The independent Russian TV channel Rain TV interviewed a former employee of The Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg, also known as the "troll factory." In the interview, he explained how the "troll factory's" foreign department works, recounting: "There was a kind of dismissive attitude toward the Russia department [of the agency] – they are bots and trolls, while we shape the agenda for the foreigners; we influence them."
He noted that the agency had a document of guidelines, titled "Strategy," which was followed by the employees. "You had to know all the major problems of the United States. Taxes, the problem of gays, sexual minorities, weapons," he explained. He added: "We couldn't write about Russia at all. Neither Russia nor Putin could be mentioned. Because Americans don't talk about that. Basically, they don't care about Russia or Putin. Our goal was not to turn the Americans towards Russia. Our goal was to set them against their own government, to provoke unrest and discontent."
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Rain TV Talks To A Former "Troll Factory" Employee Who Engaged In "Opinion-Changing" Abroad
"The subject of the 'Russian trail' in the U.S. election has once again made the headlines in the recent weeks. At the end of September, Facebook informed the U.S. Congress about fake accounts and purchases of political ads in the interests of Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. Later, it became clear that around $100,000 had been spent to buy ads in Russian interests on Google platforms during that campaign. Twitter supplied the Senate Intelligence Committee with information about 201 accounts that could have been used by Russia to interfere with the election. And CNN reported about Russia's attempts to influence the U.S. presidential elections through the game Pokemon Go. A number of publications again mentioned The Internet Research Agency from Saint Petersburg, also known as the 'troll factory' (nicknamed thus for its attempts to influence public opinion with the help of fake accounts in social networks). Rain TV managed to talk to a former agency employee who engaged in 'opinion-changing' abroad.
The Interview – 'They Asked Me About Rain TV And Navalny'
"At first I thought that the selection was really tough, and I got in by some miracle. During the interview, they asked me about Rain TV and [opposition leader Alexey] Navalny. I said I didn't go to rallies, didn't donate money to Navalny, read mostly Putin and [prominent pro-Kremlin Russian journalist Vladimir] Solovyov. There were mostly people from the Saint Petersburg University there: from the philology department, the department of international relations, orientalists, lots of guys from the department of journalism.
The Foreign Department – 'We Shape The Agenda For The Foreigners, We Influence Them'
"I think that at first the number of posts was not the most important thing, they tried to do high quality work. There was a kind of dismissive attitude toward the Russian Department – they are bots and trolls, while we shape the agenda for the foreigners, we influence them. Our goal was to influence opinions, to provoke discussion. It was not only arguments like: Obama is an ape, Putin is great. This was not acceptable; you could even be fined for something like that.
"In the English Department, the accountability is different: you had to measure reaction there. Reaction is how many likes you received – a comment was supposed to provoke discussion. There was a document there called 'Strategy.' You had to know all the major problems of the United States. Taxes, the problem of gays, sexual minorities, weapons.
What a Troll Does – 'Our Goal Was Not To Turn The Americans Towards Russia. Our Goal Was To Set Them Against Their Own Government'
"You were given a list of news media that you had to monitor and comment on. New York Times, Washington Post — it could reach up to tens of thousands comments there. You had to look through them all and understand the overall trends – what people wrote and argued about. And then you had to jump into the dispute yourself in order to inflame it, to try and rock the boat.
"The most popular topics were the right to carry guns and gays. When it's about gays, we almost always had to lead to issues of religion. Americans are very religious, especially those who frequent forums and news sites, and post comments. You had to write that sodomy was a sin. It would always bring a couple dozen likes.
"We couldn't write about Russia at all. Neither Russia nor Putin could be mentioned. Because Americans don't talk about that. Basically, they don't care about Russia or Putin. Our goal was not to turn the Americans towards Russia. Our goal was to set them against their own government, to provoke unrest and discontent, to lower Obama's rating.
What A Troll Cannot Do – 'If You Were Caught Openly Using Your Russian IP, You Would Get A Dressing-Down'
"You were not allowed to work with foreign mass media without a VPN [virtual private network, a tool that helps users stay anonymous online], and if you were caught openly using your Russian IP, you would get a dressing-down.
"One man got a good tongue-lashing for taking a photo in the building. As you know, a photo contains metadata, and one can trace the geo-location. Apparently, everyone's social media were monitored.
American Politics – 'Hillary Clinton – Only Bad Things About Her, She Was To Be Quashed'
"Hillary Clinton – only bad things about her, she was to be quashed. We wrote about the leaked e-mails, about how rich she was. The main message was: aren't you tired of the Clintons, my fellow Americans, how many have you had already? Corruption scandals are from the same category.
English Lessons – 'They Made Us Watch House of Cards... On A Voluntary-Compulsory Basis'
"At first they made us watch the TV show 'House Of Cards' in English on a voluntary-compulsory basis. We had English lessons: we discussed each other's comments, what mistakes we had made, how not to write... 'Here present perfect should be used, and here past simple, and here an apostrophe, and why did you put a comma here, they don't use commas in the same way as we do.' In fact, we taught each other."
 The interview was conducted by Yevgenia Kotlyar. The article was originally titled: "'Our Goal Was... To Provoke Unrest': An Interview With A Former Employee Of The 'Troll Factory' In St Petersburg"; Tvrain.ru, October 14, 2017.