Web brigades

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The web brigades (Russian: Веб-бригады ) are alleged state-sponsored Internet sockpuppetry groups linked to the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. They are purported to be teams of commentators that participate in Russian political blogs and Internet forums using sockpuppets to promote pro-Russian propaganda.

Allegations[edit]

The earliest documented allegations of the existence of "web brigades" appear to be in the April, 2003 Vestnik Online article "The Virtual Eye of Big Brother" by a French journalist Anna Polyanskaya (a former assistant to assassinated Russian politician Galina Starovoitova[1]) and two other authors, Andrey Krivov and Ivan Lomako. The authors claim that up to 1998, contributions to forums on Russian Internet sites (Runet) predominantly reflected liberal and democratic values, but after 2000, the vast majority of contributions reflected totalitarian values.[2][3] This sudden change was attributed to the appearance of teams of pro-Russian commenters who seem to be organized by the Russian state security service.[2][4] According to authors, about 70% of audience of Russian Internet were people of generally liberal views prior to 1998–1999, however sudden surge (about 60–80%) of "antidemocratic" posts suddenly occurred at many Russian forums in 2000.

An April, 2003 article in Russian Journal elaborated a theory of "web brigades", seen as aimed at arguing ad hominem and influencing Russian-speaking communities in the West. The theory attempts to explain why many Russia-based Internet postings are supportive of the new government policies. The author makes a point that the rise of support for the government is due to low popularity of pro-Western ideologies after the 1998 Russian financial crisis, and the fact that new policies are meeting expectations of voters.[5]

In January 2012 a group that presented itself as the Russian wing of the Anonymous published a massive collection of what they claimed to be e-mails of former and present leaders of the pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi (including a number of government officials). Journalists who investigated the leaked information discovered numerous references to an army of paid commenters that reportedly operated in the fall of 2011.[6] According to the e-mails, members of the "brigades" were paid 85 rubles (about 3 US dollars) or more per comment, depending on whether the comment received replies; some were presented with iPads. A number of high-profile bloggers were also mentioned as being paid for promoting Nashi's and government activities. The Federal Youth Agency whose head (and the former leader of Nashi) Vasily Yakemenko was the highest-ranking individual targeted by the leaks refused to comment on authenticity of the e-mails.[7]

In 2013 the US-based think tank Freedom House claimed that Russia and China employ paid pro-government commenters.[8]

In 2013 Russian reporters infiltrated a covert organization that hired young people as "Internet operators" near St. Petersburg and discovered that the employees are being paid to write pro-Kremlin postings and comments on the Internet, smearing opposition leader Alexei Navalny and U.S. politics and culture.[9]

Each commenter was to write no less than 100 comments a day, while people in the other room were to write four postings a day, which then went to the other employees whose job was to post them on social networks as widely as possible.[9]

Some Russian opposition journalists point out that such practices creates a chilling effect on the few independent media outlets that remain in the country.[8]

Team "G"[edit]

An article based upon the original Polyanskaya article, authored by the Independent Customers' Association, was published in May 2008 at Expertiza.Ru. In this article the term web brigades is replaced by the term Team "G".[10][11]

Criticism[edit]

Alexander Yusupovskiy, head of the analytical department of the Federation Council of Russia (Russian Parliament upper house) published in 2003 an article "Conspiracy theory" in Russian Journal with criticism of theory of web brigades.[5]

Yusupovskiy's points included:

  • He thought that officers of GRU or FSB have more topical problems than "comparing virtual penises" with liberals and emigrants.
  • Commenting on the change of attitude of virtual masses in 1998–1999 authors evade any mention of the 1998 Russian financial collapse which "crowned liberal decade", preferring to blame "mysterious bad guys or Big Brother" for that change.
  • Authors exclude from their interpretation of events all different hypotheses, such as Internet activity of a group of some "skinheads", nazbols or simply unliberal students; or hackers able to get IP addresses of their opponents.
  • Authors treat independence of public opinion in spirit of irreconcilable antagonism with positive image of Russia.[5]

Sergey Golubitsky, journalist of Russian IT-related magazine Computerra commented on the story in July 2008:,[12] concluding as follows.

