Through the Saint Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, also known as the “Troll Factory”, nearly 40 rallies and protest actions were organized in the US between 2016 and 2017, reports RBC news agency with reference to statistics reports in its possession.
In recent years, nearly a dozen events have been held under the auspices of the BlackMattersUS movement (the name alludes to the Black Lives Matter movement which advocated the rights of black people, but has nothing to do with it), said an RBC correspondent familiar with the “factory’s” activity. One of the factory members, a former worker in the “American department”, said that the participants in the protests were unaware that the protests had been organized by “trolls”. Information on some of the protests has featured previously in the research of the English-language media. In August last year, the Being Patriotic movement used Facebook to invite residents of 17 cities in Florida to rally in support of US President Donald Trump, The Daily Beast reported.
The factory has been spending roughly 200 000 rubles (about $3 500) every month to pay for the work of local rally organizers, flights, as well as printing and equipment expenses. The agency may have spent as much as five million rubles in the last two years.
The agency has also spent about 260 000 rubles ($4535 USD) each month on promotions in social networks. Nearly half of the budget has been used to make posts about racial problems, a smaller portion being used on political messages. Between June 2015 and May 2017, the factory spent at least $100 000 to promote about 3 300 political advertisements directed at American voters.
RBC’s sources claim that the American department is headed by Dzheikhun Aslanov, a 27 year-old native of Azerbaijan. Aslanov himself denies this. However, RBC has Telegram messages in Aslanov’s name which speak about the interim results of the Troll Factory’s work in the US. Aslanov went to St. Petersburg from the Irkutsk province at the end of the 2000s in order to study at the economics faculty of the Hydrometeorological University. In 2009 he visited the US, and in 2011 he spent time in London. According to RBC, Aslanov currently owns two companies which specialize in advertising and work on the internet. One of them, Azimut, promotes accounts on social networks, Aslanov himself specified.
The agency has more than five legal entities, a source close to the factory’s leadership explained.
In September, Facebook announced that users affiliated with Russia had purchased 3 000 political advertisements in the US between 2015 and 2016. According to the social network, nearly 10 million people in the US saw the adverts. The social network has given the US Congress the text of these adverts. Their exact content remains unknown, but Facebook has clarified that most of them concerned controversial social and political topics, including LGBT rights, racial matters and the right to weapons.
The social network subsequently announced that it would hire a thousand staff members to check political adverts.
Twitter later blocked 200 accounts related to Russian interference in US elections.