presents A documentary series
Andrey Loshak InterNYET: A History Of The Russian Internet Episode 5 Seattle, Washington
United States Seattle is the birthplace of grunge, Starbucks, and LiveJournal, a blogging platform that has had a tremendous impact on Russia. In 1999, University of Washington student
Brad Fitzpatrick decided it was a good idea to keep a diary on the Internet and created LiveJournal. In the United States, LiveJournal was popular mostly among teenagers. In Russia, Live Journal became the main platform for users to reflect on the future of their homeland. A Journal [page] in the U.S. is something that kids kind of write in, write their thoughts on.
You know, it’s not like a newspaper publication, so … The Russian ones looked grammatically correct. It, you know …
as opposed to, like, just kids banging on their keyboard, like in the U.S. They were, like, really long and a lot of photography. All the posts looked a lot longer
and more professional and serious. It was just junk. But it was fun. You know, we were screwing around. With the emergence of Facebook, LiveJournal’s popularity in the United States began to wane. In Russia, it continued to grow. LiveJournal became a platform for the formation of civil society. Car drivers who fought against the excessive use of flashing lights on the roads were the first to unite. The community received the name of Blue Buckets. ♪ On Volgograd, Michurin, Yaroslavl avenues, blue flashing lights are all over Moscow. ♪ ♪ On Kutuzov, Lenin, Ryazan Avenues, blue flashing lights are all over Moscow. ♪ – Hello.
– Can you introduce yourself, please? – Introduce myself?
– Yes. Sir, introduce yourself, please. PYOTR SHKURATOV, coordinator, Blue Buckets:
We were amazed by the phenomenon of LiveJournal. Some of our most high-profile stories were
immediately reposted by very many people. And we ended up at the top.
Even more people subscribed. When you’re on a regular Internet forum, you can’t start a wave. But with the help of social media, we were actually able to make waves. There are still about 600 cars using emergency lights left in Moscow. That is, of course, depressing. But that’s
not the 20,000 special lights that we started with. Civil activists on LiveJournal were soon followed by opposition politicians. Aleksei Navalny’s corruption investigations made
his blog the most popular one on LiveJournal. The politician is still referred to as a ‘blogger’ in pro-government media. After 2005 or 2006, when mass media had been ‘cleaned up,’ and there remained only a couple of [independent] newspapers, the entire political debate moved to LiveJournal. ALEKSEI NAVALNY, opposition figure: As a politician,
as a public figure, as someone conducting investigations, I was born and raised on LiveJournal.
I spent my political youth on LiveJournal. If it hadn’t been for LiveJournal, I wouldn’t have been able to go into politics. In 2007, LiveJournal was acquired by SUP Media,
co-owned by Russian businessman Aleksandr Mamut. [Founder Brad] Fitzpatrick came to Moscow where he was treated like a Russian Internet idol. The first trip I was supposed to do to Russia, they said, ‘OK, it’s a technical meeting.
We do explain the technology. We explain now the statistics.’ And I went there, and it was just, like, parties, parties, parties.
And then I was, like, leaving. I was, like, ‘We didn’t do anything.’ They’re, like, ‘OK, you can come back!
