Online pro-Putin Russian propaganda army forced out of the shadows

The internet is an incredibly powerful propaganda tool, and this is something that certain countries around the world have latched onto. The likes of China, North Korea, and Russia have long been either accused of, or known to, use the web to spread government messages and controlling what others are able to publish online.

Now a court case in Russia has blown the lid on a secretive agency which promotes a positive image of Vladimir Putin online. The Agency for Internet Studies operates from St Petersburg and has been dubbed a "troll factory". An employee took the agency to court for allegedly making labour violations and underpaying workers. Unwillingly thrust into the public eye, the agency is keen to wrap things up quickly to avoid further scrutiny.

Lyudmila Savchuk says that she was paid by the Agency for Internet Studies to write pro-Putin comments online. After working there for just two months, she quit her position and is now running unknown risks by doing what she can to expose what is going on. But she also wants to go further - her ultimate aim is to close down the propaganda machine. After being offered compensation in court she said:

I am very pleased, they pretended they don’t exist at all and now they have come out of the shadows for the first time - we saw their representative. But I will feel that I won only after the troll factory closes completely.

On one hand this was something of a David vs Goliath case, but on the other - just as with Edward Snowden - Savchuk could be seen as having the upper hand as Russia battles to protect the secrets about how it manipulates the internet.

As well as allegedly employing teams of people to promote the views of the government, the agency is also accused of working to block bloggers who are opposed to Putin.

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