The “trolls”, the digital proletariat that are causing problems on social media – rts.ch

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, any publication about the conflict has provoked an avalanche of comments on social media. And alongside the many reactions of solidarity with the Ukrainians, many messages show support for Russia and Vladimir Putin. They are mainly “trolls” based in Africa.

Trolls are those people or accounts that invade social media with messages deliberately intended to create controversy, generate tension and blur the lines between information, disinformation and propaganda. And since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the comments under the posts of information sites, such as RTS, have been literally taken by storm.

However, many comments favorable to the Russian-led war come from the African continent. From Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, an avalanche of messages in support of Russia, sometimes insulting, are the armed wing of a war that is also unfolding on the Internet, and of which social networks are the privileged place for confrontation.

>> Read also: Pro-Russian ‘Trolls’ Infiltrate Western Media Commentary

Objective: “rotten the debate” to undermine trust in the media. “The objective of the trolls is less to convince of the superiority of their arguments, through a well-rehearsed dialectic, than to go and corrupt the debates and defame the content that is transmitted by the established media, which does a work of journalism”, analyzes Julien. Nocetti, a research associate at the French Institute of International Relations and an expert on Russia and information wars.

This veritable Russian culture war is characterized by the desire to sow problems in western populations rather than promoting Russian culture abroad through a soft power. This orientation can also be observed in media such as RT, whose editorial line changed in the early 2010s from a classic instrument of soft power to a global media broadcasting “alternative” information.

>> See about it: Russian media, a strategic issue of power, control and influence

Resentment, Greed and Opportunism

Contacted by RTS, some of these profiles claim to act out of conviction. Resentment towards the West is one of the main reasons displayed. “Today, the strong who should help and protect the weak are not fully fulfilling their role,” said one of them, who explains that he sees the Russians as “liberators.” “If Africans are suffering, it’s because of NATO and the West,” says another. For them, Africa “suffered too much” and today it is Russia that comes to its rescue.

But the motivations are not just ideological. These trolls are sometimes paid and act as part of campaigns orchestrated by certain states or influence groups. However, it is difficult to determine who exactly is behind each campaign.

“Maybe it’s a government that pays them, but maybe it’s also enough to pay some influencers, who have an army of followers who will broadcast and amplify their message,” explains Matthias Lüfkens, an expert in digital communication. “So it’s very difficult to know if they do it out of conviction or if they get paid for the task or the comment.”

>> In a related topic: An initiative to preserve internet freedom in the face of authoritarian powers

Especially since there can be a form of opportunism, adds Julien Nocetti. “African media or opinion leaders can take advantage of the climate of the time and appropriate these pro-Russian speeches” to defend their own political interests, he says. “It’s something that adds a degree of complexity, because it will always be difficult to know who is behind these informational attacks and whether or not there is an organic link to the Kremlin.”

Questioned on Thursday night at 7:30 pm, former Soviet diplomat Vladimir Fédorovsky recalls that we are “today witnessing a terrible mixture of genres between propaganda and real politics”. “And I want to point out that sometimes it also refers to the West, where many media today are discredited”, he underlines.

>> Vladimir Fedorovski’s reaction to this investigation at 19:30:

Vladimir Fedorovski, former Russian diplomat, deciphers the hybrid war taking place in Ukraine / 19:30 / 2 min. / today at 7:30 pm

“Troll Factories”

An army of little hands paid for “like” or comment is called a troll factory or farm. A few years ago, one of them was discovered in a building in St. Petersburg, where officials were paid to write pro-Kremlin messages or influence elections abroad, or simply look like the Russian point of view.

>> Read: Frond against the “troll factory” that floods the web with Russian propaganda

This type of structure is being deployed almost everywhere. In China, tens of billions of yuan were privately invested in what was called “the 50 cent army“, in reference to the alleged salary of millions of small hands paid to leave comments and show a more positive image of the Chinese Communist Party.

digital proletariat

For Julien Nocetti, Africa is therefore fertile ground, as is Southeast Asia. “In some of these countries, there is already a very cheap workforce that can be, depending on the location, quite educated”, he observes.

“Trolls are above all individuals, they are part of those click workers that we sometimes hear about from other digital or e-commerce players. They form a kind of mass digital proletariat in the broadest sense”, he summarizes. With the difference that trolls are not exploited for commercial purposes, but for strategic and diplomatic purposes.

And, of course, they are not recognized anywhere and are the subject of fierce disputes between states. An excellent relay, therefore, to go “carrying a rotting debate in Western countries”, create confusion and controversy, and participate in a real parallel war with sometimes illusory effects.

TV Subject: Gilles Clémençon

Web text: jop

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