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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

Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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