Russian journalists publish massive investigation into St. Petersburg troll factory's U.S. operations

Meduza
08:28, 17 october 2017

A day after Dozhd television published an interview with a former member of Russia’s infamous Internet Research Agency, the magazine RBC released a new detailed report on the same organization’s efforts to meddle in U.S. domestic politics. Meduza summarizes RBC’s new report here.

The Internet Research Agency, Russia’s infamous “troll farm,” reportedly devoted up to a third of its entire staff to meddling in U.S. politics during the 2016 presidential election. At the peak of the campaign, as many as 90 people were working for the IRA’s U.S. desk, sources told RBC, revealing that the entire agency employs upwards of 250 people. Salaries for staff working in the U.S. department apparently range from 80,000 to 120,000 rubles ($1,400 to $2,100) per month.

The head of the IRA’s U.S. desk is apparently a man originally from Azerbaijan named Dzheikhun Aslanov (though he denies any involvement with the troll factory).

In August and September this year, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter suspended 118 communities and accounts run by the St. Petersburg “troll factory,” disabling a network capable of reaching 6 million subscribers. In 2016, at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign, this network reportedly produced content that reached 30 million people each week.

A source also told RBC that the Internet Research Agency spent almost $80,000 over two years, hiring roughly 100 local American activists to stage about 40 rallies in different cities across the United States. The activists were hired over the Internet, communicating in English, without their knowledge that they were accepting money or organizing support from a Russian organization. According to RBC, internal records from the IRA verify its role in these activities.

The main activity in the troll factory’s U.S. desk was to incite racial animosity (playing both sides of the issue), and promoting the secession of Texas, objections to illegal immigration, and gun rights.

RBC estimates that the Internet Research Agency’s total salary expenses approach $1 million per year, with another $200,000 allocated to buying ads on social media and hiring local activists in the U.S.

According to RBC, the IRA still has a U.S. desk, though its staff has apparently dropped to 50 employees.

Note: Formally, the Internet Research Agency ceased to exist roughly two years ago, rebranding itself under different names, but sources say the organization continues to operate as before.