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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

Wednesday, Nov. 26


AmChams Public Relations Committee will meet this afternoon in their office in the New St. Isaacs Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha at 4 p.m.


Zoosphere, an international exhibition focusing on the pet industry, opens today at the Lenexpo convention center on Vasilievsky Island. Not only will items such as toys, terrariums and accessories be available for purchase, but animal enthusiasts can also learn about the latest in veterinary medicine and behavioral training thanks to the conferences and presentations that are part of the event.



Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburgs showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the teams website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literatures most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poets birthday. The tragic tenors work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russias greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Centers Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test ones intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only mans best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during todays reenactment titled Winter War: How it Was. More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie Black Cat, White Cat, as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of Takoy Festival, a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonights festival finale is Fathers and Sons, a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenevs classic about familial relations.



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