The Washington Post has a very interesting story about a Russian employee of the Internet Research Agency that reads like it could almost be the basic storyline for an upcoming season of The Americans:
“Your first feeling, when you ended up there, was that you were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line,” Mindiyarov said.
The accounts of Mindiyarov and other former Russian trolls — along with a National Security Agency assessment and details from the 37-page indictment against the Internet Research Agency, two other companies and 13 individual Russian associates — underscore the sophistication and ambition of a program that only now is coming into focus four years after its creation.
The Russians have perfected internet trolling Americans so well that it has become almost assembly-line like in nature. I am not sure if that should be attributed to the sophisticated methods the Russians employed or the extremely gullible nature of a certain demographic of Americans. Either one alone is difficult to combat, but combined they are extremely potent.
Mindiyarov, the teacher, said he was paid about $700 a month to work a 12-hour shift, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. — two days on, two days off. His job was to write comments to append to Russian-language news items, toiling in a room with 20 computers and the window blinds closed, and required to hit post quotas.
Sometimes, he said, he and his colleagues would engage in a group troll in which they would pretend to hold different views of the same subject and argue about it in public online comments. Eventually, one of the group would declare he had been convinced by the others. “Those are the kinds of plays we had to act out,” he said.
If you are at all familiar with Reddit, or any internet forum for that matter, this type of trolling is very difficult to discern. On the surface it appears multiple people are arguing multiple points. But to slowly drive the conversation towards the ultimate perspective the group would like people to follow requires perseverance and extreme attention to detail. It is not easy to, essentially, simulate and argue an entire conversation from the varying angles it requires to get people to agree with the original premise.
This whole operation is going to be meticulously studied for years. It will be iterated upon in the 2018 mid-term elections, and the tradecraft will slowly improve over time unless the US government intervenes, Americans grow smarter, and the platform providers offer tools and capabilities to combat this behavior. But because of the complexity, while not impossible, will require some out-of-the-box thinking to solve.
Malicious cyber attacks are bad enough, but information warfare is far more dangerous because it has the potential to run an entire country and its culture. The cracks are already coming undone in the US. Which country is next?
It is a scary times for American democracy