An ex-employee of the company Internet-issledovaniya is suing her former employers. The company is considered to be the largest supplier of paid pro-Kremlin online commenters. The case will be examined in a St. Petersburg court on June 1.
The 34-year old St. Petersburg resident named Lyudmila Savchuk claims that she found the job listing online in 2014. The job description said that the employee must write comments online on an assigned topic.
Savchuk’s lawsuit states: “The work was scheduled in shifts, each shift was 12 hours long. The employees had to write a certain amount of posts and comments on various websites.” The aims of the special projects department where Savchuk worked included writing at least five political posts on topics sent out at the beginning of every week. The salary amounted to 41,000 rubles ($776) per month. Savchuk was not formally employed at the company, and she received her salary in cash.
In March 2015, the employers told Savchuk that she is being dismissed from her job for violating the terms of the contract, which stipulates that she could not disclose information about the company’s activities to third parties. Savchuk admitted to having spoken with journalists about the company.
By suing her former employers, Savchuk hopes to get her salary for the month of February and to obtain compensation for moral damage. Savchuk is represented by human rights advocates from the organization Komanda-29, who lobby for freedom of information.
Komanda-29 representatives say that the lawsuit is a way to disclose to the public information about the activities of the company Internet-issledovaniya.
The absence of a work contract and the lack of an order for dismissal became grounds for taking the matter to court. Additionally, Savchuk is demanding her salary for February and a compensation for moral damage.
Multiple reports say that the Russian government has financed so-called “troll armies” to post pro-Kremlin comments online. Trolls are expected to manage multiple fake accounts on social media and on news media, and to flood the Internet with comments and political posts.
The newspaper Novaya Gazeta conducted an investigation of the troll industry in 2013. Novaya Gazeta describes a countryside mansion outside of St. Petersburg guarded by security, where Internet troll employees sit in offices and post regimented numbers of comments per day, usually 100. They work with Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal and, more recently, even post on websites like Huffington Post and Politico.
The social media activity seems to be part of a Kremlin campaign to increase its Internet presence and push out opposition voices. There are reports of coordinated efforts to flood Facebook with complaints about the posts and accounts of prominent Kremlin critics.