April 14 2022, 12:19 pm

Russia’s New Troll Farm ”Cyber Front Z” Wages Online Information War against the West

US media is report­ing that Krem­lin allies have deployed a new kind of troll farm called “Cyber Front Z” to wage an online infor­ma­tion war against the West. Cyber Front Z con­sists of a pub­lic-fac­ing Telegram chan­nel where vol­un­teers are direct­ed to post dis­in­for­ma­tion under their own names and a pri­vate, pro­fes­sion­al troll army paid to post sim­i­lar dis­in­for­ma­tion using fake iden­ti­ties. Accord­ing to a VICE News report:

April 4, 2022 Con­sid­er­ing Rus­sia spent the last decade wag­ing an online infor­ma­tion war against the West, it came as a sur­prise to many that, days into the inva­sion of Ukraine, Rus­sia was the one los­ing the infor­ma­tion war.   But they were just get­ting start­ed, and weeks after the war began, Krem­lin allies deployed a new kind of troll farm.  “Atten­tion fight­ers,” the admin­is­tra­tor of the Cyber Front Z Telegram chan­nel told their 65,000 fol­low­ers on Thurs­day morn­ing. The Ukrain­ian singer Jamala was, they said, wor­thy of an attack. She’d “arranged a pho­to shoot with the flag of Ukraine in Britain,” the mes­sage con­tin­ued. Jamala was tar­get­ed because she had post­ed a series of pho­tographs on her Insta­gram account of celebri­ties like pop star Ed Sheer­an and singer Gre­go­ry Porter hold­ing a Ukrain­ian flag.  The admin­is­tra­tor, who goes by the name Alek­sander Kap­i­tanov, told group mem­bers to turn on their VPNs—to cir­cum­vent the Kremlin’s ban on Instagram—and post com­ments ridi­cul­ing the singer. Group mem­bers were also instruct­ed to ref­er­ence a con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry the Krem­lin has pushed in recent weeks alleg­ing that the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment per­pe­trat­ed a geno­cide against Russ­ian-speak­ers in the Don­bas region.   Head­quar­tered in St. Peters­burg, Cyber Front Z calls itself a “people’s move­ment” work­ing to defend Rus­sia. In its rapid­ly grow­ing Telegram chan­nel, launched on March 11, the group claims it is sim­ply work­ing to com­bat the flood of fake news and dis­in­for­ma­tion com­ing from Ukraine, the U.S., and West­ern Europe about the invasion—or “spe­cial oper­a­tion,” as Kap­i­tanov unfail­ing­ly refers to it.

Read the rest here.

The VICE News report says that the Cyber Front Z Telegram chan­nel, which cur­rent­ly has more than 87,000 fol­low­ers, urges Rus­sians to post com­ments, share pro-Krem­lin con­tent, and dis­par­age any­one who crit­i­cizes Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. The group has pushed many of the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and nar­ra­tives that the Krem­lin has sup­port­ed through­out this war, includ­ing claims Ukraine was devel­op­ing bioweapons in con­junc­tion with the US, the Russ­ian army was rid­ding Ukraine of Nazis, and the Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary was fir­ing on its own cit­i­zens. Accord­ing to an inves­ti­ga­tion by Russ­ian inde­pen­dent media, over 100 Cyber Front Z trolls are offered a month­ly salary of around $431.96 to post pro-Russ­ian com­ments on con­tent as direct­ed by Cyber Front Z super­vi­sors. This can cre­ate a flood of 20,000 pieces of sup­pos­ed­ly organ­ic pro-Krem­lin con­tent in just a few hours.

The Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) reports on the use of Telegram by Rus­sia have included:

  • We report­ed last month that Telegram was emerg­ing as one of the more covert influ­ence vehi­cles Rus­sia will be rely­ing upon in light of the shut­down of its state media oper­a­tions in the West.
  • In Octo­ber 2021, we report­ed that Russ­ian state media out­lets Sput­nik and RT were expand­ing their social media pres­ence to Telegram.
  • In April 2021, we report­ed on an inter­view of an employ­ee of a “post-Sovi­et troll farm.” The inter­vie­wee described how the trolls used Telegram and oth­er social media plat­forms as part of the crack­down on dis­sent, pre­sum­ably in Russia.



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