Global News podcast Russia Rising: Hunting for internet trolls

On the first episode of a new Global News podcast Russia Rising, we’ll visit the former home of the now-notorious Russian troll factory in St. Petersburg, which the United States accuses of meddling in its 2016 presidential election. We’ll investigate how those Russian internet trolls operate and whether other countries, specifically Canada, are targeted too.

On our visit to St. Petersburg, we’ll meet a former Russian internet troll named Vitaly Bespalov. The aspiring young journalist started working at the troll factory in 2014 and explains how they used to write fake news articles filled with pro-Kremlin propaganda and then share them widely across the internet. He said the troll factory started recruiting English-speaking employees whose job was to produce propaganda specifically targeting western countries.

WATCH BELOW: Ex-Russian internet troll warns Canadians to be vigilant

Bespalov resigned after a few months, so to learn more about how the troll factory continued to evolve, we’ll catch a train from St. Petersburg to Moscow, to speak with Russian investigative journalist Andrey Zakharov. During the U.S. presidential campaign in 2015, Zakharov revealed how the trolls’ online posts were reaching up to 50 million people per week. They even managed to organize dozens of political protests in the U.S. Zakharov says the troll factory had a budget of more than $1 million per month and was owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin — a Russian oligarch and close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

To find out more about Prigozhin and his connection to the Kremlin, we’ll connect via Skype with Dan Treisman, a professor of political science at the University of California and author of the book The New Autocracy, which explores the inner workings of the Kremlin. Treisman says Putin relies heavily on people such as Prigozhin, who are called “curators” — they’re basically freelancers, who work outside the official channels of the Russian government, making it easier for the Kremlin to deny having any knowledge of their activities.

But despite the commonly held belief that the troll factory’s main goal was to help elect Donald Trump in 2016, Zakharov says most of the time, they actually promoted both sides of the campaign and of various other divisive social and political issues. He explains that the trolls’ main objective was to stir up social tensions and divisions in western countries, including Canada.


READ MORE:
Want to fight fake news? Try playing ‘Russian troll,’ new research suggests

To delve deeper into how Canada is targeted, we’ll speak with Patrick Warren, an associate professor of economics at Clemson University. Warren and his team analyzed three million tweets that Twitter says were produced by the troll factory. Warren says there were thousands of tweets on Canadian issues, such as immigration, racism and U.S.-Canada relations. We’ll look at examples of specific tweets that targeted Canadians.

Finally, we’ll catch a ride on the Moscow subway to the Kremlin, for an interview with Yaroslav Nilov. Nilov is an MP in the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and he questions whether online trolls could actually influence an election result in a country like the United States or Canada. We’ll look at the latest research into whether or not online posts and advertisements actually have the power to sway your vote.

If you enjoy Russia Rising, please take a minute to rate it on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts, tell us what you think and share the show with your friends.

Contact:

Twitter: @JeffSempleGN

Email: RussiaRising@Curiouscast.ca

Guests:

Vitaly Bespalov – Former Russian troll

Andrey Zakharov – Russian investigative journalist, BBC Russian

Twitter: @skazal_on

Dan Treisman – Professor of political science at the University of California and author of the book The New Autocracy.

Twitter: @dstreisman

Patrick Warren – Associate professor of economics who has been at Clemson since 2008.

Twitter: @plwarre

Yaroslav Nilov – Liberal Democratic Party of Russia

Instagram: @yaroslavnilov

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