Alexandra Garmazhapova
Novaya Gazeta

Russian youths are being paid to shill for the government all over the Internet, said Alexandra Garmazhapova. An ad ran on Russian social media networks this summer offering full-time work for about $800 a month—the average Russian wage. “Get paid to blog!” the ad promised. “Weekly paychecks and free food!!!!” Curious, I went undercover to investigate. The organization works out of an enormous mansion in St. Petersburg where the offices have signs reading “Administration of Bloggers and Commentators,” and “Rapid Reaction Department.” There, employees are instructed to comment on certain articles or posts, “praising Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and President Vladimir Putin, abusing opposition leader Alexei Navalny and America, and defending Syria.” Americans were routinely described as “loutish and greedy.” It was impossible to discover who was paying for the work; the company brass spoke vaguely of having “various clients.” But the head of the company is linked on social media to numerous pro-Putin social organizations and youth groups funded by the Kremlin, and at the offices I saw several activists known to be on the government payroll. “Who pays for this nest of trolls? You can draw your own conclusions.”