Undercover reporter reveals life in a Polish troll farm

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Katarzyna Pruszkiewicz invested 6 months running phony social networks accounts at self-described ePR company in Wrocaw

It is as typical an incident on Polish Twitter as you are most likely to get: a set of conservative activists putting reject on the nation’s divided liberal opposition.

“I break out chuckling!” composes Girl from oliborz, a self-described “traditionalist” talking about a paper story about a previous project advisor to Barack Obama and Emmanuel Macron concerning Warsaw to deal with a group of liberal activists.

“The opposition has absolutely nothing to provide. That’s why they utilize rubbish to pull the wool over individuals’s eyes,” responds Magda Rostocka, whose profile informs her practically 4,400 fans she is “left-handed with her heart on the right”.

In truth, neither female existed. Both accounts were run by the paid workers of a little marketing business based in the city of Wrocaw in southwest Poland .

But what the worker pretending to be Magda Rostocka did not understand is that the coworker pretending to be Girl from oliborz was an undercover press reporter who had actually penetrated the business, offering uncommon insight into the methods by which phony social networks accounts are being utilized by personal companies to affect unwary citizens and customers.

Social media business are coming under increasing pressure over phony accounts. Facebook has stated it handicapped 2.2 bn phony accounts in the very first 3 months of 2019, however the European Commission today stated there was a “detach” in between such claims.

The undercover press reporter, Katarzyna Pruszkiewicz, invested 6 months this year operating at Cat@Net, which explains itself as an “ePR firm consisting of experts who construct a favorable picture of business, public organizations and personal people– primarily in social networks.”.

A member of the Reporters’ Foundation , a consortium of Polish investigative reporters, Pruszkiewicz’s very first job when she signed up with the business was to establish a social networks avatar for sharing “political and social material” with the objective of drawing in 500 fans.

After a trial duration, she was admitted to the business’s internal interactions channels, through which the business’s workers, each of whom ran a lots or two social networks accounts, would get assistance and guidelines from their supervisors– what problems to engage with, who to promote, and who to denigrate.

The accounts produced both rightwing and leftwing material, bring in attention, trustworthiness and assistance from other social networks users, who might then be rallied in assistance of the business’s customers.

“The goal is to develop trustworthiness with individuals from both sides of the political divide. When you have actually won somebody’s trust by showing their own views back at them, you remain in a position to affect them,” stated Wojciech Ciela, who supervised the examination in cooperation with Investigate Europe , a consortium of European investigative press reporters.

“Reading these interactions, you can see how the leftwing and rightwing accounts would get their everyday guidelines, how they would be marshalled and directed like 2 flanks of the very same army on a battleground.”

A bulk of Cat@Net’s workers are comprehended to be handicapped, permitting the business to obtain considerable public aids from Poland’s National Disabled Rehabilitation Fund. According to the Reporters Foundation, the business has actually gotten about 1.5 million zloty ( 300,000) from the fund given that November 2015.

“Many of them are actually excellent individuals– they are caring, they do charity work and participate in social advocacy in their extra time, however their impairments indicate that their job opportunity are restricted,” Pruszkiewicz informed the Guardian. “For them it was simply work which’s it.”

One of Pruszkiewicz’s duties was to run confidential accounts with directions to promote material produced by TVP, Poland’s state broadcaster, which is extensively reviled by critics for its severe partisanship and hate speech directed versus minority groups.

‘It would be fantastic if you published favorable remarks about the federal government’s aid for TVP and the tv licence cost,’ checked out an e-mail from her supervisor.

An internal report seen by the Guardian information how the phony accounts were utilized to denigrate genuine criticism of the broadcaster. According to an analysis by ISD Global, a London-based thinktank that studies international patterns in extremism and polarisation, Cat@Net accounts produced approximately 10,000 posts in defence of TVP, with a possible reach of 15 million views.

Another recipient of Cat@Net’s affect operations was a just recently chosen member of the Polish parliament for the leftwing Democratic Left Alliance celebration. Cat@Net’s leftwing accounts promoted the political leader’s candidateship to the European Parliament in elections kept in May this year, with a minimum of 90 various accounts reacting and distributing to his social networks posts. The business’s rightwing accounts would then oppose the leftwing accounts, creating dispute and traffic, therefore accentuating the prospect.

“If [he] is followed just by our accounts, this is truly suspicious,” composed one staff member throughout an internal conversation of the project.

Accounts were produced that would focus on the air travel and defence markets, and target essential decision-makers associated with the awarding of significant federal government defence agreements.

The accounts were utilized to weaken public assistance for the Polish federal government’s choice to position a significant order with the American professional Lockheed Martin for the F-35 fighter jet, promoting rather the Eurofighter Typhoon produced by a consortium that consists of Airbus, BAE Systems, and Leonardo– which has a Polish subsidiary, PZL widnik. Cat@Net staff members were advised by their supervisors that “the F-35 is our opponent top” however “do not be too aggressive with the Eurofighter, otherwise they will understand they are being trolled”.

It is uncertain whether the organisations and people on whose behalf the phony accounts were lobbying understood Cat@Net’s practices. Internal files recommend the business got most if not all of its commissions from an external PR business, which might have been contracting out the impact operations without its customers’ understanding.

PZL widnik stated it “performs its company activities in an ethical way in all aspects” and any provider of services to it is needed to adhere to its code of principles. It rejected taking part in any misdeed concerning interactions practices connecting to disinformation, hate speech, or efforts to affect political choices.

“The huge concern is how regulators all over are going to react to the difficulty presented by this type of activity,” stated Peter Pomerantsev, a London-based professional on disinformation and author of This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality.

“They may argue that none of the material that was shared was unlawful– it wasn’t dislike speech, it wasn’t prompting violence, it wasn’t war propaganda. What it exposes is simply how lightweight and inadequate our regulative structure is, and how susceptible we are to more unsafe stars utilizing comparable strategies.”

In a declaration published to its site, Cat@Net highly rejected it was a “giant farm”: “The business’s field of activity is the outsourcing of marketing operations to social networks. We interact precise details, promote our customers, and promote their product or services like any other firm of its kind.”

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/01/undercover-reporter-reveals-life-in-a-polish-troll-farm

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