Putin’s Praetorians: Trolls Wrote It, Trolls Promote It
Kremlin trolls promote a Putin-glorifying book for the American audience
Phil Butler, a freelance political analyst and blogger at Sputnik International, and Patricia Revita, a Canadian illustrator, recently published a book entitled “Putin’s Praetorians: The Top Kremlin Trolls Confess”. Released on October 24, the book was celebrated by pro-Kremlin media and Twitter accounts as a major propaganda win.
The book features a series of essays written by authors described as:
Some of the people involved in a unique movement to debunk those who would demonize Russia in general and Putin in particular. The ‘confessions’ of those labeled as ‘Kremlin Trolls’ reveal the psychology behind one of the most effective social crusading moments in history.
All contributors to the book are referred to as Russian trolls. The cast includes:
- F. William Engdahl, a writer and researcher associate at the pro-Kremlin GlobalResearch.ca;
- Charles Bausman, the publisher of pro-Kremlin Russia Insider;
- Jim W. Dean, the managing director of the pro-Kremlin Veterans Today;
- Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Kremlin-funded RT and Sputnik;
- Marcel Sardo, a self-described “pro-Russia Media-Sniper”;
- Patrick Armstrong, the writer of the pro-Kremlin blog “Russia Observer”;
- Graham Phillips, a British-born Donbas activist;
- Twitter trolls @Malinka1102, @mkj1951, and many others.
The book was immediately promoted as a significant blow to claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, known as ‘Russiagate’, including with fake online accounts. The editor of Russia Insider, Charles Bausman, wrote:
This book blows up the Russiagate conspiracy and debunks the whole idea that the internet revolution against the demonization of Russia is anything other than a spontaneous popular reaction against what is demonstrably a pack of lies.
The book’s Twitter account even attempted to imply it was no coincidence that Twitter announced the platform would off-board advertising from all RT and Sputnik accounts on the same day the book was published.
Trolls wrote it, trolls promote it
Not surprisingly, the book was advertised by the same media outlets whose editors, owners, and writers contributed to it.
Russia Insider published an excerpt of the book written by Patrick Armstrong and produced a video listing all of the contributors to the book.
What I thought would be just a collection of bios from some good folks ended up being a most interesting discussion of why people suddenly feel the need to speak up, to resist and to take on The Monster. Truly, this book is much ‘bigger’ than just Russia; it is about what makes us human in the best sense of the word: an unbreakable determination to resist Evil and Lies in all their manifestations.
The Saker went even further and added:
But becoming a notorious ‘Kremlin Troll’ is not only about taking a stance against something, it is also very much siding with something else — in this case the new Russia.
The launch of the book was accompanied by a tiny Twitter campaign under #WhyIBecameaKremlinTroll. The hashtag was, so far, used only 17 times. The author of the book, Phil Butler, accounted for ten of them.
The book does not appear to have harnessed any interest outside of the pro-Kremlin activist echo chamber. The most popular tweet promoting the book garnered 46 retweets and 56 likes, but the majority of them came from the contributors of the book and self-described Russophiles.
The book is highly unlikely to make a dent in whitewashing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, or selling the idea of “New Russia” as an antidote to the west. The book does, however, show that just like the established media outlets, pro-Kremlin fringe media is similarly struggling to reach audiences outside their own filter bubble. A book written by Putin trolls will be only read by Putin trolls.
Donara Barojan is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).
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