Rhetoric in Troll-land

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Anton Torianovski, "A former Russian troll speaks: ‘It was like being in Orwell’s world’", WaPo 2/17/2018:

You got a list of topics to write about. Every piece of news was taken care of by three trolls each, and the three of us would make up an act. We had to make it look like we were not trolls but real people. One of the three trolls would write something negative about the news, the other two would respond, “You are wrong,” and post links and such. And the negative one would eventually act convinced. Those are the kinds of plays we had to act out.

Update — More quotes and discussion in Naira Davlashyan and Irina Titova, "Ex-Workers at Russian Troll Factory Say Mueller Indictments Are True", Time (AP) 2/19/2018.

Update #2 — Some troll-factory output monitoring is available at Hamilton 68, whose name is a reference to Federalist Papers no. 68, attributed to Alexander Hamilton, which presents a perhaps-surprising argument in favor of the electoral college [emphasis added]:

It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen States, in any combinations founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.


  1. Anarcissie said,

    February 19, 2018 @ 10:19 am

    It seems odd to pay people to do what so many are willing to do for free. The trolling method described goes back to early Usenet days: a small team would pretend to be having a flame war about some provocative issue, and once a brawl started, would leave the discussion. But even this was over-organized; once Usenet and other discursive venues spread beyond academia, the public joined in without needing any provocation. If the Russian government actually funded this sort of thing, they must be pretty simple-minded. Or maybe WaPo is being trolled….

    [(myl) More likely, the goal was not to cause trouble generally, but to shift focus in particular directions. Which seems to have worked.]

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 19, 2018 @ 11:05 am

    It would be interesting to know how much the WaPo silently cleaned up the interviewee's English in the editing process. Because if this is all his own words (whether spoken or typed) and he wasn't good enough to pass the English-proficiency test to work in the US-oriented department of his employer, that's evidence it was a pretty demanding test (and indirectly that the employer had no trouble find a large enough pool of applicants able to pass the English-proficiency test.

  3. David L said,

    February 19, 2018 @ 12:26 pm

    I got the impression from the WaPo story that the testing wasn't only about English proficiency but also about knowledge of US politics and culture and so on-and that that was the reason the person in the story failed.

  4. Anarcissie said,

    February 19, 2018 @ 9:35 pm

    These Russians seem to be setting a very high standard, then, going by what I see when I dip into the high-volume big-ticket web forums and blogs — thousands of messages by people whose native languages are hard for me to guess, but surely variegated, if any kind of sense can be made of them at all.

  5. David Marjanović said,

    February 21, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

    It seems odd to pay people to do what so many are willing to do for free.

    We're talking about full-time work here.

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