Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Identify Kremlin Trolls on Facebook



After the 2016 election, I added over 2000 Facebook "friends"—most of whom I believed were fellow liberals—in the hopes of filling my feed with like-minded posts. Little did my new friends and I know, many of these accounts were actually Kremlin trolls. Over time, they slowly wedged more and more into our social circles.

Over the past four months, I have researched these accounts, looking for similar characteristics that I can share to help others identify these trolls. While no two trolls are exactly alike, they share two fundamental characteristics:


One: A Public Profile

There is no sense in spreading propaganda if no one can see it.


Two: “Post Blasting”

Do they post articles, memes, any type of political content, seconds, minutes apart, multiple times? Then you probably found a troll. (You may also have also found a bot, which is an account set up by Facebook pages to share their posts. Look at the posts they’re sharing—if it is only from one source, then they’re probably a bot.)


Okay, so you found a public account blasting a ridiculous amount of posts. Here’s some more signs to look for:


Employment is Listed as Unemployed or Retired

It makes it harder to verify the person’s authenticity if they don’t have a place of employment.

Profile Images

Kremlin trolls often use generic images related to their political affiliation, or those of famous people. Some will use images of regular people, and reuse the same image over and over cropped and panned out. Don’t try to Google Image these photos; the Kremlin is too smart to use an image that you can find via Google Images. Due to the poor quality of these images, my guess is that many of these are scanned.

Pages

Trolls are often recommissioned several times over. When a troll account is recommissioned, say, as a liberal troll, they clean up on their images and posts from when they were conservative trolls.
Pages, however, is a section of Facebook often ignored by trolls. They spend a lot of time “liking” pages that fit into the image they are trying to convey, but they forget to remove “likes’ from a previous personality. If you study their page “likes,” it’s quite possible you’ll find page “likes” for conflicting issues – such as a “like” for “Trump is a Big Orange Clown” and a like for “Trump for 2020.” Trolls will also forget that they are on their hacked accounts, and “like” pages in their native language, or a topic that is juxtaposed to the account’s identity—for example, a retired Presbyterian school teacher from Indiana “liking” a page for Ukrainian strippers.


Grammar & Punctuation

In My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins famously bemoaned, “There are even places where English completely disappears; in America they haven't used it for years.” Yeah, well, he had a point. Those who live outside English-speaking countries are taught proper, more formal English, and Russia is no exception. Look for posts with thoughtful, well-laid diatribes that read almost like term papers.

Trolls don’t often comment on their own posts, but when they do, look at their writing style in their responses. Their English is never quite as good because they have to make up sentences on the fly; look for stylistic discrepancies between their posts and their comments. Some don't even bother to reply, but use a meme or image instead.


The Space Between the Last Word and the Punctuation Mark

Although it’s technically punctuation, this deserves its own category. Trolls add spaces before a period. We don’t know why. A common thought is that it is done by the translating services that the trolls use.


Sharing of “Memories”

Trolls don’t post a lot of personal posts – although they have gotten better. They do looove to post memories on their wall as a way to validate their account. The thinking is, if it appears to be an old account that has been around awhile, it can’t be a troll. Wrong. Older accounts are used by trolls more than new accounts. Older accounts can actually be bought on the dark web, and the older the account, the more expensive.

Overuse of Divisive Nicknames

RepubiKKKan, Killary, tRUMP…


Shares an Overwhelming Amount of Image-Heavy Images

Let me explain. The typical meme created by an American relies on the language, not the image. The American sense of humor is different. We rely on more sarcasm and irony. Russian memes are heavily photoshopped –many skillfully so—and rely on the image itself to make an impact.


Share Ad Nauseum Content Related to the Most Divisive Topics in America

Usually this falls under racial tension. Starting last week, it switched to gun control.


Shares Fake or Overly Biased Articles

Think: Palmer Report


Signs Not to Look For

  • Relationships. Old hacked accounts come prepackaged with relationships, so if you think “oh, this person is not a troll, they have five cousins.” – think again.
  • Geotagging. Just because an account’s post is tagged in Trenton, New Jersey does not mean they were in New Jersey when it was posted. It is very, very easy to trick Facebook’s geotracker, and you better believe Kremlin trolls have the right tools for the job.
  • The fact that they share non-political posts, or posts about Russian hacking means nothing. It’s a ploy. They do that to throw you off their scent. In fact, trolls are usually the first to accuse others of being trolls.


Once you find a Russian Troll…

You’ll find a hundred more. Keep searching. Keep reporting. Go to the pages that they share from and look there too. Liberal and Conservative pages are plagued with troll accounts. Here are some of the pages that pop up over and over in my research:

The Palmer Report (if you want to the space before the punctuation mark in action, look no further)

Rachel Maddow Fans

Democratic Moms
https://www.facebook.com/Democraticmom/

Expose Trump
https://www.facebook.com/exposetrumpnews/
(Their website, learnprogress.org is no longer working. They haven’t posted in forever.)

Proud Liberals and Proud to be a Democrat are the same fucking people. There’s no information on who manages it.
https://www.facebook.com/Proud-Democrats-2021255211434727/
https://www.facebook.com/ProudToBeADemocrat/

Impeach Trump and Fight Trump are the same people.
https://www.facebook.com/impeachtrumpasap/
https://www.facebook.com/Fight-Trump-1876828232546679/

Same People, same shit:
https://www.facebook.com/We-Are-Liberal-1036841469686059/
https://www.facebook.com/Liberal-American-610045389164725/

Sketchy, divisive, clickbat promoting a blogsite called truthbait.com that has no contact information.
https://www.facebook.com/ILoveDemocrats/

I’m not implying these accounts are run by trolls; however, many pages are. Facebook pages was how Putin got his start in the Facebook game. Accounts were simply created to push the page posts.

Remember, you can also block from seeing Facebook pages, which is really your best recourse from being exposed to propaganda.

Continue to report troll accounts to Facebook, but do not expect a high success rate. Facebook keeps these accounts because, due their prolific posting habits, they increase engagement, and that makes Facebook money.
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