Come back in a couple of months and we’ll do some actual work.’ But … it’s a good time. I’ve probably gone 11 times now, or something, to Russia. Yeah. The LiveJournal founder’s love affair with Russia
led to his marriage to a Russian woman. For many years now, the programmer has been working for Google. Tired of social networks, Fitzpatrick once declined Mark Zuckerberg’s offer to work for him and get some Facebook stock in return. I remember when they [Facebook] went public, I went back
and looked at what my initial offer was, that I didn’t accept, and I did the multiplication and it was like, ‘Oh, that’s like $92 million
that I’ll never see.'” So … We’re going ahead. Nizhny Novogorod region, 2010:
Are you filming this? Yes, I’m filming. Easy, easy. F***! This is nuts. F***. Let’s go back. Go the f*** back, you moron. Come on, come on! Go back! Easy, easy… (Inaudible) In the summer of 2010, central Russia was engulfed by wildfires. Moscow was shrouded in smoke. While state TV channels concealed the truth
and emergency services couldn’t cope with the disaster, people began to unite on the Internet
to provide help to one another. Gregory Asmolov, then a research assistant at Harvard University’s
Berkman Center for Internet and Society, proposed the use of the Ushahidi network that was created by volunteers in Kenya for election monitoring. GREGORY ASMOLOV: On July 31, 2010, I wrote a post on LiveJournal with
the idea of creating a map of assistance. Many people reacted with a lot of enthusiasm. They liked the idea. The main advantage of that platform was that
it took us a little more than 24 hours to set it up. Art critic Anna Barne used her LiveJournal page
to start a fund-raising campaign for wildfire victims. One week later, her apartment had become a warehouse of food supplies and fire-extinguishing equipment. ANNA BARNE, volunteer: Supplies kept coming. I had simply stopped closing the door. I didn’t have time to take a shower. I simply told people to put money in an envelope, put dry pasta here, preserved food there, potatoes here. I had fire hoses in my apartment –
something I’d never seen in my life. I had fire hose couplings – I didn’t know what they were back then. I had a fire-fighting monoblock pump with a hose in my kitchen. We were coordinating our effort on LiveJournal. It really was society organizing itself from the bottom up. Angered by yet another news report about wildfire victims, Anna published an open letter on LiveJournal to [then emergency services chief Sergei] Shoigu. She wrote that she’d lost all faith in government, but began believing in human kindness. The letter went viral, and Anna’s life took a sharp turn. She met her would-be husband at a training course for volunteer firefighters. She gave up art criticism and dedicated herself entirely to fighting forest fires. I published this book about the history
of the Aerial Forest Protection Service when I worked at the Service for four years. And when I’m told there are no real men in Russia, I don’t believe that at all. There are real men. I know at least a couple of hundred of them. The 2010 RuNet Award went to the founders of a project named Assistance Map. It was Russia’s first successful crowd-sourced project. The idea of crowd-sourcing, or the mobilization
of Internet users for achieving a certain goal, was picked up by Aleksei Navalny for his investigations of corruption in road construction, public services, and state contracts. For me, personally, the Internet revealed its might when I launched RosPil, a project investigating state contracts, [and] when I started raising funds on the Internet. ALEKSEI NAVALNY, opposition figure: Yandex Money
was an absolute breakthrough. Audits were controlled by Internet users. Other users saw that it was audited by like-minded people. So they knew it was OK to send their money there. And that was very cool. The Anti-Corruption Foundation, everything we do, exists thanks to the Internet. It was then that people started saying that, to some degree, Russia’s online community could work more effectively than the state. People started wondering why they were paying taxes, why they were working with the state when they could solve every problem by themselves. Of course, it was a dangerous signal from the Russian government’s perspective. ♪ Come on, Russia! Come on, come on! Come on, beautiful! Come on, come on! ♪ In the 2000s, the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi (Our People), specialized in mass street gatherings in support of the government. The movement was overseen by Vladislav Surkov and headed by Vasily Yakemenko. Its gatherings took place with varied success. Putin loves everyone! Putin loves everyone! A——s! A—— sellouts! Nashi! Nashi! Kristina Potupchik was the movement’s spokesperson. The presidential administration gave her the job of putting LiveJournal in order. KRISTINA POTUPCHIK, Internet personality: Gradually, there was
an understanding that there was a need for online networks, not only street networks. This kind of work was being done. Then, LiveJournal starting posting a list of its top journals. There was a blogger named Technomat who pushed certain posts to Live Journal’s top. We made use of this kind of manipulation. It didn’t cost much. Few people realized how it was done. Other youth movements later used the same mechanism to push their posts to the top. Stuff like, ‘Americans urinate in your elevators’ and so on. And little by little, that platform became devalued, too. At some point, members of the [ruling party’s] Young Guard received instructions to start their own LiveJournals. And they wanted to push their journals to the top. There was a whole network of those blockheads around the country. And each of those blockheads was told to get a LiveJournal and start posting and commenting. And everything turned into trash. – Before that, did anyone else practice this kind content boosting on LiveJournal? Well, as far I as understand, bot traffic … All opposition bloggers were popular by themselves. Navalny was always at the top. How were we supposed to compete with that? Well, yes, we bot traffic. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone gets their information across with the means available to them. – And Navalny didn’t need that because his content was explosive. Of course not. If I’d written that the government was bad, I would probably be in jail now. [Chanting in Arabic] In the spring of 2011, a wave of protests swept across Arab countries. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were dubbed Facebook and Twitter revolutions in the media. The same year, it was announced at a United Russia party conference that the Medvedev-Putin ‘tandem’ would swap jobs. Many were struck by the cynicism of that move. I think it would be right if the congress supported the candidacy of the party chairman, Vladimir Putin, to run for president of Russia. And, most importantly, the final choice will be made by all of you, by all of the Russian people. A campaign under the slogan ‘United Russia, Party of Swindlers and Thieves’ was launched on the Internet. Activists became observers at parliamentary elections and witnessed large-scale election fraud. Video recordings of violations were immediately published on the Internet. Look, they took the ballot boxes to this small room and are doing something with them now. They’re doing everything correctly here. – You’re blocking the view.
