Britain has accused a “sick Russian troll factory” of “teasing social media with Kremlin propaganda” after it said it funded expert research into the organization.
Known as Cyber Front Z – featuring the military insignia used by Russiainvading troops in Ukraine – it was first discovered in March by the Saint Petersburg news organization Fontanka.
The State Department said its investigation revealed how the Kremlin was “spreading lies on social media and in comment sections,” though for their safety, the department did not identify the investigators or explain why they qualified as experts.
According to Fontanka, Cyber Front Z advertises jobs on the social media platform Telegram that require employees to post 200 comments every day on platforms such as Instagram and YouTube for a salary of 45,000 rubles a month – about £500.
Information war is waged from an old weapons factory
The headquarters is said to be located in a rented space in the Arsenal Machine-building Factory in St. Petersburg, a company that produces military equipment and technology.
Fontanka’s undercover reporter worked at the organization’s premises for a month and discovered that the professional trolls are given accounts to use their own computers for a number of purposes, including amplifying content beneficial to the Russian narrative and attacking people who criticize it. .
The report also linked the new operation to the Internet Research Agency — a private organization also based in St. Petersburg and reportedly led by Evgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Putin — accused of meddling in the US presidential election in 2016 Donald Trump won the presidency.
Read more: Why Exaggerating Disinformation Campaigns Helps Hostile States
The Foreign Office says these trolls have “relentlessly 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 not condemning the invasion.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “We cannot allow the Kremlin and its seedy troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war.”
“The UK government has warned international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian intelligence operations,” she added.
Putin’s propaganda machine deceives the world
Culture Minister Nadine Dorries said: “These are insidious attempts by Putin and his propaganda machine to mislead the world about the brutality he is inflicting on the people of Ukraine.
“This evidence will help us more effectively identify and remove Russian disinformation and follow our decisive action to prevent anyone from doing business with Kremlin-controlled outlets RT and Sputnik.”
The name Cyber Front Z is being used by the Telegram channel which is trying to openly recruit and organize people to amplify pro-Putin content and attack the critics of the Russian president.
Read more: Why does Russia use the letter ‘Z’ and what does it mean?
The British government says it will share its research with the major social media platforms. Sources involved in countering Russian trolls on two of those platforms told Sky News they were very knowledgeable about Cyber Front Z.
They rejected the State Department’s suggestion that the trolls using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to mask their real location was a “major tactical innovation” — Facebook said it had identified and suspended accounts using VPNs it linked to the Internet Research Agency in 2018.