The phenomenon of “troll factories” or “troll farms” operating on the RuNet and beyond to shape the conversations and sentiment online has by now received wide coverage in both Russian and international media. In many cases, reporters have relied on testimonies from whistleblowers who work or have worked for one of the alleged “troll factories.”
At the end of May a woman named Lyudmila Savchuk announced that she was suing her former employer, Russia’s most famous “troll factory,” the Internet Research Agency, located in St. Petersburg. Now her lawyers from human rights organization Team 29 are saying the company has agreed to compensate Savchuk over a labor dispute, in which she accused them of illegal hiring and salary practices.
Calling herself a freelance investigative reporter and a civic activist, Savchuk embedded with the “troll factory” on Savushkina street and worked for the office from January 2015 to March 2015 as an undercover “mole.” Her aim was to discover how the “factory” was managing offices full of paid staff posing as ordinary citizens online, leaving fake comments on news stories and blogs, and influencing the online discourse. Although she was unhappy with the hiring practices, Savchuk said the real purpose of her lawsuit was to force the Internet Research Agency to appear publicly before the law, so that more people could learn about the inner workings of the “troll factory.”
On June 23, the two sides finally met in court. Shortly after, Savchuk’s lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, posted on Facebook that the Internet Research Agency had agreed to compensate Savchuk for unfair hiring practices, and pay her the salary she was due when she was dismissed.
The trolls didn’t appear in court themselves, but sent a woman lawyer as a sacrifice. The woman lawyer agreed with our claims and offered to pay Lyudmila Savchuk all the necessary compensations.
But the power isn’t in the money, it’s in you know what. So, to be continued.
Pavlov noted that the next steps would be to hold two additional meetings with Internet Research Agency to discuss the terms of the settlement, and said one of the meetings would have to take place in the “troll factory”‘s office on Savushkina street in St. Petersburg. TJournal reports that the visit to the “troll den” will take place on June 30, and that Savchuk will be accompanied by lawyers and journalists.
Among other things, representatives of the Internet Research Agency in court claimed that Savchuk was never fired per se, as her contract was still active, and suggested she might want to return to work for the company. In turn, Savchuk told TJournal she views this as yet another attempt to stall the inevitable publicity that Internet Research Agency is now facing.
We thought the troll factory representatives would shy away again and wouldn’t show up. But they did show up and have suddenly agreed to the demands of my suit. As my lawyer says, they picked the lesser evil.
So we really did pull them out into the limelight. The fact that they showed up, that the name Internet Research LLC has been spoken, means the troll factory really exists.
By Tetyana Lokot, Global Voices