Let me see what’s happening here. Listen, I’m going to call the police now. – Sure, call the police. You have a pouch under your coat stuffed with ballots marked for United Russia. – Why are you getting nervous? Yes, I’m getting nervous. If they unbutton their coats, you’ll see everything. Nikolai Alekseyevich, I’m saying hello. Check this out. The election committee chairman is filling out ballots. You hid it just now. Go, go … I just witnessed a criminal offense. Not just a violation. Go back to your place. Stop, please. Can you stop them, please? They just stuffed ballot boxes at this polling station. Please, stop these people. They just stuffed ballots [into the ballot boxes]. Shame! Shame! Shame! The day after the election, thousands of enraged Muscovites took to the streets. Police detained more than 300 people. It was then when the OVD-Info project came into existence. It helped establish the whereabouts of detained protesters. DANIIL BEILINSON, OVD-Info co-founder:
We all met one night outside a police station and decided to start this kind of website. It’s more difficult for the police to wreak havoc if society is kept informed about the whereabouts of [detained] people. It’s time to change the government! It’s time to change the government! Rallies for fair elections continued through the winter [of 2012]. Tens of thousands of people participated in them. The rallies brought together civic and political activists. Olga Romanova was the bookkeeper of the protest movement. She raised money via Yandex Money and kept meticulous financial reports. Facebook played a key role in the protests. It was a gathering point. I still have those groups: Millions of Citizens for Fair Elections, The League of Voters, Observers, OLGA ROMANOVA, Russia Behind Bars founder:
I’m not leaving those groups and I don’t see anyone else leaving them,
but they are silent groups. They are like tombstones. They’re sitting in my bookmarks, and I let them stay there. I keep thinking, my God, how naive we were. On May 6, one day before Putin’s inauguration, another mass rally turned into a confrontation with police. More than 400 people were detained. Why are you detaining me?
I wasn’t doing anything wrong. A show trial followed. More than 30 people were prosecuted in the Bolotnaya Square case and were sentenced to prison terms. Aleksei Polikhovich was one of them. He served a three-year prison term for grabbing a police officer by his arm. Aleksei works at OVD-Info today. [OVD-Info] invited me to a job interview. ALEKSEI POLIKHOVICH, OVD-Info editor:
Later, they said they thought it would be cool to hire the dude they’d been writing about. OVD-Info employs more than 30 people today. Polikhovich focuses his reporting on prison torture. Incidents of torture [in Russian jails] have increased in recent years. I once opened the door to the world of torture and now I live in that world. There’s a comedy sketch where Melisandre, the Game of Thrones character, the Red Priestess, comes to a baby shower, giving everyone these horrible looks. Sometimes I feel like Melisandre, who keeps saying the winter is coming and we’re all f***d. We’re all f****d. Yes. It didn’t take long for the government to respond to the protests. Immediately after the inauguration, parliament, which was
under the Kremlin’s total control, began passing prohibitive laws with such speed that it was nicknamed online the ‘mad printer.’ For the first time since Putin came to power, legislation placed restrictions on the Russian Internet, too. [ANTON NOSIK] The December 2011 election brought to power a certain kind of State Duma. ANTON NOSIK, Russian Internet evangelist:
After the protests that followed the December 2011 election, the Duma received the powers, essentially, of the Chinese Red Guards. In other words, they were given the authority to pillage. That didn’t mean that the government was behind every ‘inspired’ pronouncement made by Duma members Sergei Zheleznyak or Yelena Mizulina. They were simply a horde of pillagers competing in how much they could pillage, trample, and scorch, while the government, just like in China, allowed them to behave that way. Konstantin Malofeyev is an Orthodox oligarch, the owner of the Tsargrad TV channel, and a champion of public morality. He’s a monarchist by persuasion. KONSTANTIN MALOFEYEV, League for a Safe Internet founder:
