Russia's troll factories were, at one point, likely being paid by the Kremlin to spread pro-Trump propaganda on social media.
That is what freelance journalist Adrian Chen, now a staff writer at The New Yorker, discovered as he was researching Russia's "army of well-paid trolls" for an explosiveNew York Times Magazine exposé published in June 2015.
"I created this list of Russian trolls when I was researching. And I check on it once in a while, still. And a lot of them have turned into conservative accounts, like fake conservatives. I don't know what's going on, but they're all tweeting about Donald Trump and stuff," he said.
Linsky then asked Chen who he thought "was paying for that."
"I don't know," Chen replied. "I feel like it's some kind of really opaque strategy of electing Donald Trump to undermine the US or something. Like false-flag kind of thing. You know, that's how I started thinking about all this stuff after being in Russia."
In his research from St. Petersburg, Chen discovered that Russian internet trolls — paid by the Kremlin to spread false information on the internet — have been behind a number of "highly coordinated campaigns" to deceive the American public.
It's a brand of information warfare, known as "dezinformatsiya," that has been used by the Russians since at least the Cold War. The disinformation campaigns are only one "active measure" tool used by Russian intelligence to "sow discord among," and within, allies perceived hostile to Russia.
"An active measure is a time-honored KGB tactic for waging informational and psychological warfare," Michael Weiss, a senior editor at The Daily Beast and editor-in-chief of The Interpreter — an online magazine that translates and analyzes political, social, and economic events inside the Russian Federation — wrote on Tuesday.
He continued (emphasis added):
"It is designed, as retired KGB General Oleg Kalugin once defined it, 'to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs.' The most common subcategory of active measures is dezinformatsiya, or disinformation: feverish, if believable lies cooked up by Moscow Centre and planted in friendly media outlets to make democratic nations look sinister."