Russia’s troll factory also paid for 100 activists in the US

The trolls’ reported St Petersburg lair.
The trolls’ reported St Petersburg lair.
Image: AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky
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Russian independent media are having an impressive week in exposing how the country’s government allegedly tried to influence the US 2016 elections using online trolls.

On Monday (Oct. 16), a man going under the pseudonym Maksim told TV Rain (paywall) that he was paid to post negative comments on Facebook and sites like the New York Times about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and to stoke America’s internal divisions on religion and LGBTQ rights. He was working for the “Internet Research Agency,” a company in St Petersburg, which is believed to have done work spreading political messages and trolling on the Kremlin’s behalf.

Today, business site RBC revealed the numbers that allegedly made the company work. It reports (link in Russian) that over two years the agency spent $2.3 million on its US operations. Most of that was spent on Russian staff—around 90 employees (link in Russian) were working on the US at the height of the trolling campaign in 2016—but it also paid for 100 US activists to travel around America, organizing 40 rallies in US cities, and spent $120,000 spreading their message on Facebook. (The Silicon Valley giant has admitted that thousands of ads were bought under Russian IP addresses during the campaign.) The 100 activists didn’t suspect any Russian involvement in the funding, RBC reports.

The trolls produced content aimed at riling both the left and right—for example, pushing Texan independence and religious evangelism at the same time as African-American and LGBTQ rights. Those writing the content earned around 55,000 rubles per month (approx. $1,000), while administrators made 80,000-90,000 rubles, and managers took home 120,000 (around $2,100). RBC reports that the factory still has a US desk, but its employees now number around 50.