We believe that Putin was sent to us by God. Therefore, we must do all we can to make sure President Putin stays in power as long as possible. And if it is necessary to change the constitution for this purpose … This change is long overdue. Malofeyev and his creation, the League for a Safe Internet, initiated the first restrictive Internet law in Russia. The ‘filtration’ law makes it mandatory to block websites containing ‘harmful’ information: pedophilia, propaganda about narcotics and suicide. The League’s main task was to prepare a bill
to protect children from negative content. We received a lot of help from Yelena Mizulina. She is definitely one of the best lawmakers. She’s probably one of our top five legislators;
really capable of writing laws. – Does she understand the Internet? We understand the Internet. This is essentially how we met. YELENA MIZULINA, Russian lawmaker:
A prohibition as a legal norm, as the basis of a law, and the wording of a prohibitive law should be very clear … It is, in fact, the biggest personal freedom. You always hear that parliament members only impose bans. This is a lie, a completely false idea. A prohibition is, in effect, where the person is free. Because any prohibition determines what you cannot do, but you can do anything else, whatever you want. And what is law? Law is, in fact, the biggest non-freedom. I can tell you that the more rights we have, the less free we are. Russian Internet leaders, including Yandex, LiveJournal, and VKontakte, spoke out against the Internet filtration law, seeing in it a censorship tool. The Russian Wikipedia went on a one-day strike. Their fears were justified. ARTYOM KOZLYUK, RosKomSvoboda: The first black list introduced
three categories of websites [to be banned]. Every six or 12 months, a new law is passed that expands
the categories of banned information. I think there are more than 10 such categories now. And there are more than 10 government agencies that
have the right to make these decisions. Well, the law has been in effect for eight years. You can see for yourself, the Internet has become much cleaner. Much cleaner. Morality is not as threatened anymore. The League for a Safe Internet was created solely for combating immorality. Malofeyev is under Western sanctions
for financing separatists in eastern Ukraine. Another champion of Internet morality, Russian parliament member Andrei Lugovoi, also has problems with international law. He’s wanted by Interpol on charges of
the murder of [former KGB officer] Aleksandr Litvinenko. The so-called Lugovoi Law of 2013 allows
[Russia’s communications regulator] Roskomnadzor to block websites containing ‘harmful information’
immediately and without a court order. ANDREI LUGOVOI, Russian lawmaker:
We shouldn’t encourage the dissemination of the most vile human sentiments on the Internet so openly, or anything that has to do with crimes or calls for something … from drug addition to political matters. Under the Lugovoi Law, Navalny’s LiveJournal blog was blocked. And so were the opposition websites Grani.ru and Kasparov.ru. The Russian State Duma has since passed
more than 20 laws restricting the Internet. In 2018, together with Federation Council members
Lyudmila Bokova and Andrei Klishas, parliament member Lugovoi co-authored
the now scandalous law on a ‘sovereign Internet.’ Many considered the law as a tool for
disconnecting the RuNet from the global web. ANDREI KLISHAS, Russian Federation Council member: The idea [that it could be disconnected]
is absurd from our point of view. This option didn’t even occur to us. In your own apartment, you can also lock up and turn off water, gas, electricity, and try to live in that apartment. Technically, you have that capability. – For all these decades, nobody thought it was a problem
that root DNS servers were located in the United States. And the rest of the world didn’t care, either.
