First Contact

How a “Troll Farm Field Trip” Helped Russians Pose As Americans Online

We’ve heard a lot about Russia’s attempts to influence the American political process… Internet trolls, often posing as Americans, trying to create chaos. But it’s not just a couple guys behind keyboards, Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) employed hundreds of people, using fake online identities, all working in unison… A troll farm.

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

I don’t think you were here for tourism.

Laurie Segall: What is the secret sauce to posing as an American these days online? I’m sure it’s changed over the last couple years…

Camille Francois: So we know a lot about how the IRA learned how to pose as Americans. And as I said this is where the early days of the IRA are really fun because this is when they have to learn. This is why they’re playing around with like “Oh, how much can we freak people out by talking salmonella in turkeys around Thanksgiving?” Like, this is them trying to figure out where America’s hot button is. We know they were watching House of Cards, which I still think is hilarious.

Laurie Segall: They were watching House of Cards?

Camille Francois: Yeah. 

Laurie Segall: How do you know that? They would just tell you this?

Camille Francois: It’s in a de facto testimony. The legal indictment has a lot of like crazy details on everything that the IRA did to learn to be American. So we know they took a field trip. Part of how some of the employees ended up being indicted was they entered the country with tourist visas and I think a few years after, the government was like, “I don’t think you were here for tourism.”

Laurie Segall: It’s like a troll farm field trip to America.

Camille Francois: Exactly. It’s a troll farm field trip.