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Russian trolls’ narrative seeping through into mainstream: PM Morawiecki warns

“We know how active ‘Russian trolls’ are today. Alas, their message seeps through into the mainstream, and also into the official narrative of some political parties,” Poland’s PM Mateusz Morawiecki said on Monday – the first day of the two-day “3Seas Local Government Congress” taking place in the Polish city of Lublin.

“Let us remain vigilant as what some MPs have been writing… on their social media profiles is too akin to the kind of attitudes fomented that Russian trolls foment,” the official stressed, adding that “today, sovereignty means vigilance in defending ourselves against the propaganda from the East,” he said.

The Polish PM @MorawieckiM: “We know how active the Russian trolls are nowadays. Unfortunately, their narratives make it to the mainstream media. Therefore, staying vigilant against #propaganda served from the East is now a matter of sovereignty.”

— Stanisław Żaryn (@StZaryn) June 6, 2022

Whilst attending Polish-Ukrainian intergovernmental consultations in Kyiv that took place last week on Wednesday, PM Morawiecki stressed that Poland was fiercely attacked “in various ways by Russian trolls” for its actions aimed at helping Ukraine.

“I think Russia is ever more horror-struck by the Polish-Ukrainian relations, by how they grow, coalesce and solidify, and how we are capable of building the future based on the present,” he said in Kyiv.

The issue of Russian trolls has been a re-emerging one in the context of the Russian invasion. The most notorious of Moscow’s troll factories is the St Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency whose operators have been hijacking discussions on Twitter and TikTok but also assaulting world leaders’ social accounts.

Accused of meddling in the 2016 election that saw Donald Trump win the presidency, the agency, established by Yevgeny Prigozhin, is allegedly located in a rented space in St Petersburg’s Arsenal Machine-building Factory, a company that manufactures military equipment and technology.

Trolls making Putin attractive in Africa

The St Petersburg trolls have been using local pro-Russian sympathisers in Africa (and elsewhere) to organise pro-Kremlin rallies.

As noted by Eero Kristjan Sild, an analyst at Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS), “currently one of the largest Facebook groups spreading Kremlin narratives is L’Afrique Mon Beau Pays with around 55,000 followers. Since the start of the current invasion in Ukraine, the messaging on the group has almost exclusively concentrated on tailoring public opinion against Ukraine. It is worth noting that similar social media campaigns also took place before the arrival of Wagner troops in Mali when the focus was on anti-French narratives.”

Targetting world leaders and “brigading”

The activities of the trolls factory did not go unnoticed by the British government, which said, citing research, at the turn of April and May that the trolls were targeting world leaders online and spreading support for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The UK government-funded research showed that Moscow’s online operatives were found to be ordering followers to target western media outlets and politicians. British PM Boris Johnson, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell have been among the world leaders that Russian trolls have been after.

In light of the research, TikTok influencers were being paid to boost pro-Kremlin narratives or amplify genuine messages by legitimate social media users that tended to go hand in hand with the Kremlin’s viewpoint.

A major tactic on the part of trolls is “brigading” – steering the attention of discussion on social media and in comments sections of newspapers towards favoured opinions. Trolls were also unleashed to skew the results of opinion polls on anti-Russian sanctions whenever they were organised.

While Russian operatives were active on Twitter and Facebook, their focus was particularly strong on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. As reported by the Guardian, a pivotal role in the network is said to be played by a Telegram channel called “Cyber Front Z”, with the letter Z signifying Russian support for the war.

The troll farm in St Petersburg has been recruiting and hiring salaried workers under the slogan of “patriotic activity” in support of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Russian troll farm. Cc: @BaddCompani

— Hunter Cullen 🇺🇦🇺🇸🇬🇧🇨🇦🇦🇺🇳🇿 (@HunterJCullen) June 5, 2022

On June 4, a Twitter user by the name of Millsy published a photo of a wall with several smartphones fixed to it and cabled to electronic apparatus. Another user, Hunter Cullen, presenting himself as a social media influencer, commented on the photo by writing “Russian troll farm.“ The origin of the photo could not be verified.

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