Why are you so concerned now? I’ll tell you why. Because … while the United Nations includes more than 100 countries, there aren’t so many truly sovereign countries in the world. For us, for me personally, for members of my [parliamentary] committee, this is, first and foremost, a matter of defending our country’s sovereignty. KONSTANTIN MALOFEYEV, League for a Safe Internet founder: We’re not isolationists. The Americans are. Isolated, they wanted to command the whole world out of America. – They don’t really command; they just register website names. Well, that’s what commanding is, I would say.
This is how it happens. No nation that claims to be sovereign,
that wants to raise future generations on its own values, will ever agree to Americans dictating [their will]
through their root servers, as you correctly call them. But this is only technology.
The main thing is, they’re doing it through the likes of Facebook and Google, gigantic corporations that are
much larger then the GDPs of many countries. Those companies are propped up artificially by the U.S. Federal Reserve. We will not allow them to dictate
how we should raise our children. So, of course, a sovereign Internet would be good
and it should be created. I think Facebook and Google should definitely be shut off. – But you’re interpreting…
– Five minutes left. – But you’re interpreting the law a little differently.
Putin said the law was a preventive measure in case the Americans want to turn us off [from the Internet]. And I’m telling you now what we will achieve eventually. As part of the League for a Safe Internet,
Malofeyev created volunteer cyber squads that would detect ‘harmful content.’
Now, these cyber squads are led by activists from the city of Tver. They offer cybersecurity courses for young people. They post links to websites they find harmful
in a closed group in VKontakte that is monitored by [communications regulator]
Roskomnadzor staff members GRIGORY PASHCHENKO,
Cyber Squad movement leader: We are patriots. We always stand for patriotism.
We love our country. What do you mean by that
in the context of your activities? It’s the advancement of our real values. They’ve imposed same-sex marriage, same-sex love on us. They’re ruining our institution of the family, but we’re restoring it. These are the notorious Blue Whales [social media group]. It was Navalny… SERGEI BOLSHAKOV, Cyber Squad coordinator:
He recruits people through social media. We once received a complaint about a boy who never left his house,
thinking he could make millions on the Internet. He wouldn’t even take the trash outor go out with his friends. But when Navalny held a rally in Tver,the boy joined it right away. So, there are cases like that.
– And what does it mean? It means this is the kind of target audience
that has been influenced by Navalny for political or other purposes. – He was able to get the boy off his couch
and bring him out to the streets. Yes. Attacks on the Internet weren’t limited to
Kremlin bots, cyber squads, or prohibitive laws. In 2013, Novaya Gazeta journalists discovered a St. Petersburg company whose employees were paid to create pro-Kremlin content. Officially, the company was called the Internet Research Agency. It is known to the world under a different name: a troll factory. [showing his tattoos of Ksenia Sobchak, Marilyn Manson, Aleksei Navalny] Here’s [Aleksei Navalny] totally covered in green antiseptic. He looks a little bit like Yeltsin here. He actually looks like a young Yeltsin. Vitaly Bespalov is a journalist from Tyumen. He came to St. Petersburg five years ago, with the goal of conquering the northern capital. Looking for work, he came across a job posting for an editor that offered twice as much money as the market average. That’s how he ended up inside the troll factory on Savushkin Street. The websites section is on the first floor. The second floor, that’s social media and images. The third and fourth floors hosted bloggers and commentators. The actual trolls, you know, who, as it were, made this building famous. Bespalov was assigned to the Ukraine desk, where he worked on several fake websites that pretended to be Ukrainian. NahNews, a news agency for
[the Ukrainian city of] Kharkhiv, was the best known of those websites. After it was exposed,
the site stopped hiding its Russian origins. You were supposed to find 20 news stories about Ukraine per day, rewrite them, and post those items. You were not allowed to post any news stories that mentioned Russia in the context of the conflict. You weren’t supposed to write ‘terrorists’ or ‘separatists.’ Only ‘militia fighters.’ Nothing bad or funny about Putin. Like about a dead person. Either something good or nothing at all. Those rules were clearly defined. Another troll factory whistle-blower, Lyudmila Savchuk, had a more creative task. Along with other staff members, she kept a LiveJournal blog for a fortuneteller named Kantadora. The idea was to create a blog for a character who would be beloved by Russians: a psychic, a woman, a clairvoyant, a fortuneteller, a healer. And so on and so on. Just as we like it. There weren’t so many political posts. Luckily, my main job was to write all kinds of nonsense about the magical properties of stones and plants. The more expensive the troll account, the more difficult it is to detect propaganda in it. Most of the employees were very young people … 21 or 22 years old. No one older than 30. A lot of them were trained journalists. Almost everyone was from out of town. Typically, it would be someone — and I was typical of these people — who just couldn’t find a job in their field. They did their jobs for eight and a half hours a day, then they left the office and didn’t care. They didn’t really reflect back on their posts. Unfortunately, those were just regular people, whom you’d see on the street every day. Totally sweet. One girl showed me her puppy.
