There was an interesting article in the magazine section of the New York Times, June 8, 2015. It was written by Adrian Chen, entitled The Agency, and is here. It is about the major effort going on in Russia not only to use the internet to spread positive feelings about the country and its activities (Putin, the Ukraine, etc.), but also to spread confusion in “western” countries such as the U.S., and in general, dilute the credibility of what is referred to as the “U.S.” internet. It focuses on a fairly secret organization named the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, which hires large numbers of young people with computer skills at relatively high salaries to put information on the internet that will accomplish these aims. No particular knowledge of the world, politics, economics, or sociology is needed. The employees work hard (an example was a woman who worked two twelve hour days in a row followed by two days off), and in the two days was expected to file five credible political posts, ten non-political posts, and 100 to 150 comments on other people’s posts.
The article gives examples of their work —building carefully orchestrated, but fictional hoaxes (Columbian Chemical Explosion in Centerville Louisiana, Atlanta Georgia Ebola epidemic) and disinformation of all sorts. Although the article focuses on the one agency, which is modeled after a corporation, the author implies that there is a wide effort to do such work, and the workers seem to be challenged and rewarded for their work. After all, this is a chance to do mischief for money. What could be more fun to young people than writing negative material on all candidates for U.S. president, and not being at all inhibited by the truth.
The article is well researched, well written, and not surprising. The Internet is heavily dominated by the U.S. and annoys at least the leadership of many countries. TV is continually degraded by advertising, but is not targeted toward particular interests or beliefs, because it wants as large an audience is possible. But the internet is consciously/unconsciously selling U.S. values (superiority of Christian capitalistic democracies, easily available porn). It is only natural for leaders of countries who are not interested in having their country be like the U.S. to attack the internet. What better way than to hire kids who like to play with computers to do so, through pumping into it information that is seen as positive by these leaders, and random information that is not based on truth ?
In a sense, this is an attempt to lower the quality of the internet by injecting junk and biased information into it. I am usually doing things in which gains can be made by increasing quality. As far as I am concerned the internet already contains plenty of junk and biased information. But it was interesting to me to read this article and realize that there are situations in which perceived gains can be made by lowering quality, and that people can earn good salaries by helping do so.