The public has the right to know how online political trolls, financed from high-level corruption, are operating to spread lies and hate, to divide the people and stir discord, to promote a false agenda based on non-issues – all to protect their employers’ image. It is a visibly coordinated, disciplined, well-financed machinery. Fake profiles, fake pages on social networks, fake websites of ”satire” or ”alternative news”, experts and influencers are just part of this well coordinated machine.
The thing the troll farms owners are afraid the most? Publicity. There is maximum secrecy around their methods, no clear proof that would link the politician, his aides or party members with such activities. Yet people have the right to know.
Mass media should help shed light on it. Most investigation newspapers would pay their sources in cases like this, when public interest is so high. A newspaper would pay for such information, if it had the money, and would announce how they got hold of the information. Because independent media in Moldova is so poor, they cannot afford it.
We (me and Vlada) decided to crowdfund a budget to pay such sources on behalf of journalists, dig the information out, and hand it to the press. Anyone can help us out here in this experiment. I am sure it might just work if we collect enough money. We have all the chances to establish a world premiere with your help.
We want to reward anyone who can offer useful information. This might be present, or former employee, or just people who happen to know, by some mere accident, and want to help the public be better informed. The reward would be just an additional motivation for those who have information to do the right thing and reveal it.
No, not only the Kremlin has troll farms. From the looks of it, most of the corrupt politicians in Eastern Europe have (very) similar teams of online activists who have a simple agenda – protect their employer and destroy anyone who disagrees. It is a disgraceful job that someone is doing (mostly youngsters in their 20’s), in search for a modest income. We are not targeting them. We are targeting their employers.
While there are a lot of investigations about the Kremlin’s troll farms, there is nothing about its smaller peers built on the same principles of spreading disinformation and hate, with the same tools, similar objectives, but for a different client.
In Moldova, we decided to try and fight back with a rather original idea, which seems to work. We decided to pay for inside information from anyone willing to offer it to us, and are crowdfunding. Because journalists’ sources are paid everywhere in the world. You can see the campaign here (English version coming soon). We are all fed up with trolls. Let’s do something about it, together and let’s start with this idea.
The moral choice
People support the idea (we are approaching 10% of the target in the first 24 hours), while others wonder if this is the best use of their charity budgets. In a (very poor) country where people crowdfund to rebuild the roof of their old village school, we want to collect money to make public the information about the insides of a local propaganda and disinformation machine. This is a valid point. But what if these troll farms’ monthly budget is comparable to the budget of that roof being fixed? And the roof is not being fixed because the money is stolen?
What if people crowdfund for a heart surgery (one of the many true stories) because of endemic corruption at highest levels, including in healthcare? What if we are forced to collect money to help orphans or elderly because someone appointed politically is filthy corrupt and steals even from procurement budgets for medicines, or food for the underprivileged? And what if a small part of these proceeds is allocated to their survival, and what if, in order to survive, they have to employ propaganda, lies and manipulation, in the shape of fake profiles, fake news websites, fake or real bloggers with “personal opinions” and “own sources”. We see it all.
Yes, political trolls are being financed from corruption. In Moldova, they cover up, protect and justify corruption. They make it seem “normal” and even “necessary” infecting the public discourse with narratives like “but what is the alternative?“. They make our society think we do not deserve anything better, because ”this is the reflection of the whole country”. We must disagree.
We have more than one politician who applies such tools. We accept information about either. Corruption supports and finances vast networks of online activists, aimed at one thing only – support their masters, and attack, denigrate, ridicule, character assassinate anyone with a different opinion and discourage others from joining in to take a critical stance.
Why this (unorthodox) method?
Really, it only looks strange at first sight.
As I said above, any newspaper will pay its source for a piece of information that may (or may not) make the news of the month, or maybe year. In Moldova free press does not have this money. Because of corrupt politicians who engineer, by writing bad laws, market forces in a way, that will keep free press poor, weak, unprofitable – in one word, in permanent state of pre-bankruptcy.
For a tiny country like Moldova, the fact that there is absolutely no information about these troll farms, means it is a very well guarded secret. Which must make us all very curious.
Why do we do this?
First reason – because we are fed up. Ten years ago blogging and social networking used to be fun, and genuine discussion was happening. Now it is infected with lies. We strongly believe there are enough people who will contribute for civic causes, such as fighting lies, disinformation and propaganda.
Second reason – because it is ugly. The amount of hate speech has increased significantly in the last years in Moldova. Negative stereotypes are being exploited, and we often see how politicians supported by their online activists appeal to the people’s dark side. One way to stop it is to shed light on the back office of the “communications team” in several political parties in Moldova.
Third reason – self-defense. Through their trolls, corrupt politicians attack, denigrate, intimidate or otherwise discourage people, private individuals, with an opinion they fear. We want to protect everyone’s right to freely and peacefully express their opinions without the fear of being harassed.
How will it happen?
We will campaign to collect as much money as possible (the four thousand USD is an indicative, really) and will address people who may have information about the internal kitchen of the local troll farms. We will keep asking around and keep investigating. Someone will speak. And the more money we collect, the higher the temptation and the higher the probability we will uncover something painful for a few corrupt individuals who rob this country dry. We can pay one, three, or five sources.
What do we need?
Information. Proof. Data. Names. Emails. People.
Anything that will shed light on how things are done, how decisions are taken, how the agenda is elaborated, how orders are being given and passed on. Locations, numbers, salaries, photos, videos. Anything that might be interesting. Sources can be anonymous, or can be on the record (much preferred – tells a better story).
What will we do with the information?
We will release the information to a consortium of independent journalists and let them reflect the subject in any way they see fit. We will not favor any media entity, because this information will have to belong to everyone.
How do we take the decision to pay or not to pay?
We use our own judgment. We will do it in full transparency. If a piece of information does not cost money, we don’t pay.
Plus, we will not take this decision unilaterally. We will consult a team of independent journalists who will have a say. We want information to make news, so they will need to decide if this is interesting for them, or not. Soon we will announce who that team is.
How you can help?
Make a small donation. For us the number of supporters is equally important with the funds collected.
Spread the news. Encourage people from your circles to join in. Each share and each retweet is an antenna that spreads our idea.
Information. If you have information about anything that might be of interest to us, please do share. We also accept information for free.
The beauty of it?
We are after anyone who calls the shots in this industry, and wants to keep his name (yes, most probably it’s a he) as discrete as possible. Moldova is a tiny country. No one wants such fame. We want to reveal something very well guarded.
We want these people to frantically refresh, and check how much we have collected so far. They will start having serious concerns when we will go above 1500 USD. Paranoia is a strong inner enemy to have, when you know you might be watched while doing the wrong thing.
We do not target the kids who promote lies online. For all I know, they might be the victims who got caught up in this ugly network. Kids make stupid decisions and end up in bad company. We do not want to encourage hate against them. It will be an act of courage to speak up from the side of anyone in this industry, and it is nothing disgraceful.
Whatever we do, we do it with compassion. The kids in their 20’s are not our enemies. Let us not forget that we are speaking about youngsters in search for some extra money. It is difficult, in your 20’s, to get a job anywhere, let alone in Moldova. We do not want to see the problem in those kids and we do not blame them. We blame the corrupt politicians who pay them for such a low job, exploiting and encouraging the dark side every person has. The kids are the victims.