Does the Team "G" prowl expanses of the RuNet? Quite probably. Moreover it's likely to prowl, why wouldn't it? But in exactly the same manner there's the Team "E" from the opposite camp, represented by the anonymous Independent Customers' Association that prowls, honestly fulfilling its agenda and entering released funds. But how are these "teams" related to real life?! Absolutely no way. Both of them are here at work while we, the ordinary inhabitants of the RuNet, live here.[12]

Opposition web brigades[edit]

Tatyana Korchevnaya, a former candidate to the Deputy of the State Duma from the Other Russia list,[13] a former United Civil Front coordinator of the Primorsky Krai,[14] participant of protest demonstrations,[15][16] an author of the top tenth political blog of 2008 [17] claimed in February 2009 in her blog that she was a member of an organization of Russia's "discontented", aimed to run a mass Internet campaign to discredit the authorities.[18][19][20]

The project was allegedly coordinated by a Moscow-based manager, whose name Tatyana did not reveal.[19] The goal of the participants was massive Internet campaigning, disputing those who were contented with their living in Russia, advertising Garry Kasparov and Dissenters Marches, and talking about atrocities of the "bloody regime".[19] The participants used multiple nicknames to combat their opponents.[19]

Korchevnaya considered such scheme abnormal: "I believe that if someone is afraid to say what they think out loud from their own names then they are not a free person – it's as if they're playing for both teams."[19] She explained her confession with getting tired of the lie of those who she sincerelly trusted before.[19] The other reason was a concern for herself:

With every passing day I become ever more saddened by the things they told me. I began to experience hitherto unfamiliar feelings, which I only later figured out as like being a "sacrificial lamb on the altar of democracy".[18]

According to an anonymous source Tatyana referenced to, after she left the project it was "launched on a larger scale than was planned at the start", with participants "planning to ditch their real life jobs and embark on this project full time, especially now that they are going to get paid for it".[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ (Russian) "They are killing Galina Starovoitova for the second time", by Anna Polyansky
  2. ^ a b (Russian)Virtual Eye of the Big Brother by Anna Polyanskaya, Andrei Krivov, and Ivan Lomko, Vestnik online, April 30, 2003
  3. ^ "Russian-American Russian Language biweekly magazine "Vestnik": Main Page [English]". Vestnik.com. Retrieved 2014-05-19. 
  4. ^ (Russian) Eye for an eye by Grigory Svirsky and Vladimur Bagryansky, publication of the Russian Center for Extreme Journalism [1]
  5. ^ a b c Conspiracy theory, by Alexander Yusupovskiy, Russian Journal, 25 April 2003
  6. ^ (Russian) Kremlin's Blogshop by Anastasia Karimova. Kommersant Dengi, February 13, 2012
  7. ^ (Russian) Kommersant Director General Files Complain against Nashi Spokesperson. Izvestia, February 9, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Russia's Online-Comment Propaganda Army, The Atlantic, by OLGA KHAZAN, 9 OCT 2013
  9. ^ a b Internet Troll Operation Uncovered in St. Petersburg, The St. Petersburg Times, By Sergey Chernov, 18, September,2013
  10. ^ Team "G" (How to unveil agents of siloviks at popular forums in the Internet), May 25, 2008
  11. ^ The Kremlin's virtual squad
  12. ^ a b (Russian) Between Kitchen and Workshop, by Sergey Golubitsky, July 23, 2008, for Computerra magazine
  13. ^ Full cell of agitators, November 2007, Kasparov.Ru (in Russian)
  14. ^ Events in the Far East, Polit.Ru, December 2008 (in Russian)
  15. ^ Militia in the form of protest, August 2005 (in Russian)
  16. ^ Bulletin of Russian Communists, 2006 (in Russian)
  17. ^ Tatyana Korchevnaya was included to the list of top ten Russia's bloggers (in Russian)
  18. ^ a b c Tatyana Korchevnaya's claims in her blog, Livejournal, February 24, 2009 (in Russian). See also the English translation of Korchevnaya's blog entry, performed by Anatoly Karlin
  19. ^ a b c d e f How Kasparov's "daughter" was cloned, by Elena Kalashnikova, internet newspaper Dni.Ru, February 29, 2009 (in Russian)
  20. ^ Response of Molodaya Gvardia on Tatyana's claims, February 25, 2009 (in Russian)