Friday, June 06, 2014

Hunting for paid Russian trolls in the Washington Post comments section

By Caitlin Dewey, WashPost
June 4

Since April, Russia has spent thousands of dollars amassing a “troll army” to torment American social networking and news sites, per a pair of stories that ran on Buzzfeed this week.

The trolls are, allegedly, legion. They’re foul-mouthed and irritable. They’re funded by an online marketing firm with very distant ties to the Kremlin. And they are, according to Buzzfeed, operating in the Post’s comment section — as well as the New York Times’, CNN’s and the Huffington Post’s.

The Post hasn’t, for the record, been able to conclusively verify Buzzfeed’s reporting or review the original documents from an “anonymous hacker collective” that reporter Max Seddon cited in his story. Nevertheless, we couldn’t let these simultaneously menacing and hilarious allegations of overseas trolling stand! And so, armed with some healthy skepticism and the descriptions of the trolls’ behavior in Seddon’s piece, I — along with the Post’s commenting overlords, Julia Carpenter and Beth Butler — set off to hunt some trolls.

The Russian trolls, per Buzzfeed, generally share a couple of telltale characteristics. They are, it should go without saying, (a) Russian and (b) trolls, a.k.a. commenters who engage in off-topic provocation for no apparent reason besides giving moderators like Beth and Julia headaches. Their English tends to be poor, with syntactical and grammatical errors characteristic of native Russian speakers. And they always engage on one of a set list of topics, which include — predictably — Ukraine, President Obama and LGBT rights.

(More here.)

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