Britain accuses ‘sick Russian troll factory’ of ‘invading social media with Kremlin propaganda’

Sunday 1 May 2022 00:00 BST

Britain has accused a “sick Russian troll factory” of “infesting social media with Kremlin propaganda” after funding what it said was expert research into the organisation.

Known as Cyber ​​Front Z – adopting the military insignia used by Russiathe invading forces in Ukraine – it was first discovered in March by the St. Petersburg-based Fontanka news agency.

The Foreign Ministry said its research revealed how the Kremlin was “spreading lies on social media and in comment sections”, although for their safety the department did not identify the researchers or explain why they were qualified as experts.

According to Fontanka, Cyber ​​Front Z offers jobs on the social media platform Telegram that require workers to post 200 comments every day on platforms such as Instagram and YouTube for salaries of 45,000 rubles per month. , or about £500.

Information warfare waged from a former arms factory

Its headquarters would be located in space rented from St. Petersburg’s Arsenal Machine-Building Plant, a company that manufactures military equipment and technology.

The undercover Fontanka reporter worked on the organization’s premises for a month and discovered that professional trolls had accounts to operate using their own computers for several purposes, including amplifying content favorable to the Russian narrative and attack people who criticize him.

The report also linked the new operation to the Internet Research Agency – a private organization also based in St. Petersburg and allegedly headed by Evgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Putin – accused of interfering in the US presidential election in 2016 which saw Donald Trump win the presidency.

Read more: Why exaggerated disinformation campaigns help hostile states

The Foreign Office said these trolls “ruthlessly targeted politicians and the public in a number of countries, including the UK, South Africa and India”.

Britain has pledged to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion, although South Africa and India have both been criticized for failing to condemn the invasion.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war.”

“The UK government has alerted its international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations,” she added.

“Putin’s propaganda machine is fooling the world”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “These are insidious attempts by Putin and his propaganda machine to deceive the world about the brutality he is inflicting on the Ukrainian people.

“This evidence will help us more effectively identify and suppress Russian disinformation and follows our decisive action to prevent anyone from doing business with Kremlin-controlled RT and Sputnik outlets.”

The name Cyber ​​Front Z is used by the Telegram channel which openly tries to recruit and organize people to amplify pro-Putin content and attack critics of the Russian president.

Read more: Why does Russia use the letter “Z” and what does it mean?

The UK government said it would share its research with major social media platforms. Sources involved in cracking down on Russian trolls on two such platforms told Sky News they were very aware of Cyber ​​Front Z.

They rejected the Foreign Office’s suggestion that trolls using VPNs (virtual private networks) to mask their real location was a “key tactical innovation” – Facebook said it had identified and suspended accounts using VPNs which he linked to the Internet Research Agency in 2018.

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