The Internet Research Agency (IRA) is a Russian company located in St. Petersburg. In reality, it is a “troll factory” financed by the Kremlin, whose existence was discovered in 2013 by Russian journalists pretending to be candidates applying for jobs there. The regional press, including Finnish and Polish news outlets, then got hold of the story, followed by international press, US intelligence and finally Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. In the midst of his investigation into Russian interference, in February 2018, Mueller indicted the IRA, two companies owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin who created the IRA (Concord Catering and Concord Management and Consulting), as well as 13 individuals, one of whom was Prigozhin himself.
The IRA is accused of having led an operation to influence the American electoral campaign. Registered in July 2013, the IRA would have begun to target the United States around April 2014 and was receiving funding ($1.25 million per month during the campaign) from 14 affiliated companies in Concord. In 2015, hundreds of young Russians were employed at the IRA, working 12 hours a day in a highly organized fashion: there were bloggers writing posts, news editors making reference to these posts, trolls commenting on them and communicators active on all social media.
They were briefed on the Kremlin’s positions on all topics of debate and a “foreign bureau” briefed them on the state of the American debate on divisive issues (such as racism, firearms, immigration, LGBT, taxes, etc.). Through fake accounts and bots, a few dozen people have succeeded in reaching 150 million people through Facebook and Instagram. The IRA alone controlled 3,814 human accounts and 50,258 bots on Twitter, with which 1.4 million Americans interacted. They also had at least 470 Facebook accounts that reached at least 126 million Americans (with $100,000 USD spent on advertising). The indictment of the US Special Prosecutor has provided detailed information on the operations of the agency. It does not, however, accuse the Russian government of anything nor does it acknowledge that the IRA succeeded in influencing the vote. The Kremlin does not appear concerned with the international attention that the IRA has garnered over the past few years: in 2017, the agency moved in order to expand its activities, going from 4,000 to 12,000 Sqm2 of office space. While this agency showcases this phenomenon, it draws attention away from other troll factories present elsewhere on the Russian territory, as well as abroad. However, the IRA is not an isolated case, and must not become the tree that hides the forest.
Source: Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, Alexandre Escorcia, Marine Guillaume and Janaina Herrera, Information Manipulation: A Challenge For Our Democracies, report by the Policy Planning Staff (CAPS, Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs) and the Institute for Strategic Research (IRSEM, Ministry for the Armed Forces), Paris, August 2018, pp. 87-88.
(Last updated on 14/09/2020)