The New York Times released an explosive article on Tuesday detailing how hundreds, if not thousands, of online "trolls" are paid to post pro-Kremlin propaganda across the Internet. One of their targeted sites, according to the report? TheBlaze.com.
The trolls are organized by a group called the Internet Research Agency, and one former employee said she worked 12-hour days and had explicit instructions to create five political posts, 10 nonpolitical posts and 150 to 200 comments on the posts of those she worked with each shift. If you were to click on her accounts, she would appear like a normal person who occasionally had political opinions, not a paid operative.
Another former employee whose information was leaked mentions comments she left on TheBlaze, according to the article:
The only person I spoke with who worked in the English department was a woman named Katarina Aistova. A former hotel receptionist, she told me she joined the Internet Research Agency when it was in a previous, smaller office. I found her through the Anonymous International leak, which included emails she had sent to her bosses, reporting on the pro-Putin comments she left on sites like The Blaze and Politico.
But Glenn Beck, who owns TheBlaze, was less disturbed by pro-Putin commenters than he was by some of the trolls' other activities. The article illustrates how they have invented stories out of whole cloth in an extremely convincing manner on social media.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting at the State Military-Historical Museum of Prokhorovka Field, Belgorod region, July 12, 2013. US National Security Agency (NSA) fugitive leaker Edward Snowden could stay in Russia if he stops issuing leaks that damage the United States, the Kremlin said today after the US fugitive told rights activists in a Moscow airport that he is seeking asylum in Russia. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Last September 11, they created a fictitious story that a chemical plant in Louisiana had exploded and the Islamic State had claimed responsibility. Hundreds of Twitter users claimed to have seen or heard the blast, and others showed apparent images and video of the burning plant. Some even posted "screen shots" of news sites reporting on the story, though the images were doctored.
"But anyone who took the trouble to check CNN.com would have found no news of a spectacular Sept. 11 attack by ISIS," Adrian Chen, who wrote the Times article, said. "It was all fake: the screenshot, the videos, the photographs."
Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere questioned why the Russians would go to such work to fake a chemical explosion, but Beck said he believes it is a "shark bump," part of a larger disinformation campaign to make Americans "not trust legitimate news sources" so you "don't know what to believe anymore."
When Beck read that one of the false news stories was about an unarmed black woman being shot in Atlanta, complete with the hashtag #shockingmurderinAtlanta, he was even more convinced of his hypothesis. In light of recent police shootings, the story might well incite a riot even if it didn't actually happen.
"I said that about 1995, that there will come a time when things will be so well done, that when you see them you will not be able to believe your own eyes," Beck remarked. "You'll say, 'I saw it, but it wasn't real. But I saw it!'"
The consequences of not having faith in the news or authorities can be severe, Beck said. If hundreds of people claim to witness police shooting an unarmed black woman -- and there is apparent video of the incident circulating -- how many will believe the police if they say no such event happened?
"This is early now. But you give us another year of this kind of atmosphere, you ratchet it up ... you can escalate this country so fast," Beck said. "Then you have the outside, you have the Russians doing something like this. No one will believe [the truth]. It will be too late. You'll burn a city down. You won't stop it."
You can read the complete New York Times article, which Beck called an "amazing" piece of reporting, here.
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