May 25, 2024

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What will happen to Prigogine "troll factory"

After the failed rebellion of Prigozhin, his media empire in the Russian Federation is being destroyed, publications are being closed. However, Internet trolls are still active on social networks. Will they change the nominal owner and continue their activities?

According to DW, many questions remain about the future of PMC “Wagner” and not only. What will happen to Prigozhin’s no less famous brainchild – the “troll factory”? Network mercenaries have been earning good money for years by pro-government comments and articles, actively “baiting” the opposition.

At the end of June, publications that were part of Prigozhin’s Patriot media group, including its flagship media outlet, the Federal News Agency (FAN), alternately announced the curtailment of work. “We are closing and leaving the information agenda of the country. Together with us, the Patriot media group is closing and leaving,” RIA FAN General Director Evgeny Zubarev made such a statement on June 30. But does this mean the end of the “troll factory” in Russia? to figure out this is DW.

For the first time, they started talking about an unusual “factory” in 2013. Then the journalists discovered the Internet Research Agency (ARI) in St. Petersburg, in which employees were paid for comments on social networks. Soon the “factory” was connected with Prigozhin, who denied any involvement in it. It was only in February 2023 that Prigozhin publicly admitted that he “invented and created” the AI ​​​​to “protect the Russian information space.” Dozens of Internet trolls worked for Prigozhin. In a farewell video from RIA FAN, Zubarev frankly admitted that the roots of the “troll factory” go back to 2009:

“The first commentators went to the media, working against the opposition: Alexei Navalny and others.”

Meanwhile, Prigozhin’s private Internet army grew and in the mid-2010s reached the international level. Because of her activities, the US Department of Justice filed charges against the Russian businessman for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election. The Patriot media group formally appeared in 2019, uniting the media, which investigative journalists have long considered a “troll factory”.

At first, Prigogine had only about 20 subordinates, each of whom had to write about 100 comments a day. By 2023, the number of employees of the “factory” has grown to 400 people. Others wrote articles for Prigozhin’s media, and at least a quarter of them were engaged in comments on social networks, according to the Dossier investigative center. Technical capabilities allow them to distribute tens of thousands of messages per day.

As a result of the leak of documents from Prigozhin’s structures to WagnerLeaks, the “dossier” also revealed other details of the work of the “troll factory”. According to them, the media of the founder of Wagner PMC spend 900,000 rubles a month to buy likes for their posts and dislikes for opposition posts. And the total budget of Prigozhin’s Internet empire was estimated at 70-100 million rubles a month.

There were also special tasks, with an additional budget, such as, for example, harassing Navalny’s comrade-in-arms Lyubov Sobol on the network, Dossier reports – this project was spent from 700,000 to 1.7 million rubles a month.

During the mutiny of PMC “Wagner” on June 24, the security forces came with searches to the business center “Lakhta-2” in St. Petersburg, where some of the employees of Prigozhin’s media are located. After that, some Internet projects that were associated with his media empire stopped updating. The Bell reported that they were looking for a new owner for Prigozhin’s “factory” and even called, citing sources, the most likely option – the National Media Group (NMG) of Yuri Kovalchuk, whose board of directors is headed by Alina Kabaeva, an ex-gymnast.

However, on June 30, The Bell interlocutors reported that at a special meeting, Yevgeny Prigozhin personally decided to liquidate his media empire. Editors of publications were instructed to destroy “all traces of presence” on the Internet – not only media sites, but also social networks associated with them. At the same time, Roskomnadzor restricted access to the websites of RIA FAN and other Prigozhin publications.

But does this mean the complete closure of the “troll factory”? IN EU are in no hurry to celebrate success in the fight against fakes and Internet trolls. EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano told DW:

“It is too early to draw definitive conclusions about the development of the Russian disinformation system after Prigozhin’s alleged disinformation activity. More time is needed to monitor disinformation narratives and trends in this area.”

Experts who have been following the activities of the “trolls” for a long time doubt very much that they are now finished. Media projects are only a part of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Internet empire. The other, less transparent half, the author of the Bot Blocker Twitter account calls the “social commentator department.” And in the work of this particular “department”, he did not notice a significant decline, says the project administrator on condition of anonymity:

“Pro-Kremlin” trolls “or Kremlin bots continue to be not only active, but also create new Twitter accounts literally during these hours, presumably to replace those who left. In recent days, we have not seen any signs of interruption or significant weakening of their work.”

The founders of the “Chef’s Trap” project, who track the activities of Internet trolls on the social network VK, agree with this:

“Many media write that the well-known ‘troll factory’ has been closed since the 24th, but judging by our data, there are no activity failures.”

However, under whose “command” the trolls will remain – opinions differ. The creator of The Chef’s Trap says that since May, when the conflict between the Wagner group and the RF Ministry of Defense escalated, most of the “trolls” began to “coordinately write posts” against “Prigozhin. Of the 15,000 “trolls” identified by the project, about 13,000 stopped support a rebellious boss.The analyst suggests:

“I guess that this structure (bot-farm) was simply taken away from Prigozhin. It worked the way it does now, it just changed its behavior and tasks.”

Another version of “Bot Blocker”:

“The behavior and rhetoric of the” trolls “as always (during our observations), and remain in the interests of the Kremlin. The change in” attitude “to Prigozhin is most likely due to a change in how he is covered in the news, and not the transition of the factory to another nominal “owner” The social media comment section is a pretty valuable asset in terms of replication complexity, so it’s going to be kept one way or another“.

In the European Union, meanwhile, they do not expect a decrease in disinformation activity from Russia. Peter Stano notes:

“Obviously, disinformation activity does not begin and end only with Prigozhin’s companies. The Kremlin will continue to try to use disinformation and manipulate information using various tactics, actors and means, as they have done for many years.”

Whether the “trolls” will move after Prigozhin to Belarus or come under the control of a new owner in the Russian Federation, the EU representative is not ready to predict:

“We are not in the business of forecasting, our mandate is to observe, expose and debunk disinformation, its actors and trends.”

Yesterday, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told the media, writes The “country” that is now Yevgeny Prigozhin and the “Wagnerites” are not in Belarus, but they can be placed here during the defense of the state:

“The question is clearly not for me. As far as I am informed, the fighters are in their camps (in the Lugansk region and in the Russian Federation, ed.). As for Prigozhin, he is in St. Petersburg. He is not on the territory of Belarus. Wagner can be deployed in Belarus, on the condition that it is used in the defense of the state. They will be deployed under certain conditions. The main condition is that if we need to use this unit for the defense of the state, it will be activated instantly.”

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