seem to happen often.

TheTruthWillOut says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Propaganda

You have confirmed my original point. People choose to believe what they want to, and to some degree we are all influenced by propaganda. I suppose the life skill we need is not to take it, or ourselves, to seriously. Whatever anyone thinks of John Pilger or others that expose wrong doing, at least it’s a better world where we can investigate opinions and choose what to believe rather than be told that the state sponsored opinion is the only correct one. This is why I fear for the future of the internet because the one thing that really terrifies our so called leaders is the fact that they cannot control it in the way they could the old media outlets, although they are still trying to find ways to do just that!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Trolling Putin

The Russian language contains two very separate terms for “truth.” Pravda (правда) means reportable, recorded truth and has come to mean official, public truth. Istina (истина) means “what truly is” (what no one would question as reality).

You say “Putin” (правда, since Vlad is merely today’s boss) – I say “Russia” (истина, since this is an entirely Russian approach whether Putin is the one in power or not).

I’ll stand by “trolling Russia.”

Mao Cheng Ji says:

activist and mother Lyuda Savchuk...

…discovered an internet marketing agency, that might’ve been providing services to (oh, the horrors!) Russian politicians… Not to Mr Putin, obviously, who’s extremely popular as it is…

There are, no doubt, dozens of such agencies here in the west… How else could we explain the prevalence and uniformity of these russophobic smears?

Joe K says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You’re English is as bad as your bullshit comrade.

Employs bro-tastic hyper-homophobic terms of abuse? Check.

Believes (in the 21st century, no less) that it is the height of wit
to call anyone who isn’t a russophobe “comrade” at every opportunity? Check.

Cannot spell to save their life, even when making (utterly groundless)
accusations about poor English grammar? Check.

Stay classy, soldier.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Journalists in the US generally get a more ‘personal’ treatment(stalking, legal threats, that sort of thing) from the government from the agencies who’ve had their dirty laundry aired, rather than dogpiled by a bunch of paid attack stooges who seem to operate under the idea of ‘Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’.

‘I’m going to mess up your life’ vs ‘I’m going to pay a bunch of people to do my dirty work for me’ basically.

SteveP says:

Re: Re:

“So Putin’s minions get paid a pretty decent sum to do their dirty work.” Didn’t you mean to say So Clinton’s and Putin’s minions get paid a pretty decent sum to do their dirty work.

Bashing Trump’s fan’s while liberals do the same thing and throw violent protests just seems a little absurd.

Anonymous Coward says:

Did you guys know that Putin is a homosexual? This is a known fact in Russia. Although the media doesn’t talk about it much all the people know.

This is why he is so concerned with his “masculine” image. There are even leaked internal memos from the Russian intelligence services detailing Putins indiscretions.

Udom (profile) says:

...the US military is deeply involved in this practice

I remember a gushing article a few years into the Afghan war about a US army warehouse full of soldiers busy all day long posting in media comments sections. Public support is crucial to a war effort so it would be a serious lapse for the military not to do this. There’s also the propagation of fake news stories to pump support.

TheTruthWillOut says:

Re: ...the US military is deeply involved in this practice

Correct Udom, This happens all the time on all sides. All state and private media are primed with fake stories and misleading articles to get the public onside for any wars the establishment want to start. Russia Today the TV station are masters at this sort of stuff, but the problem is so are all the other news outlets around the globe. Try and find a pro Israel story on Al-Jazeera for instance, it’s impossible. Fox News in the USA is a classic example of right wing nut job politics, and the BBC in my country pumps out pro Royal Family stories to brainwash the public away from turning to a directly elected head of state such as you have in the USA. Just take look at the media in Israel and that of the Arabs. They just poor out lies and hatred against each other and hope nobody notices. However that said, Israeli media is still way more balanced that Arab media has ever been.

TheTruthWillOut says:

Re: Re: ...the US military is deeply involved in this practice

Assad is indeed a murdering tyrant. The trouble is the opposition are also murderous people and are not moderates as dishonestly described by the pentagon. It looks likes if the USA has it’s way we will be replacing one murderous tyrant with a different brand of murderous tyrants. USA interest is not in democracy for Syria but to destroy Assad because he is a client of Russia. It’s called classic Hegemony. If the USA was so interested in overthrowing tyrants then how about overthrowing the Saudi Government, there human rights record is the worst in the middle east.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: ...the US military is deeply involved in this practice

Assad is indeed a murdering tyrant.

