How many times have online trolls sparked debates and controversies? What may seem to be a good-natured post may blow up into a massive scandal, thanks to keyboard warriors. They may give off the impression that they are either the type of people who are firm on their beliefs or those who have nothing to do. But a recent report on The Guardian revealed another source of these trolls – government agencies.
People are already aware of different government agencies’ use of the Internet to spread information and release statements. Some of these are outright propaganda motives like the US’s “Think Again, Turn Away” Twitter account against jihadists. The Guardian’s report, however, mentions a different tactic from Russia’s federal government.
According to the report, the Kremlin hires trolls to infiltrate online forums and comment sections. They allegedly hide the troll office within a nondescript building on Savushkina Street, St. Petersburg. The troll agency employees receive around $790 monthly salary for their roles. Their duties include monitoring chat rooms, joining comment conversations, leaving remarks that elevate Putin while mocking the western opposition. The online army has an arsenal of memes at their disposal for these “attacks”. At the same time, they also have to maintain regular blogs and post non-political content to hide the radical intentions. This information is from the alleged troll agency’s former employees.
The ex-trolls also described a few experiences while working in the covert agency. They said that they were employed through job advertisements claiming to look for editors and content managers for an Internet study. In addition to that, the high salary became a big factor in the agreement.
The statements also mentioned strict guidelines involving penalties and work conditions. Editors monitor about 20 bloggers to check for cut-and-paste posts and articles or statements deviating from their main purpose. Violations involve fines and most employee turnovers are fast due to the difficulty of the tasks. Most employees are young who don’t take the job seriously, while older bloggers see it as an opportunity to fight for their ideologies. There are also times when the job changes the employees’ political perspective.
This may seem a lousy and funny tactic for regular Internet users, but it may not be laughable at all. One of the former employees saw the effect firsthand. He stated that web users might see the trolling as farcical, but there are people who check the Internet for facts and details and who take these posts seriously. His own friends who didn’t know about his job would talk about the said trolling which is sometimes featured on the news.