According to the indictment, the 13 Russians worked for several companies, including a “troll farm” based in St. Petersburg called the Internet Research Agency, which operated both pro- and anti-Trump social media accounts, as well as accounts favorable to Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders.
“The indictment charges all of the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft,” special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement.
However, a 2014 report from Buzzfeed shows that not only were this troll group’s activities known, they were also fairly transparent about what they were doing.
“Russia’s campaign to shape international opinion around its invasion of Ukraine has extended to recruiting and training a new cadre of online trolls that have been deployed to spread the Kremlin’s message on the comments section of top American websites,” wrote Max Seddon.
“The bizarre hive of social media activity appears to be part of a two-pronged Kremlin campaign to claim control over the internet, launching a million-dollar army of trolls to mold American public opinion as it cracks down on internet freedom at home.”
The article goes on to outline exactly how the scheme worked:
“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,” he added. “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.”
A 2013 article from The Atlantic reveals the same scheme by Russian trolls to influence U.S. opinion on a number of issues.
“A Russian journalist who visited one such comment-mill, the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency, met with a coordinator who said the job was not unlike writing copy for a hair dryer: ‘The only difference is that this hair dryer is a political one,’” wrote Olga Khazan.
“The effect created by such Internet trolls is not very big, but they manage to make certain forums meaningless because people stop commenting on the articles when these trolls sit there and constantly create an aggressive, hostile atmosphere toward those whom they don’t like. These include commentary systems on the web sites of every major media outlet in the city that the trolls began to occupy a long time ago and react to certain news with torrents of mud and abuse. This makes it meaningless for a reasonable person to comment on anything there,” said opposition activist Vladimir Volokhonsky.
Has the FBI really been out of the loop on this issue since 2014? Don’t bet on it.
More likely, the bureau is trying to save face on their phony Russia investigation because they know it’s a dead-end but must show they’ve been doing something (other than colluding against Trump) since the Russia collusion probed was launched over a year ago.
It’s worth noting that none of the 13 Russians have been arrested, and won’t likely face a U.S. courtroom unless extradited by the Russian government.