She told me stories about her dad. She was such a sweet girl. But what those hands were writing was awful, of course. They don’t understand at all why they’re doing this. – Dо they understand? They don’t understand anything. – Do they understand it was unethical? They don’t understand. They don’t understand anything. When [opposition politician Boris] Nemtsov was murdered, no one at the [troll] factory knew who he was. Only one woman from my section — she was a little older — was upset. She was almost crying. I saw it. After she pulled herself together, she sat down and wrote about what a dog’s death means for a dog, and so on. Yevgeny Zubarev heads a so-called media factory,
a no-name holding of pro-Kremlin Internet publications. The best known of them is the Federal News Agency (RIA FAN),
which doesn’t conceal its propaganda orientation. YEVGENY ZUBAREV, RIA FAN general director:
In February , I came to Crimea as a reporter to film what’s going on there because it was interesting. And the first thing I ran into were people
who told me about the Korsunsky pogrom. More than a thousand Crimeans went to Kyiv to rally for [then-President Viktor] Yanukovych. And they told me in a lot of detail what law-abiding,
democratically inclined Ukrainians did to them on their return trip: How people were selected from out of the woods, where they’d run when
[the Ukrainians] stopped these buses; how they raped, beat, killed people there. Graphic: Not a single case of murder or rape during the so-called
Korsunsky pogrom has been confirmed by documentary evidence. The story of the Federal News Agency’s creation was needed
by mass media working [to build] an information defense. RIA FAN was earlier located in the same building
as the troll factory on Savushkin Street, but, after the trolls were exposed, the media projects
also scattered to various business centers. Zubarev denies any connections with the troll factory. Zubarev: Look, we were sitting there on the first floor.
Everything was divided up there. We are different LLC. Just like, I don’t have any idea now
about what’s located in the business center here. But to sue me for the fact that there’s, I don’t know, go-karting here and that someone, God forbid, will get killed there? And tomorrow you’ll write that Zubarev is a karting-fuhrer, and people
at his place are getting a beating, constantly dying there. Well, there should be some kind of logic. Vitaly Bespalov: Zubarev went around so proud.
Always very important, always like that. Andrey: He said that he didn’t know at all that any trolls are there. Vitaly Bespalov: Well — how to say this without obscenities? — he’s lying. How didn’t he know? He’s already in the building …
He was located on the second floor, if I’m not wrong. Or this was the third or fourth floor. That is, I believe that his office was on the second floor. I was there once, when I quit. I went into his office. All the publications in Zubarev’s media holding were majorly loss-making. The entrepreneur Yevgeny Prigozhin, known in the press as ‘Putin’s chef,’
is considered to be the investor behind the ‘media factory,’ as for the troll factory. Zubarev: I won’t comment about investors.
Like I was saying, we’re in a genuine information war. For example, the [U.S.] Justice Department recently included
the Federal News Agency in its list of sanctions. Graphic: In 2018, RIA FAN, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and 12 Internet Research Agency employees
were placed on U.S. Justice Department sanctions list. Andrey: For its link with Prigozhin?
With [Prigozhin’s] Concord [Concord Management and Consulting]? Zubarev: No, for interference in the  elections. [I don’t] expect any kind of, you know, relaxation
[in the sanctions], some kind of turnarounds there. I’ll explain again: We’re simply on the frontline of this information war,
you understand. And, excuse me, but we don’t have any friends. [ORF, June 2018] [LIVE: Putin about Prigozhin]
-Mr. Prigozhin is not busy only with restaurants. He has many companies that have agreements
with the Defense Ministry and receive state contracts. And he spends millions of dollars on this troll factory
so that they produce these posts. Why would a restaurateur need this? -Ask him. The Russian state does not have …. -But you yourself know him well. -So what? You know, I know a lot of people
in both Petersburg and Moscow. You ask them. -Is that it, that very same building?
