Ex-Kremlin Hired 'Troll' Wins One Ruble In Damages From Putin's Internet Propaganda Factory

from the propagandist-whac-a-mole dept

As we've been exploring, whistleblowers have been exposing Putin and the Kremlin's use of "troll factories" to fill the internet with propaganda. The efforts run amazingly deep, with employees 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. One of these employees, Lyudmila Savchuk, spent two months employed by the operation and was so disgusted that she quit, launched an anti-propaganda social activist campaign, and decided to sue the Russian government.

Amazingly enough Lyudmila Savchuk is not only still alive, but she has won her case. A Russian court has awarded Savchuk symbolic damages of one ruble, her requested damage amount after suing the disinformation barn for non-payment of wages and for failing to give workers proper contracts:
"I am very happy with this victory. I achieved my aim, which was to bring the internet trolls out of the shade," said Savchuk, 34. The Kremlin has claimed that it has no links to the operations of the Agency for Internet Studies. Authorities in Russia have intensified a propaganda campaign as the crisis over Ukraine has sent tensions with the west soaring to their highest level since the cold war.
So yes, Savchuk managed to bring a small portion of one of Putin's companies involved in propaganda (Agency for Internet Studies, or Internet Research) out of the shadows briefly. But the Russian government continues to deny they've any connection to the operation, and the company itself continues to operate unfettered, as do the myriad other similar companies the Kremlin employs to pollute the global discourse mud puddle.

Case in point: as Russia waits for the report on what caused the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the Ukraine last year (investigators believe the downing missile was Russian made, and the report is expected to show it was fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels), a rather ham-fisted attempt to blame the CIA for the crash has been circulating online ahead of the report's release:
"A Russian newspaper posted an audiotape on its website that purports to reveal two US spies plotting to bring down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine last year. One hitch: The conversations are so stilted and oddly worded that they have been widely dismissed by native English speakers as obviously fake. "If you wanted to believe the CIA is responsible for downing MH17, now you've got the 'proof,'" the self-exiled Russian online newspaper Meduza headlined its report pointing out the awkward language used by the purported spies.
The recording itself certainly sounds as if two sad actors are simply reading from a poorly-translated English script:
Of course any Russian internet propagandist worth their salt will probably conclude that this ham-fisted attempt to frame the CIA was cleverly devised by the CIA itself as a sort of reverse head fake (and since the CIA has done numerous stranger things, many might even believe it). Either way, the point stands: while Savchuk may have bravely succeeded in winning one small battle against Putin's propaganda army, it's only the tiniest of dents in what's now a well-established Russian internet disinformation apparatus.

Filed Under: internet trolls, lyudmila savchuk, propaganda, russia, russian trolls


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  • icon
    limbodog (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 8:42am

    The funny thing about these feeble attempts at propaganda is that they work. All you have to do to get nationalist fervor whipped up is give them a tiny little bit of what they want, and they'll supply the rest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 1:36pm

      Re:

      Propaganda is fascinating: To best establish a reality you base the stories on real evidence, you yank out of context and place strategically into a narrative. It is like cold reading. The main narrative is flexible and evidence is used circumstantially, as a medium for the story-telling instead of as the focus. At the same time rumours and other completely unverifiable information as well as downright fabrications are taking up as much space as the evidence since it makes the story more interesting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 9:31am

    So here's PAID-FOR BY US PROPAGANDA: [Russia is] "pumping the internet full of toxic disinformation 24 hours a day"!

    Note especially the utterly loaded words "toxic" and "disinformation". No proof, just pejoratives, with exactly The Official View from the New York Times.

    OR the Rooskis could be putting out truth to defend against US-paid propagandists like totally gullible idiot "Karl Bode".

    Here's some alternate views to Techdirt's paid propaganda -- at this point, can't be regarded as honest views or news. If you can't stand even skimming through and entertaining the notion that you're being lied to by the US/UK/Israel, then you're hopeless.

