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But, after speaking with Russian journalists and opposition members, I quickly learned that pro-government trolling operations were not very effective at pushing a specific pro-Kremlin message—say, that the murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was actually killed by his allies, in order to garner sympathy.
The trolls were too obvious, too nasty, and too coördinated to maintain the illusion that these were everyday Russians.
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Most commentators are careful to limit the implications of these connections, in a just-pointing-out-the-facts manner, but, given the sheer volume and often menacing tenor of the coverage of the Trump-Putin connection, the casual reader would be forgiven for coming away with the strong suspicion that the two meet every month for strategy sessions over caviar at Putin’s Black Sea dacha. For every piece of damning evidence there is compelling counter-evidence. Trump’s supposedly deep financial ties to Russia seem, at the moment, a bit underwhelming for someone who has been trying to build in the country since 1987, and suggest a lack of Kremlin connections, as Julia Ioffe details in .
When I began researching the story, I assumed that paid trolls worked by relentlessly spreading their message and thus indoctrinating Russian Internet users.Everyone knew that the Web was crawling with trolls, and comment threads would often devolve into troll and counter-troll debates.The real effect, the Russian activists told me, was not to brainwash readers but to overwhelm social media with a flood of fake content, seeding doubt and paranoia, and destroying the possibility of using the Internet as a democratic space.“The point is to spoil it, to create the atmosphere of hate, to make it so stinky that normal people won’t want to touch it,” the opposition activist Leonid Volkov told me.What Volkov said stuck with me as I continued to follow the trolls.