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Pro-Putin trolls supporting the invasion of Ukraine keep screwing it up | Pro Club Bd

Russian trolls figure heavily in American political lore thanks to their meddling in the 2016 election, which Team Clinton repeatedly proposed to hand the White House over to Donald Trump. Now the pro-Putin troll team is back, this time trying to garner support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But when it comes to mobilizing support for Russia’s bloodiest conflict since World War II, the troll factory fails – badly and with glaring missteps. The trolls of “Cyber ​​Front Z,” as the new operation calls itself, are targeting harassment at the wrong social media accounts, inadvertently copying pro-Ukrainian content and dumping comically obvious photoshops for an audience of almost nobody.

And they do a particularly bad job of hiding the fact that their supposed grassroots activists are hired rent-a-shit posters.

Researchers at Meta (commonly known as “Facebook”) announced Thursday that they linked posts from “Cyber ​​Front Z” to a Russian troll factory. The factory is run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch and close ally of Putin who was sanctioned by the US for his role in interfering in the 2016 election.

The Cyber ​​Front Z investigation was sparked by the independent Russian news outlet Fontanka, which first linked Cyber ​​Front Z to Prigozhin in a covert investigation launched just days after the group’s debut.

Facebook researchers called the effort “clumsy and largely ineffective” and “definitely not ‘one team’ work.” Efforts consisted of naming targets for harassment – Russian liberals skeptical about the war, Western politicians supporting Ukraine – and directing followers to comment on their social media accounts. But few took up the call to troll, and in the absence of grassroots harassment, Cyber ​​Front Z had to make up the difference with comments from paid staff, according to Facebook.

Despite their bungling, Western countries still pay close attention to the troll factory. The UK Foreign Office has labeled the Rent-a-Trolls as “sick Mastermind” hyped.

But others, particularly observers in Russia, are not as impressed with the work of the troll factory. Cyber ​​​​Front Z job advertisements on Vkontakte, a Russian social media platform similar to Facebook, were met with skepticism by users of a group of job seekers in St. Petersburg. “Requirements: 1) IQ below 70,” a user of Russian social media platform VKontakte quipped over the post.

Outside experts agree with Facebook’s own skepticism about the troll factory’s capabilities.

“Personally, I think that’s something to be taken care of [the Internet Research Agency] by the Western media and national security bureaucracies typically accounts for almost half of the operation itself,” says Gavin Wilde, a former Russia analyst at the National Security Agency and National Security Council, of influence operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace examined.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks while Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump looks on during the final presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Las Vegas campus in 2016.

Mark Ralson/AFP/Getty Images

Even with its shoddy trolling efforts, the Internet Research Agency still remains a focus of the US national security bureaucracy. Federal prosecutors have indicted a Russian, Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, accusing him of acting as an illegal agent on behalf of Prighozin’s US-focused influence campaigns. And in an appearance at a cybersecurity conference last month, FBI Director Chris Wray said he was “fairly confident that Russians can walk and chew gum” when it comes to shifting the focus on the war in Ukraine and any attempts to interfere in future US elections.

Behind the self-described “Information Troops of Russia” who “fight back against the propagandists of the Kiev junta on the information battlefield” is a small staff of poorly paid trolls — 100 on each shift — tasked with posting 200 comments a day, according to Fontankas Undercover -Detection.

At times, Cyber ​​Front Z’s activities seem like a mercenary dollar store version of Ukraine’s social media activist campaigns. Facebook researchers found that the trolls had stolen organically produced pro-Ukrainian posters calling for the release of prisoners in Mariupol to try to deface them, depicting all Ukrainians as far-right Nazis.

In their rush to counter Ukraine’s mostly organic social media activism, the Cyber ​​Front Z trolls frequently stumbled and directed users to the wrong social media accounts. In one instance, the group’s Telegram account attempted to stir up outrage against British Foreign Secretary and Putin critic Liz Truss by instructing his followers to troll on her Facebook page. Facebook researchers noted that the call to arms was “linked to a fan page with about 30 followers who hadn’t posted since 2018.”

And even when the trolls aimed the harassment at the right target, their campaigns failed. When the Cyber ​​Front Z team made a similar attempt to flood the Finnish Defense Minister’s mentions, Facebook found that out of the 255 posts in the thread accessed, the troll factory could only muster 20 inauthentic comments in the feed.

Nils Hauer, a reporter who has covered the war in Ukraine, noted a similar lack of impact when Cyber ​​Front Z trolls urged users to flood replies to one of his tweets. “Yeah, I basically didn’t notice any reaction to this thread,” says Hauer Rolling Stone. “I remember it was mostly just people thanking me, expressing pro-Ukrainian feelings, etc.”

When outrage over criticism of the war isn’t enough, the Cyber ​​Front Z team resorts to fakes. Telegram channel staff occasionally tell their Russian readers that non-existent “subscribers” in Europe are sending them evidence that public opinion is turning against Ukraine or that sanctions are infringing on European consumers, in an apparent attempt to curb Russia’s isolation as less severe and to portray the costs of the war as less severe more distributed.

One post – a picture of the metro in Lyon, France, with a sign saying that operating hours have been cut – tries to allay any Russian fears about the impact of the sanctions by claiming that Europeans are also suffering . The image, which is said to show France suffering from high energy prices as a result of European sanctions against Russia, was stolen from a Russian tourist’s vacation photos in a 2015 travel blog post.

The trolls attempted to Photoshop the fake cut notification. Colin Gerhard, wrote the graduate student who studied Prigozhin’s influence operations and discovered the attempt. “Unless they did it with their feet.”

In early July, Cyber ​​Front Z trolls also tried to convince their readers that the Germans were opposed to Ukraine’s bid for European Union membership by posting images of alleged stickers on German cars with a hashtag – #EUohneUA – showed denouncing Ukraine’s accession campaign bloc.

Rolling Stone asked Roger Cozien, founder of software company Exo Makina, to review the image with his company’s forensic image analysis platform, Tungstène. “In our opinion, it’s pretty obvious that the EU #EUohneUA signs are fake,” Cozien wrote. “It appears they have been patched and tampered with.”

Cyber ​​​​front z bumper sticker anti-Ukraine fake

Right: Cyber ​​Front Z post claiming Germans are putting anti-Ukrainian bumper stickers on cars. Left: Analysis with Tungstène software shows that the image has been manipulated to insert a sticker.

Cyber ​​Front Z/image analysis by eXo maKina

The poor work may be due to the minimum requirements required to work for the troll farm. Rolling Stone found an early ad for “creative copywriters” wanted by Cyber ​​Front Z using salary information in Fontanka’s story and contact information provided by Cyber ​​Front Z’s Telegram channel. Applicants for the positions of “creative copywriter” only had to master “learning to read and write”, “punctuality” and the ability to express their thoughts in writing to earn 45,000 rubles (or just over $700).

Others, however, opine that the trolls’ work hasn’t necessarily gotten worse lately – but that their inflated reputation is now being reconciled with reality.

“I tend to think they were always this bad. It’s just that before 2016 the West, and certainly the United States, just wasn’t paying attention. I think we’ve become more resilient together now and more aware of it and starting to see it.” Wilde says. “We just didn’t have any of the mechanisms to deal with it.”

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