    'Russian Aggression' - CBS Provides a Perfect Example of Imperial Disinformation
    http://russia-insider.com/en/media-criticism/russian-aggression-cbs-provides-perfect-e xample-imperial-disinformation/ri8262

    Here's an excellent one alleging paid by Israel to justify its crimes against Palestinians -- and the kicker at end is that still sides with Israel! Just shows ya how great Israel is, huh? The guy knows he's been paid to lie, then still supports it!
    "I Was a Paid Internet Shill"
    http://www.thetruthseeker.co.uk/?p=64853

    Just Listen to What Western Officials Are Saying About Russia by Conn Hallinan -- Antiwar.com
    http://original.antiwar.com/hallinan/2015/07/31/just-listen-to-what-western-officials-are -saying-about-russia/

    JAMES FETZER: Top Ten Reasons WE KNOW that ISIS was "Made in the USA"
    http://jamesfetzer.blogspot.com/2015/07/top-ten-reasons-we-know-that-isis-was.html

    Washington's Death Squads | Global Research - Centre for Research on Globalization
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/washingtons-death-squads/5454425

    And remember, whatreallyhappened and Rense readers, this story alone proves Techdirt actually does believe that you're nutty conspiracy kooks.


    This will be try number SEVENTEEN to get in via TOR! Evidently Techdirt has again resorted to censorship by manually okaying each post after my running the forum just a while ago. I know it's been changed behind the scenes because same method worked just an hour ago.

    Techdirt can't stand dissent. And apparently really doesn't want this article refuted.

    Ya kill me, kids, with your fragile views that can't bear criticism, and your hidden censoring, honest ya do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 9:32am

      Re: So here's PAID-FOR BY US PROPAGANDA: [Russia is]

      Oooh! Got it in at last! (Now that didn't hurt, did it?) -- Persistence pays!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 10:25am

        Eeeeww! :-P

        Classic case of Obsessive Compulsive disorder. You should seek professional help. You don't need to do this to yourself. Do yourself a favor and get help.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 9:58am

      Re: So here's PAID-FOR BY US PROPAGANDA: [Russia is] "pumping the internet full of toxic disinformation 24 hours a day"!

      This is utterly hilarious.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Gwiz (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 10:31am

        Re: Re: So here's PAID-FOR BY US PROPAGANDA: [Russia is] "pumping the internet full of toxic disinformation 24 hours a day"!

        This is utterly hilarious.

        I agree. It seems that Blue is edging closer into full blown whack-job territory every day. His aimless ramblings have now degenerated into incomprehensible gibberish.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 12:41pm

          Re: Re: Re: So here's PAID-FOR BY US PROPAGANDA: [Russia is] "pumping the internet full of toxic disinformation 24 hours a day"!

          It's his lower priced Russian replacement. Comrade Blue.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 2:00pm

      Re: So here's PAID-FOR BY US PROPAGANDA: [Russia is] "pumping the internet full of toxic disinformation 24 hours a day"!

      Having a slight knowledge about these sources, kind of kills any credibility of the ideas you believe in.

      Several of them are stolen from here:
      http://www.davidicke.com/headlines/

      Not surprisingly that source is created by the father of modern lizardmen-conspiracists:
      http://www.davidicke.com/headlines/reptilians-among-us-the-alien-race-here-o n-earth-an-absolutely-must-watch/

      Guess the new world order movement is still alive and taken serious...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 5:46pm

      Re:

      It's telling you have to stoop to defending actual censorship by a tyrannical regime trying to masquerade otherwise just to troll. What's next? Are you going to defend North Korea's nuclear program?

      out_of_the_blue is a fucking gigantic cunt.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 9:55am

    This isn't just Russia doing this. Pretty much all first world countries and a few others have their own propaganda factories going now. Once this headache was started it was a pile on. You wind up discounting it all as BS because none of it can be believed as truthful any more than "undisclosed sources" in the media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 10:03am

      Re:

      I find it interesting how when Russia is criticized for doing this, people come out of the woodwork saying "but everybody's doing it" but when the US is criticized for doing this, nothing of the sort happens.

      "But everybody's doing it" is not a defense, nor is it particularly relevant.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Karl Bode (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 11:23am

        Re: Re:

        "How dare you impugn the reputation of Russia dear sir, are you aware that (laundry list of countries) ALSO do ridiculous and horrendous shit?"

        "Why no, thank you for this information good sir. As someone who spends the other nine hours of every day criticizing the United States government, this information had somehow escaped my clearly lagging attentions."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 10:23am

    Yes much like how the FBI never creates fake terrorism plots I am sure the CIA would never do anything like implicate another country in an attack on a civilian jetliner.


