The UK government exposed new tactics used by the Kremlin to gather support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This now includes “a troll factory” utilized to spread disinformation on social media in a large-scale international campaign.
The government-funded research discovered a troll factory operated from St Petersburg, which works quite similarly to regular businesses: with paid employees and internal teams.
Using Telegram as the main recruitment source, the factory is looking for new “workers” to join the team. They then go on social media to participate in the “pro-Kremlin campaign,” spamming the Russian government’s critics and foreign leaders with comments of propagandistic nature. Similar activity has been noticed across eight social media platforms, including Telegram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok.
The research links the troll factory to Yevgeniy Prigozhin (sanctioned by the UK,) who previously owned a similar bot factory known as the Internet Research Agency. It was infamous for participants spreading misinformation on social media and conspiracy theories both locally and internationally.
“Masquerading as Americans, these operatives used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated content, and social-media platform tools to interact with and attempt to deceive tens of millions of social-media users in the United States,” a related report by the US Senate Intelligence Select Committee said.
The current troll factory is targeting politicians and social media users across a variety of geographical contexts, such as in the UK, South Africa, and India. Threat actors utilize VPNs during their spam campaigns to avoid in-built harmful content detection filters.
“These are insidious attempts by Putin and his propaganda machine to deceive the world about the brutality he’s inflicting on the people of Ukraine. This evidence will help us to more effectively identify and remove Russian disinformation and follows our decisive action to block anyone from doing business with Kremlin-controlled outlets RT and Sputnik,” Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said.
The UK government has set up a Government Information Cell (GIC) to tackle Russian propaganda. A team of experts identifies the Kremlin’s disinformation and prepares an appropriate response plan. So far, the focus has been on sanctioning those related to state media organizations and those organizations themselves.
“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 international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations,” UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss commented.
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