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Internet Troll Operation Uncovered in St. Petersburg

Published: September 18, 2013 (Issue # 1778)



  • This posting, which says You will bow even lower to Russia, is alleged to have been initiated by the Internet Research Agency.
    Photo: Sergey Chernov / SPT

Local reporters have infiltrated a covert organization that hired young people as Internet operators near St. Petersburg and discovered that the employees are being paid to write pro-Kremlin postings and comments on the Internet, smearing opposition leader Alexei Navalny and U.S. politics and culture.

Journalists from the MR7.ru website and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper have reacted to a posting by St. Petersburg local Natalya Lvova, who wrote on the Russian VKontakte social network about an interview she attended on Aug. 30 at what she described as a posh cottage with glass walls in Olgino, a village in St. Petersburgs Kurortny District.

According to Lvova, the office occupying two rooms reminded her of an internet club with lots of computers and people. Employees in one room wrote blog posts for social networks, while those in the other room specialized in comments.

To my question about a technical task what exactly should be written in the comments a young guy, a coordinator, told me, briefly and clearly, that they were having busy days at the moment and that yesterday they all wrote in support of [Moscow acting mayor Sergei] Sobyanin, while today we shit on Navalny, she wrote on her VKontakte page.

According to Lvova, each commenter was to write no less than 100 comments a day, while people in the other room were to write four postings a day, which then went to the other employees whose job was to post them on social networks as widely as possible.

Employees at the company, located at 131 Lakhtinsky Prospekt, were paid 1,180 rubles ($36.50) for a full 8-hour day and received a free lunch, Lvova wrote.

The ads have been deleted since the controversy broke, but were available as cached Google pages when accessed this week. Called the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency, the company invited goal-oriented people who like to surf the Internet to join its successful team. Now youll be able to surf the Internet and receive money for it, it said. According to the ad, the positions of blogger and commenter on articles, copywriter were available. Bloggers were asked to write articles or a column, while commenters were to write comments on the articles. The subjects are different, depending on orders, the ad said.

According to the ad, after the three-month tentative term, the employers would receive a salary starting from 25,000 rubles ($775) a month.

Andrei Soshnikov, a journalist who visited the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency posing as an applicant, wrote in an article on the MR7.ru website on Sept. 4 that he was met by Alexei Soskovets, whose name was in the ads. According to Soshnikov, Soskovets is a young businessman who organizes festivals in the city and is associated with City Halls committee on youth policy. In 2013, Soskovetss company North-Western Services Agency won 17 tenders to organize festivals, forums and sports competitions for the St. Petersburg authorities, including a tender for the transportation of delegates to the pro-Kremlin youth camp Seliger, Soshnikov wrote.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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