    I am not pro Russia as I cannot stand them, but honestly this whole article could use a bit more of a neutral slant

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Karl Bode (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 11:24am

      Re:

      Dear sir:

      This article is about Russia doing stupid shit.

      For information on the United States doing stupid shit, please examine our back catalog of 45,000 posts on that subject.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 5:31pm

    Despite Karl Bode's claims to the contrary, it's been reported in numerous interviews with Lyudmila Savchuk that she admitted to joining the company as a "mole" in order to pass on what she learned to reporters starting from her very first day on the job. Also reported (though oddly never asked in media interviews) that she was already involved with activist groups beforehand, who apparently directed her to this "trolling" operation to infiltrate. It may have been her plan all along to get fired for talking to the press and then sue the company, in order to get maximum publicity mileage out of it.

    On the other side of the East-West divide, Russian dissident Andrei Babitsky was recently fired by US government-run propaganda outlet Radio Liberty, despite decades of loyal service, when he dared to express his opinion of the Ukrainian conflict -- an opinion which did not adhere to the official US government narrative. It would be interesting if Andrei Babitsky would sue over his firing just as Lyudmila Savchuk did, especially since he has a much stronger case than she ever did.


    Lyudmila Savchuk said she was paid 41,000 rubles per month, which is currently $585 US dollars. Accepting her claim of 400 employees at face value, that would put the employee cost of that secret trolling operation at about $3 million per year. But for comparison, how does that stack up against the amount of money the United States pays for its own propaganda dissemination operations? Here are some numbers of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which includes the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty propaganda outlets:

    http://www.bbg.gov/wp-content/media/2015/03/FY2016Budget_CBJ_Final_WebVersion.pdf

    Among this US agency's goals is to "significantly increase our digital media products and platforms to reach Russians, as well as Russians living abroad. RFE/RL will lead in this effort in collaboration with VOA." and "will expand our work reaching Russian speakers on television, social media, mobile platforms, video and audio channels."

    Hmmm ... it kind of sounds like some of the same kind of things that the Russians are constantly being accused of for the last year and a half.

    For 2016, it looks like US taxpayers will be shelling out about half a billion dollars to pay for state-sponsored propaganda -- and that's just the budget of the BBG, one of many US government agencies in the propaganda business. It seems that Russia has some serious catching up to do if they want to compete in the propaganda arms race, as it seems the Americans are literally light years ahead of the Russians in both quality and quantity.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/02/russia-troll-factory-kremlin-cyber-army-compar isons

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 18 Aug 2015 @ 5:54pm

      Re: reported in numerous interviews with Lyudmila Savchuk

      But did she actually do those interviews?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 6:49pm

      "Look over there, a distraction!"

      Oh noes, she hired on with the intention of getting an insider's look at just how bad the propaganda mills are, what a terrible action, and one that clearly discretits everything she's said... /s

      No one's claiming that other countries don't engage in propaganda efforts, the story's more about the amateurish nature of russia's attempt here, and how they got caught out.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 7:08pm

        Re: "Look over there, a distraction!"

        Sarcasm aside, if you go into a place looking for something you're likely to find it. Confirmation bias.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 18 Aug 2015 @ 11:48pm

          Re: Re: "Look over there, a distraction!"

          Only to an extent. If I go into a clothing store looking for a car for example, I'm probably not going to have much luck. Similarly, even if she was looking for a propaganda mill, there would have had to be something there for her to be able to 'find' it, some base for her claims, which were apparently good enough for a judge to rule in her favor.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2015 @ 5:05am

      Re:

      First of all, RFE is not completely propaganda. They are very biased, but they seem to mostly shy away from rumours as a main part of their stories. But alas: As soon as propaganda is rolling, it is impossible for people to orientate in terms of what is and isn't propaganda. You choose a source to listen to and that source will for you be depicting reality!

      Second of all, two wrongs don't make a right. It is hillariously bad to defend propaganda with counter-propaganda and vice versa. Stick to the facts and be aware of bias in opinions. Dig the facts out of both sides of the stories since both will use different facts and derive different meanings. Only then can you rise above feable nationalistic relativism and the empty FUD against what would be seen as the holy grail of investigative journalism in the west.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 19 Aug 2015 @ 8:39am

      Re:

      So?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2015 @ 10:43pm

    At least this article states the plaintiff won in court against the defendant for "non-payment of wages". Nothing to do with Putin or propaganda.

