Although “troll factory” evokes the image of some hardworking, if not comely, creatures from Norse and Scandinavian folklore punching a time clock, it’s actually a term used to describe the cottage industry of online provocateurs that sprang up Russia around the time the 2016 presidential campaign got underway. These troll factories (or, if you want a more rustic term, “troll farms”) were found instrumental in Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election, helping spread disinformation via multiple methods including buying ads on Facebook and Google.
If you ever read one of those garbled (albeit effective) calls to action and wondered where the hell they get this stuff, Yahoo! News picked up on an interview between Russian TV channel Rain and a former troll factory nine-to-fiver who was in the ersatz organization’s “elite English language department.” That individual, known only as “Maksim,” detailed his tried and true techniques for angrying up the old conservative blood, which include studying House Of Cards for wedge issues.
Maksim told Rain that he and his troll co-workers at the Internet Research Agency (well, that’s not very quaint) were “forced to watch the House Of Cards in English,” presumably under a bridge somewhere. And Beau Willimon’s Netflix drama is apparently the inciter’s series of choice, because it helps acquaint them with “the main problems of the United States of America. Tax problems, the problem of gays, sexual minorities, weapons.”
The main goal of the Internet Research Agency, which is believed to be owned by restaurateur and “Putin’s chef” Evgeny Progozhin, was to “demonize” Trump rival Hillary Clinton by recalling her husband’s alleged history of sexual harassment, her use of a private (though secure) email server, and of course, her wealth—elements that, nope, haven’t plagued the current administration, no siree.
Maksim bragged that the troll co-op’s “main message is: Are not you, my American brothers, tired of the Clintons? How many have they already been?” But Clinton wasn’t their only target—the Russian group also intended to “set up the Americans against their own government to cause unrest, cause discontent [and] lower [President] Obama’s rating.”
They pulled off this Red Dawn of comment sections by watching President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in his shady dealings to learn which issues would enrage “Values Voters” even further. They quickly zeroed in on what kind of bigotry would find the most support among commenters, which Maksim said almost always involved “[bringing] out the religious themes.” The Russians felt that “Americans are very religious, especially those [who post] on news sites and write comments.” And if you wanted to get “a couple of dozen ‘likes,’” the easiest way to do so was to “write that sodomy is a sin,” and then sit back watch as the unpaid homophobes held court.