Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, every publication about the conflict has sparked an avalanche of reactions on social networks. And besides the many reactions of solidarity with the Ukrainians, many messages show support for Russia and Vladimir Putin. They are mostly “trolls” in Africa.
Trolls are those people or accounts who invade social networks with messages that are deliberately aimed at creating controversy, arousing tension and blurring the lines between information, misinformation and propaganda. And since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the comments among the publications of information sites, such as those of the RTS, have literally stormed by storm.
However, many comments favorable to the war led by Russia come from the African continent. From Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, an avalanche of support for Russia, sometimes insultingly, forms the armed wing of a war that also takes place on the Internet and whose social networks are privileged to confront.
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Objective: “rotten the debate” to undermine trust in the media. “The purpose of trolls is less to convince through a well-rehearsed dialectic of the superiority of their arguments than to corrupt the debates and tarnish the content published by established media, who do journalistic work,” he analyzes. Julien Nocetti, associate researcher at the French Institute of International Relations and specialist in Russia and information wars.
This real cultural war of Russia is characterized by the desire to sow trouble among the Western population instead of promoting Russian culture abroad through a soft power† This orientation can also be seen in the media such as RT, whose editorial line changed from a classic instrument of in early 2010 soft power to a global media broadcasting “alternative” information.
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Resentment, Greed and Opportunism
Some of these profiles, approached by the RTS, claim to be acting out of conviction. Resentment against the West is one of the main motifs depicted. “Today, the strong who are supposed to help and protect the weak are not fully playing their part,” said one of them, explaining that he sees the Russians as “liberators”. “When Africans suffer, it’s because of NATO and the West,” said another. For them, Africa has “suffered too much” and today it is Russia that comes to their aid.
But the motivations are not just ideological. These trolls are sometimes paid and act as part of campaigns orchestrated by certain states or influence groups. However, it is difficult to determine exactly who is behind each campaign.
“Maybe it’s a government that pays them, but maybe it’s also enough to pay a few influencers, who themselves have an army of followers who will pass on and amplify their message,” explains Matthias Lüfkens, expert in digital communication . “So it’s very hard to know if they’re doing it out of conviction or if they’re being paid by the task or by the commentary.”
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Certainly because there can be a form of opportunism, adds Julien Nocetti. “African media or opinion leaders can take the mood of the time and appropriate these pro-Russian speeches” to defend their own political interests, he says. “It’s something that adds a certain amount of complexity because it will always be difficult to know who is behind these informational attacks and whether or not there is an organic link to the Kremlin.”
Former Soviet diplomat Vladimir Fedorovsky was questioned at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday evening and recalls that we “are witnessing a terrible mix of genres between propaganda and real politics today”. “And I want to point out that sometimes it also concerns the West, where a lot of media are discredited today,” he underlines.
>> Vladimir Fedorovski’s response to this inquiry at 7.30 pm:
An army of little hands paid for the “like” or the comment, it’s called a factory or a troll farm. A few years ago, one of them was discovered in a building in St. Petersburg, where workers were paid to write messages in favor of the Kremlin or to influence elections abroad, or simply to show the Russian point of view.
This type of construction is now used almost everywhere. In particular, in China tens of billions of yuan have been invested in what is called “referring to the alleged salary of millions of little hands paid to leave comments and show a more positive image of the Chinese Communist Party.
For Julien Nocetti, Africa is therefore fertile ground, as is part of Southeast Asia. “In some of these countries you already have a labor force that is very cheap and, depending on the place, can be quite skilled,” he notes.
“Trolls are mostly individuals, they are part of those click workers that we sometimes hear about other digital or e-commerce players. They form a kind of mass, digital proletariat in the broad sense,” he sums up. With the difference that trolls are not exploited for commercial purposes, but for strategic and diplomatic purposes.
And of course they are not recognized anywhere and are the subject of bitter disputes between the states. An excellent relay, then, for “running a mess of debates in the western countries”, creating confusion and controversy and taking part in a real parallel war with sometimes elusive effects.
TV Subject: Gilles Clémençon