No he isn’t. He is a “front man” entrapped by the organisation of murdering tyrants that his father set up. (I know someone who actually met him before he was president!)

The trouble is the opposition are also murderous people

Not entirely – but then again they might as well be because if the opposition wins the endgame will inevitably be a takeover by people worse tha Assad’s government. The non-murderous parts of the opposition are tolerated by the murderous parts because they attract western support. However once that western support is no longer needed they will be liquidated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 ...the US military is deeply involved in this practice

why don’t we just focus on fixing our country’s many problems first instead of spending billions we don’t have in fighting foreign wars and foreign aid?

Let’s fix our dilapidated house first before it collapses in on itself rather than the neighbours across the street.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 ...the US military is deeply involved in this practice

Many people who met Saddam Hussain found him charming and affable.

Saddam set up his own murderous regime – Assad inherited it (reluctantly) from his father because his elder brother died. But for that he would probably now be working as an eye doctor in London. He is not the driving force behind the repressive regime he fronts. However any regime holding power in Syria pretty much has to be murderous to survive. Assad’s regime has its power base in the Alawite minority. If the regime falls then it is pretty much certain that they will be wiped out. When you are fighting for your life you do desperate things.

Oh, and in Russia there are still people who think Joseph Stalin was a lovely Guy!

Yep – and I met one of them last time I visited in 2013. He seemed so out of place there now.

I also saw a group of them protesting in a shopping centre in St Petersburg. They looked pathetic! There were about a dozen of them at best. By contrast a queue of people waiting to get into the Kazan Cathedral where Patriarch Kyril was visiting with the cross of St Andrew stretched around the block and about another mile down the road.

Richard (profile) says:

Rule of law

The practice was recently exposed by journalist, activist and mother Lyuda Savchuk, who spent three months employed as such a troll — before successfully suing the Russian government for a single ruble on principle.

Note that this was a Russian court.

SO those who run Putin’s “troll army” are not above the rule of law in Russia.

Compare and contrast with the way related issues are handled in the US. (Manning, Snowden, Assange etc).

Anonymous Coward says:

Clay Shirky: How the internet will (one day) transform government

Here’s the link: http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_the_internet_will_one_day_transform_government

Basically the principle is that information will cause trolls and arguments, but that’s a good thing. His philosophy is that we will we evolve into a co-operative arguing that will evolve to a better way write laws. I’m not so optimistic, but it’s a good step up. Ever had a shitty dev screw up and had to roll back to reality, well imagine a thousand devs purposely trying to screw you up. I think that’s why they allow forks in GitHub.

TheTruthWillOut says:

Re: useful idiots

Where does the “comrades” bit come into this thread? Russia is a capitalist country now. The old “Communist Party” is a distant second in popularity in Russian elections behind the “Russia First” party. Personally I can’t stand Putin. The Communists in Russia cannot stand Putin and want to get rid of him but some of you posting on here appear to be still stuck in the cold war era.

Udom (profile) says:


Comments in media are useful but pretty low level stuff for propagandists. Big stuff is more fun. During the Afghan war there was wide reporting of polling done by a company that was touted to be a world leader in this. They claimed they had sent canvassers through the Afghan outback and the results showed strong support amongst Afghans for allied efforts against the Taliban. Turned out the polling company had a single office in Langley and only three employees who had sketchy CVs, and even those references disappeared within hours of their being outed.

Anonymous Coward says:

LOL at nationalists and monarchists having this great nostalgia about a past most of them were never a part of in the first place.
“Suure… let’s close our borders and defer everything to some inbred dude. That’ll raise the standards of living and bring back the jobs.” Maybe if you want 60% of the people going back to agriculture it will…

Matthew A. Sawtell (profile) says:

Hm... so whose 'Monsters of the ID' are the best?

Figure it will be only a matter of time before a cyber-battle will be joined between Putin’s Crew and the CCP’s 50-Cent Army, to which many a forum will see an epic flame war or two. But it is interesting to note that for all the online vitriol shown over the years, it is very rare to see an equal amount of activity in real life to reflect it.

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