Russia's Media Trolls

May 6 2014, 6:06pm CDT | by

Nearly six years ago, I penned a post titled “Leaders Who Lie,” mostly about the blatant misinformation campaign propagated by one Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I followed it up several years later with a similarly themed post titled “PR Rogues Gallery,” which broadened the meme to include Yasser Arafat, Syria’s Assad, Libya’s Qaddafi and Russia, which could give the others “a run for their money” on the media manipulation front.

That follow-up post prompted a sharp protest from an American ex-pat friend living in Russia who, like most Russian nationals, is a stalwart supporter of Mr. Putin and believes the former KGB officer could do no wrong. He wrote:

“I really fail to see how the Russian government could in any way be associated let alone in the same league as governments such as Syria and Iran. Indeed, in terms of public communications the Russian government’s problem is a lack of PR. They take almost no steps to mold their external image and the communications battle is left to their opponents who create the deeply flawed perception of modern Russian. And of course too they are a convenient ‘filler’ for the big bad enemy–an enemy only in words and not in fact.”

Flash forward to today when any semblance of a free press in Russia has been discarded like the stray dogs in Sochi. In March, The New York Times reported how Russia is mounting a “media war” unlike any other since the end of the cold war. Celestine Bohlin wrote:

“The scale of Russia’s propaganda effort in the current crisis has been breathtaking, even by Soviet standards. Facts have been twisted, images doctored (Ukrainians shown as fleeing to Russia were actually crossing the border to Poland), and harsh epithets (neo-Nazis) hurled at the demonstrators in Kiev — who President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia belatedly acknowledged had legitimate gripes against a corrupt and failed government”

The amount of deception spewing from the Russian government and its proxies has only ramped up since Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Now the Russian government has resorted to paying its supporters to astroturf the comments sections of bona fide news organizations with pro-Russian posts. The Guardian reports that its “moderators, who deal with 40,000 comments a day, believe there is an orchestrated pro-Kremlin campaign.”

This “trolling,” as they call it, has gotten so bad that it prompted one reader to observe:

“…the quantity of pro-Kremlin trolling on this topic … which has been documented extensively since 2012 as a real and insidious threat to online communities of idea and debate, has rendered commenting on these articles all but meaningless, and a worthless exercise in futility and frustration for anyone not already being mind-controlled by the Kremlin.”

It’s one thing to game Yelp or Amazon with fake reviews for which both platforms have suffered immeasurably in both the court of law and the court of public opinion, but something else altogether when a legitimate government purposely deploys deception to influence public opinion. In February 2012 the Guardian reported on Russia’s insidious and opaque efforts to manipulate the media:

 ”A pro-Kremlin group runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media, according to private emails allegedly hacked by a group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous.”

Mr. Putin may view this as an acceptable practice of modern public relations, but I assure you, it is not. It is dishonest, dangerous, and frankly, evidence that Russia is not yet ready to participate in a civilized society.

 
 
 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Need for Speed Reboot is Coming This Fall
Need for Speed Reboot is Coming This Fall
EA will release a complete new Need for Speed this fall. The video game giant just released a teaser video and the first Need for Speed Gameplay video will be revealed in June.
 
 
Google Self-Driving Cars to Hit Public Roads this Summer
Google Self-Driving Cars to Hit Public Roads this Summer
Google announced today that Google Car prototype vehicles will leave the test track and hit the familiar roads of Mountain View.
 
 
Google Search Analytics Launched in Web Master Tools
Google Search Analytics Launched in Web Master Tools
Google officially announced the new Search Analytics feature in Webmaster tools.
 
 
T-Mobile Hits Verizon with new 'Never Settle Trial' Campaign
T-Mobile Hits Verizon with new 'Never Settle Trial' Campaign
In case customers don't feel satisfied, T-Mobile will pay for them to shift back to Verizon