Trolls studied 'House of Cards' to target Hillary during US election
A former employee of the Russian "troll factory" that bought thousands of Facebook ads during the US presidential election has revealed how he wrote comments on Western news sites to ridicule Hillary Clinton and inflame political divisions.
A young man quoted under the pseudonym 'Maksim' told independent channel TV Rain about the trolls' mission to meddle in US politics and wage an "information war" against the country.
"Our goal wasn't to turn Americans toward Russia. Our goal was to set Americans against their own government," he said.
"To provoke unrest, provoke dissatisfaction, lower (Barack) Obama's rating."
Maksim's records listed his employer as Internet Research Agency, the "troll factory" in St Petersburg that Facebook said had purchased 3,000 ads around the time of the election, reaching 10 million people with politically charged content.
Leaked emails have linked the agency to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a restaurateur known as "Putin's chef" for his close ties to the Kremlin. Twitter and Google have said Russian agents also targeted their platforms.
Maksim and the trolls in his department made 50,000 roubles (€740) a month posting tens of thousands of comments on Western media sites like 'The New York Times' and 'Washington Post', he said.
Having honed their English watching 'House of Cards', they would receive spreadsheets with links to articles and instructions on "what we needed to write about them to blow up the discussion". Some employees even travelled to the United States.
He worked at the agency until early 2015, a time when Ms Clinton was already the clear front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination.
"Everything was always bad about Hillary Clinton; we bashed her. For her leaked emails, for the fact that she's rich," he said. "The main message was, 'aren't you, my American brothers, tired of the Clintons, how much of them you've had already?' The corruption scandals were put in there as well."
Ms Clinton told Channel 4 this week that Russia's "massive propaganda effort" in support of Donald Trump was one of the reasons she lost.
Maksim said he most often tried to rile religious Americans with comments about guns and gays.
His comments echoed recent reports that Russians were behind shuttered groups like LGBT United and Tea Party News.
Across from his workspace was the Facebook department, which created fake groups and left hundreds of English-language comments every shift.
Facebook sometimes banned their accounts, he said, suggesting it was aware of the troll problem as early as 2014.
Maksim also made phony Facebook accounts to comment on news sites.
"You needed to develop the account, add friends, upload photos, think up a name and a history," he said.
"Over a few weeks you could do this really well." (© Daily Telegraph, London)