A former insider at Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA) has divulged details on the online troll factory's operations, stating that he "absolutely" believes the organisation is connected to the Kremlin.
In an interview with NBC News, 26-year-old Vitaly Bespalov told NBC News that during his stint at the IRA, workers in the "American department" were paid the equivalent of £1,000 to £1,500 per month to author fake and incendiary news articles, social media posts and comments about U.S. hot-button issues. Entry-level employees, meanwhile, made only £750 per month, but also received paid bonuses.
Bespalov, who was previously a journalist before joining the IRA, specifically wrote news articles that disparaged Ukraine and promoted Russia. His articles would be intentionally designed to look as if they were written in Ukraine.
Bespalov described the four-story St. Petersburg-based factory as "a merry-go-round of lies... When you get on the carousel, you do not know who is behind you and neither are you aware of who is in front of you - but all of you are running around within the same circle," said the erstwhile troll.
News writers would work on the first floor, while bloggers would post their own content on the third floor. Workers on the third and fourth floor would post comments on these stories and other external websites. And the marketing team on the second floor would incorporate the propaganda into social media. It was very rare for employees on one floor to fraternise with workers from another floor.
Bespalov said he also created fake social media profiles that would spread pro-Russian misinformation. These profiles often used misappropriated photos of genuine people, especially females because they were supposedly looked at more often.
US intelligence agencies have blamed Russian trolls for helping to influence the 2016 presidential election. “I now believe nothing I come across on social media,” said Bespalov.