I, Bot. Inside a Ukrainian Troll Factory

Vasyl Bidun, a journalist for Hromadske’s partner Slidstvo.Info, went to work at a troll factory. Within a month and a half undercover he had time to work for different politicians — he supported some and mercilessly criticized the others. It all depended on the instructions of the curator and the wishes of the customer. Although the term “bot” should refer to automated accounts, this story catches only the inauthentic accounts’ activities. Troll farms are companies that massively create false social network users and write thousands of comments on their behalf. Ukrainian politicians have been repeatedly suspected of using such farms, but it has not yet been clear how it works, how much it costs, and how big the troll industry is.

It turned out that even those politicians who are considered "new faces", use dubious troll services. During the election campaign, troll farm workers massively commented in favor of Civic Position party leader Anatoliy Grytsenko and Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, Golos party leader and a rockstar. Even a small troll farm operates with a seven-figure budget and pays in envelopes. This shady service market reaches millions of dollars a year. The troll farm where Vasyl had worked was exposed and blocked by Facebook two days before the "I, Bot" investigation movie was presented.

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English-language version of an expose by Ukrainian media outlet Hromadske and it's investigative partner Slidstvo. Investigative journalist Vasyl Bidun managed to get inside a Ukraine troll operation that was working for various politicians running in the 2019 Ukraine parliamentary elections. Vasyl explains just about everything he learned while on this unique assignment. According to VoxUkraine estimates, the trolls here wrote four million comments in just six weeks before the parliamentary elections during which VoxUkraine monitored the pages of Ukrainian top politicians. Two days before the April election, Facebook discovered and removed this troll content. Quite a bit late. The operation here then closed down. However, large political projects/parties may have their own troll factories. The article above is basically a primer of how troll farms operate. At least within Ukraine politics. This operability probably varies from country to country. But there is little doubt that major (and sometimes minor) political parties around the world attempt to influence their voters via trolling social media. The worst of this trend occurs when a troll operation, such as the Russian Olgino troll factory in St. Petersburg, meddles in the election of another country like Russia's meddling into the US 2016 election to assist Donald Trump and hurt Hilary Clinton.