Inside Another Internet Troll Factory: This Time In Sweden, But With Russian Connections

from the it's-all-about-size dept

Well before fake news became a thing, Karl was reporting on the fascinating details that have emerged about Russia's Internet troll factories that relentlessly pump out fake posts on an extraordinary scale. More recently, the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu revealed that the country's military has created a force specifically tasked with waging information warfare. We may know about Russia's domestic activities in this area, but what about online propaganda teams active in other countries? One data point towards answering that question is provided by an article on a site called the Disinformation Review, which describes itself as follows:

the latest cases of news articles carrying key examples of how pro-Kremlin disinformation finds its way in international media, as well as news and analysis on the topic. The review focuses on key messages carried in international media which have been identified as providing a partial, distorted or false view or interpretation and/or spreading key pro-Kremlin messaging.

It does not necessarily imply however that the outlet concerned is linked to the Kremlin or pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform. The Review is a compilation of cases from the East StratCom Task Force's wide network of contributors and therefore cannot be considered an official EU position.

That is, the Disinformation Review draws on information provided by the EU-funded East StratCom Task Force, and is part of the EU's response to what it sees as growing Russian propaganda directed against the European Union and its member states. A recent post on the site delves into another troll factory, but this time in Sweden. It reports on an article originally published by the Swedish daily Eskilstuna Kuriren:

we read that Swedish trolls primarily target journalists; that they develop and use scripts for their telephone conversations; and that the trolls are paid 1,000 SEK (110 EUR [about $110]) when their recorded telephone conversations obtains enough 'likes' in social media. We read that the trolls work with manuals that instruct them to edit the recordings to make them as "entertaining" as possible. We also read that the people behind the troll factory belong to Swedish racist and extreme right wing organisations.

But it's not only extreme right-wing viewpoints that the Swedish Internet troll factory supports:

The agenda of the political movement affiliated with the trolls is, according to the investigation, "xenophobia and Islamophobia", combined with promotion of commentators who "support Russia after the occupation of the Crimea and the Russian-backed civil war in Ukraine".

Despite that intriguing fact, the Swedish newspaper report was unable to establish who was funding the propaganda efforts. However, it does provide some interesting information about what makes a successful Internet troll factory:

Eskilstuna Kuriren ends their piece by asking that question to Jack Werner, co-founder of the popular Swedish fact-checker Viralgranskaren. According to Werner, the organisation is possibly limited in size, but a central part of its strategy is to make itself look very big: "The aim of propaganda is to respond to light so as to make the shadow it casts is as large as possible. If you really want to give the impression that your side is the largest, most dedicated and most passionate, it requires more work, for example, you will need to spend days and nights writing comments in the internet."

The article quotes figures from an earlier investigation into right-wing propaganda sites, which found that just 183 individual writers accounted for 366,291 comments out of a total of half a million, which works out as 2,000 comments per person on average. Perhaps that high volume could be turned against the Internet troll factories.

Since it is very hard for people to write so many comments so quickly without using similar phrases, sites might check new posts against old ones to eliminate those that are likely to be from a few writers churning them out to order. The technology already exists, and is widely used to spot academic plagiarism, for example. Cloud computing platforms would allow this approach to be applied routinely at a reasonable cost, and there would be scope for new third-party services to flag up re-used content across multiple sites. Google's parent company, Alphabet, is already working on software in this area. Maybe the time has come to apply a little more intelligence and computational firepower to tackling the growing threat that intentionally misleading and inflammatory posts by Internet trolls represent not just to online discourse, but far beyond.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 11:55am

    I'm not sure I'd trust algorithms to filter and censor anymore than people. People wrote the algorithms after all.

    And because I can't resist; Do not become too proud of this technological terror you've constructed...

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

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 27 Feb 2017 @ 12:34pm


      I didn't see filtering and censoring suggested. But I am sure someone would suggest it. They always do.

      The other problem is re-used content. While it may be worth noting the content is re-used, one cannot be sure that it wasn't simply another person spouting some talking points they read elsewhere nearly verbatim, as enough people seem wont to do.

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

  • identicon
    CharlieBrown, 27 Feb 2017 @ 3:53pm


    Am I reading this right? Is Glyn calling for censorship in the comment section? I hope I have misunderstood somewhere.....

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2017 @ 5:24pm

    I'm shocked!

    We also read that the people behind the troll factory belong to Swedish racist and extreme right wing organisations.

    Shocked, I tell you!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2017 @ 12:56am

    Internet Trolls


    GOVERNMENT Internet Trolls

    Once again, a government turns something inovative sometimes wonderful into something ugly and disgusting

    Next time you see someone post something really disturbing, consider the source

    Im pretty sure no corrupt government wants a united people, so what better way to cause chaos, then to demonize the people....pretend to be the people, then say some fucked up shit(God, that suspicion of mine would explain alot of out there comments)..

    Then theres the monkey see, monkey do aspect to our societies, or, education.......their teaching, educating, conditioning, knowingly or unknowingly, the vulnrable minds into this troll mentality

    Wheres the fucking law that forbids government creating chaos

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

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 28 Feb 2017 @ 8:27am

    Does anyone remember around 2011 and the bid Ntrepid won for the US military's social media sock puppet software?

    Seems any media outlets have. Seems to me this is all a retaliatory stemming from that. Maybe the Russians noticed and wanted their own sock puppet farm.

    Anyone care to find out when the Russian "troll factories" started to get noticed? Earliest mentions of it are from 2015.

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

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