Internet Research Agency
|Someone is wrong on|
“”I arrived there, and I immediately felt like a character in the book "1984" by George Orwell — a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white. Your first feeling, when you ended up there, was that you were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line. The volumes were colossal — there were huge numbers of people, 300 to 400, and they were all writing absolute untruths. It was like being in Orwell’s world.
|—Marat Mindiyarov, former employee|
“”One should not trust the internet completely because it is full of various fake stories, deception and lies. The internet is rife with information attacks because information is just another offensive weapon in the modern world, and information attacks are just another effective type of struggle.
|—Vladimir Putin, complaining about the occasional appearance of truth on the internet|
The Internet "Research" Agency (IRA) is a Russian troll farm operating out of Olgino, Saint Petersburg. The troll farm became notorious for its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of former Troll-in-Chief and Putin fanboy Donald Trump. It has also been involved in running pro-Kremlin propaganda networks regarding the War in Ukraine since 2014.
The IRA was founded in mid-2013. The terms "Trolls from Olgino" or "Olgino's trolls" have become a sort of catch-all label for paid agents spreading Russian propaganda online, and does not necessarily refer to the IRA proper.
The trolls themselves
The actual trolls in question are often just young people looking for a job. The trolls themselves are mostly politically illiterate about foreign affairs.[note 1] To quote the US State Department:
Some of the agency’s trolls are “fanatics,” but most “are just young people who want to make money. They’re so politically illiterate that Putin, Obama … they don’t know the difference,” said Burkhard.
The jobs they apply for often sound innocent, with titles such as social media specialists, Internet operators and copywriters.
“First they make you write about something neutral — Vegetarianism: Pros and Cons,” Burkhard said. Later, “to plump up the political content, they send in a guy to talk about the topic of the day, so that at least the employees have a little background on the topic. But the guy himself has an extremely low level of understanding, so it all looks completely absurd.”
The trolls work 12 hour shifts where they are expected to endlessly type bullshit that serves Russian interests. If an employee is even slightly late to work, they get fined 500 rubles, or "about 9 USD."
The company was founded by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, a man who was close to the Modern Tsar before committing a stupid armed mutiny in June that ultimately cost him his life in August of 2023. Prigozhin also had a hand in founding the Russian mercenary company named the Wagner Group. Prigozhin was among those indicted by Special Counsel Mueller for Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Prigozhin reportedly didn't care all that much about being named in the indictment. We are going to quote his exact (apathetic) words on the subject below:
Americans are very impressionable people, they see what they want to see. [...] I have great respect for them. I’m not at all upset that I’m on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see one.
Prigozhin was also named in the indictment as controlling "Concord Catering", a company that funds the IRA. The indictment goes on to say that by September of 2016 the budget for the project that included the interference campaign "exceeded 73 million rubles", or over 1.2 million US dollars.
In February 2023 Prigozhin, in an interview conducted on a Wagner Group Telegram channel, admitted to being the founder of the IRA:
I’ve never just been the financier of the Internet Research Agency. I invented it, I created it, I managed it for a long time. It was founded to protect the Russian information space from boorish aggressive propaganda of anti-Russian narrative from the West.
Interference in the 2016 US presidential election
The IRA engaged in organized astroturf campaigns on social media on behalf of Trump as part of the wider Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The Russians' goal was to ruin any chance of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton winning the election. Both the Trump campaign and the Russians used similar tactics to stoke deep political discord within the United States electorate, including through social media and "selective leaking".
The Russian social media astroturf campaign began in 2014 as a "generalized program" to fuck with United States politics, but by 2016 had grown to favor Trump and disparage Clinton specifically. The IRA, which receives funding from "an oligarch linked to Putin", created fake accounts on Twitter and Instagram and opened group pages on Facebook to "attract followers" with their polemic bullshit on "race, gender, and other polarizing content." The attention the astroturf campaign received grew, and eventually millions of Americans were viewing their bullshit. It helped that American political figures would spread the Russian bullshit even further.
