Putin's Internet Trolls Mercilessly Smear Finnish Reporter Simply For Pointing Them Out
from the disinformation-nation dept
We’ve noted numerous times now that a cornerstone of the Putin regime has been the use of internet trolls to flood the internet with propaganda. These armies of paid sockpuppets get paid 40,000 to 50,000 rubles ($800 to $1,000) a month to create proxied, viable fake personas — specifically tasked with pumping the internet full of toxic disinformation 24 hours a day. The practice was recently exposed by journalist, activist and mother Lyuda Savchuk, who spent three months employed as such a troll — before successfully suing the Russian government for a single ruble on principle.
Criticize this practice as a writer anywhere on the internet and you’ll pretty quickly find yourself the target of anonymous attacks in the comment section — or significantly worse. Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro recently found this out the hard way after profiling Putin’s online propaganda efforts in a series of reports for Finland’s state broadcaster Yle Kioski. Since the reports, Aro has found herself under attack by an ocean of internet pugilists that have filled the internet with claims Aro is everything from a professional drug dealer to a paid NATO stooge:
“In response to her reporting, pro-Russian activists in Helsinki organized a protest outside the headquarters of Yle, accusing it of being a troll factory itself. Only a handful of people showed up. At the same time, Ms. Aro has been peppered with abusive emails, vilified as a drug dealer on social media sites and mocked as a delusional bimbo in a music video posted on YouTube. “There are so many layers of fakery you get lost,” said Ms. Aro, who was awarded the Finnish Grand Prize for Journalism in March.
…She (also) received a call late at night on her cellphone from a number in Ukraine. Nobody spoke, and all she could hear was gunfire. This was followed by text and email messages denouncing her as a “NATO whore” and a message purporting to come from her father — who died 20 years ago — saying he was “watching her.”
Finland is an EU member but has contemplated joining NATO — talks about which accelerated after Russia’s not-so-subtle invasion of the Ukraine. Russia, in turn, has started leaning heavily on its online disinformation puppets to try and turn public sentiment against such a move. Part of the effectiveness of Putin’s paid trolls is that it’s impossible to differentiate them from the usual wash of vitriol and idiocy that coats online interactions on any given day. As such, it’s not entirely unlike trying to have a fist fight with a running stream, reflected in the Finnish media’s confusion on how to tackle the problem outside of things like “open letters”:
“The false claim that Ms. Aro was a drug dealer triggered an unusual open letter signed by more than 20 Finnish editors infuriated by what they denounced as the “poisoning of public debate” with “insults, defamation and outright lies.” The Finnish police began an investigation into the website for harassment and hate speech.
“I don’t know if these people are acting on orders from Russia, but they are clearly what Lenin called ‘useful idiots,’” said Mika Pettersson, the editor of Finland’s national news agency and an organizer of the editors’ open letter. “They are playing into Putin’s pocket. Nationalist movements in Finland and other European countries want to destabilize the European Union and NATO, and this goes straight into Putin’s narrative.”
The European Union doesn’t appear to be particularly prepared for this new world of online information warfare either, and has embraced arguably outdated concepts like “the truth” or by cataloging the most egregious claims in a weekly report dubbed the “Disinformation Review.” And while disinformation and propaganda is certainly nothing new (especially here in the west), it’s clear that Putin has taken online information warfare to an entirely new level. One the international community isn’t quite ready for — and is certain to respond to with no limit of bad ideas and even worse laws over time.
Full disclosure before you read about it in the comment section: I’m a former opium salesman paid by the CIA to unfairly malign absolutely everybody.