-Yes, yes, yes, yes. It was. After his resignation, Bespalov told the U.S. TV station NBC
about his work at the troll factory. On Russian TV, they laughed at his tattoos, not refuting a single fact. Live: Channel One: It’s important to understand
that [he’s a] big fan of Ksenia Sobchak – in the T-shirt — and he also has a tattoo on his hand. Now Bespalov works on one of the most visited LGBT sites
on the Russian Internet, Guys Plus, and runs his own blog on YouTube. Lyudmila Savchuk won a suit against the Internet News Agency,
thereby confirming its existence. She travels all over the world, giving lectures about the troll factory,
and is recovering from depression. LYUDMILA SAVCHUK, civil activist, former Internet Research Agency employee:
I left the troll factory. I encountered these same theses coming out of the mouths of my acquaintances,
genuine people, who believed that these were their own thoughts. They said the same thing that was written in the handbooks. I thought that this can be stopped somehow.
This is naive, yes. And it’s possible that I broke down as an activist because
I very strongly believed that it was possible to do something with this. ILYA VARLAMOV, blogger:
Even if it’s pathetic, dirty, disgusting there, well, they managed at one point to change the picture [on the Internet]. And for each of your ‘I’m an opposition member,’ 10 people ran after you. They convinced others that you s— and you’re not an opposition member. You’re a traitor, a fifth columnist, and that, basically, you should go to hell. Andrey: That is, they managed to create the feeling that you’re outnumbered … his is not a feeling. It influences people.
It’s not so simple. It would be pretty careless and shortsighted to consider
that everyone understands where there’s a troll or not. That’s like considering that whoever watches TV understands that they’re lying [on TV]. For a moment, TV could convince people to go fight
with brother nations, to go kill your own relatives there. And work on the Internet, of course, is the same. It’s brought its fruits,
and, at some point, it got to be really suffocating on the Internet. At some point, they launched a bot and when I published a post, I’d get 1,000 comments in the first three seconds. Well, with some kind of pornography, a naked woman, or simply nonsense. I hired a programmer who wrote a script to filter such comments out. Then, [the trolls] started posting pictures, but our bot detected images by the number of pixels and banned those users who posted the images. They started changing the number of pixels in their pictures. Eventually, [real readers] stopped posting comments. What’s the point if your comment shows up on the 29th page? I friended everyone who’d written comments over the past few years and turned the comments off for everyone else. In other words, I lost. – What is their goal? To spoil the platform … To spoil the discussion itself. To bring down the level of discussion. To intimidate and to be stronger than we are from a technical point of view. After his LiveJournal blog was suddenly blocked, Navalny opened his own, stand-alone website. Today, LiveJournal is more dead than alive. LiveJournal is like the Aral Sea now. There’s a seafront. There’s a life preserver hanging. You see drawings of anchors.
But there is no water. That’s it, the water is gone. LiveJournal is the same way. Everything’s working, it has a logo, you can write a post, but there are no readers. Things for Kristina Potupchik are still doing well. She has started her own Internet marketing agency. One of her clients is the presidential administration. Her focus has shifted from LiveJournal to Telegram. Potupchik has more than 40 Telegram channels. Many of them are political. Putin recently awarded her a Medal for Merit to the Fatherland. In the spring of 2019, Potupchik published a book [entitled ‘Banned’ Telegram] about the promotion of Telegram channels. Have you had any other successful online projects? Well, not all of them can be discussed. It’s probably better not to discuss any of them. Why? This is our own know-how, isn’t it? It’s … Why would I want to reveal the magic and tell you what’s behind the magic trick? – Are there many tricks? Well, yes. After all, I’ve been … – We’re using … I’ve been working in this field for 12 years already. – We use the Internet, but don’t understand all the tricks behind it. I hope you don’t understand.