Some IRA employees would even travel to the United States to conduct research on their targets and gather photographs for their posts. These Russians in particular were among those indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 12 of the 13 Russians named in the indictment worked for the IRA in some capacity.
Russian trolls stole the identities of American citizens to use as cover for their social media ops. The trolls also bought political advertisements in the name of "US individuals and companies." The Russians also, without revealing that they were foreign agents, "solicited and compensated" American personalities to "promote and disparage" candidates.
According to the Intelligence Community Assessment, Putin personally ordered interference in the 2016 election. What this means is that the "trolls from Olgino" were not rogue agents, but operating with orders directly from the Kremlin. Putin also personally favored Trump, and ordered for an organized character assassination campaign against Madame Clinton.
The IRA has been heavily involved in running an anti-Ukraine propaganda campaign on social media. Starting in April 2014, a systemic effort had begun by Russian propagandists to shift Western perceptions of the unrest following the Euromaidan crisis that overthrew the previous pro-Russian government. Leaked documents also contained instructions for the Russian trolls to engage in and flood prominent American media sites (social and otherwise) with pro-Kremlin horseshit. To quote Buzzfeed News:
The documents show instructions provided to the commenters that detail the workload expected of them. On an average working day, the Russians are to post on news articles 50 times. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. By the end of the first month, they are expected to have won 500 subscribers and get at least five posts on each item a day. On Twitter, the bloggers are expected to manage 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day.
In 2016, the Ukrainian state-owned news platform Ukrinform claimed that a network of pro-Kremlin bots had been operating on social networking platforms which called for violence against the Ukrainian government and spread calls to start the "Third Maidan".[note 2] Ukrinform went on to identify the person supposedly behind the bot network in question: Sergiy Zhuk, a veteran of the War in Donbass on the side of the pro-Russian insurgents. He was alleged to run the bot network from a neighborhood in Moscow.
- Think tank - These are, like the IRA, propaganda mills, just with a more intellectual (and therefore professional) veneer.
- Professional troll - What these guys in effect are.
- Wagner Group - Another one of Prigozhin's ventures to further Russian interests on the international stage. In the case of Wagner, they operate in meatspace as mercenaries rather than cyberspace as paid trolls.
- A former Russian troll speaks: 'It was like being in Orwell's world' by Anton Troianovski (February 17, 2018 at 7:10 PM) The Washington Post.
- ‘Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich’ — Russian conscripts decry ‘criminal orders’ by Francesca Ebel (March 19, 2023 at 2:00 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
- The hunt for Russian internet trolls started in the US." - Note the source link is in Ukrainian
- "Internet trolls from Olgino start talking in English and Ukrainian." - source link is in Russian
- Trolls: everything you wanted to know
- Russian mercenary chief says he is also behind global information war by Aaron Gregg et al. (February 16, 2023 at 2:00 a.m. EST) The Washington Post.
- "Putin and Wagner boss Prigozhin: How a long friendship turned ugly" - BBC. Published August 27th, 2023.
- Hodge, Nathan; Shukla, Sebastian; Ilyushinavia, Mary (23 February 2018). "Putin's 'chef' accused of trying to cover his tracks". CNN.
- "Mueller indicts 13 Russian nationals over 2016 election interference" - CNN. Published February 2nd, 2018.
- "Wagner chief admits to founding Russian troll farm" - CNN. Published February 14th, 2023.
- "Through email leaks and propaganda Russians sought to elect Trump, Mueller finds" - The Washington Post
- "Exposing Russia’s Effort to Sow Discord Online: The Internet Research Agency and Advertisements" - US House of Representatives
- Documents show how Russia's troll army hit America" - Buzzfeed News. Published on June 2, 2014.
- Moscow's cyber roaches, or who's calling for the 'Maidan 3.0'". - Note that the source link is in Ukrainian.