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Google sibling company Jigsaw purchased a Russian troll campaign

Jigsaw, the public service company owned by the parent company of Google, purchased a commercial social media trolling service to study its actions last year, Wired reports.

Why it matters: The campaign, which Jigsaw had conducted in Russia around the least consequential issue they could find, netted some interesting results. But it also raises a question of the ethics of purchasing such a campaign.

Details: The Jigsaw campaign centered on a decades-old Russian debate about whether Joseph Stalin was a hero or an embarrassment.

  • Jigsaw first set up a legitimate looking website called "Down With Stalin," then hired the firm SEOTweet to run a disinformation campaign to discredit the site.
  • SEOTweet offered to take down the site using fraudulent complaints for $500. Jigsaw chose a cheaper option, a 2-week disinformation campaign for $250.
  • The campaign resulted in 730 tweets from 25 different accounts, and 100 forum posts.
  • SEOTweet, "without any guidance from Jigsaw," appeared to assume the campaign was really about Russian politics. Many of the tweets took a pro-Putin stand.

The fallout: The campaign was deliberately small. But the optics of even a small campaign could have consequences, both in terms of U.S.-Russian relations and Russian national politics.

  • Ultimately, this was a U.S. firm interfering in Russia's affairs, something the U.S. claims to be against.

Meanwhile, Twitter released a summary of inauthentic account removals Thursday, including nearly 5,000 accounts from Iran, 4 from Russia and 33 from Venezuela. Perhaps most unexpected, Twitter downed 130 accounts from the Catalan independence movement in Spain.

Go deeper: Russian trolls shift tactics