    As for the MH17 downing. I heard Ukraine military aircraft routinely shadowed civilian commercial aircraft. Using commercial civilian aircraft as a human shield against rebel surface to air missile defenses.

    I wouldn't be surprise if a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet was shadowing flight MH17. Ukraine rebels fired a SAM missile at the SU-25, which them deployed it's flares. Causing the missile to then lock onto MH17.

    Let's not forget the US Navy shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over it's own airspace in Iran. Killing 66 children. I don't recall the US Gov. setting up a tribunal to investigate and prosecute those involved in that tragedy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655

    American exceptionalism and double standards, yadda yadda.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 19 Aug 2015 @ 8:43am

    Hilarity ensues

    Every time an article appears criticizing Russia's online propaganda efforts, we see bunches of comments from people who are obviously part of Russia's online propaganda army, making comments that are meaningless, attempting to divert from the topic of Russia's propaganda army.

    Seriously, guys, you need to up your game. When you're this obvious and amateurish, your efforts actually accomplish the opposite of what you intend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 19 Aug 2015 @ 4:21pm

      Re: Hilarity ensues

      Well it's always nice to have someone experienced in a given field commenting isn't it? I figure they're doing a public service. It's one thing to read about the laughable propaganda russia is responsible for, another entirely to be able to see examples firsthand, directly from the source.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 2:42am

      Re: Hilarity ensues

      Every time an article appears criticizing Russia's online propaganda efforts, we see bunches of comments from people who are obviously part of Russia's online propaganda army,

      Actually not everyone who takes Russia's side in these debates is part of some kind of propaganda army. Many of us are just regular Techdirt commenters who happen to know a bit more about Russia than the rest of you appear to do. - ie we may have visited the country, we may know some ordinary Russians who regularly take trips home etc etc. This extra knowledge seems to be identified by the rest of you as evidence of being part of the propaganda army.

      Russia now is a very different place from forty years ago (and from 20 years ago). This is a point which seems to be ignored (deliberately) by the US.

      And yes - in many ways Russia now is a better place than the US. Here are two:

      Russia doesn't execute people any more - whereas the US is identified by Amnesty international as one of the worst five countries in the world.

      Russia doesn't imprison as many people as the US. The Russian prison population per 100,000 , although high at 470 compared to typical European states is still only a bit over half of the US (707 per 100,000).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 9:22am

        Re: Re: Hilarity ensues

        "This extra knowledge seems to be identified by the rest of you as evidence of being part of the propaganda army."

        Umm, no, not at all. I suspect that you aren't understanding the criticisms being made, since the things you're pointing out are utterly irrelevant to them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Richard (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 1:16pm

          Re: Re: Re: Hilarity ensues

          The points I made weren't directed at the particular criticisms being made in this post, they were just general points.

          It just seems that anyone who questions the content of a post relating to Russia is immediately identified as being somehow part of Putin's troll army and any information they provide is dismissed as propaganda.

          Another point that I notice is that there is a tendency to criticise "Russia" when you really mean "a particular agency of the Russian government or a specific politician" (and to make, for example, Putin and Russia synonomous) whereas when the USA is attacked it is almost never described as "the USA" but almost always the particular TLA or politician in question.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 2:46am

      Re: Hilarity ensues

      When you're this obvious and amateurish, your efforts actually accomplish the opposite of what you intend.

      So actually your complaint against Russia is not that they do the propaganda thing - but that they're not very good at it. What do you want them to do? Do it better so that you can't catch them out?

      Actually the amateurishness of Russian propaganda should make you less worried about it and more concerned about the more effective propaganda coming from elsewhere.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2015 @ 1:14pm

    I seriously doubt this disgusting behaviour is limited by geography or nationality, i also seriously doubt this is something new thats just been thought up,..... just evolved..

    The nature of monarchies,religion,governments etc etc

    A concentrated base of power, corrupts
    An absolute, concentration of power, corrupts, absolutely

    I can see the good aspects of such entities, i just happen to see the bad aspects to them aswell, and believe, strongly, the sacrifice, to fucking great.......enough so not to ignore it, or condemn those that do so that i dont have to think about it myself

    You dont have to step up folks, you just have to be aware of it

    Amd sorry folks, im in a preachy mood today

    Not particularly religious

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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