How Pro-Government “Trolls” Influence Online Conversations in Russia (with Anton Sobolev, Yale University)

February 12, 2020, 12:00-2:00pm

Join NYU's Jordan Center for a talk by Anton Sobolev on the behavior and impact of several hundred “trolls” — paid supporters of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia who were allegedly employed in late 2014 and early 2015 to leave pro-government comments on the popular social media platform LiveJournal. Sobolev devises a classification method of the possible objectives that would motivate governments to employ Internet trolls, the strategies trolls use to achieve these objectives and these strategies’ observable implications. Second, he develops a method to measure the natural evolution of online discussions so as to estimate the causal effect of troll interventions. He discovers that Russian troll activity was more successful in diverting online discussions away from politically charged topics than in promoting a pro-government agenda. Moreover, while trolls succeeded in diverting discussions away from purely political topics, their interference apparently had no effect when the topic under discussion was the national economy. Those social media users who were discussing poor economic growth, unemployment, or price inflation seemed not to be responsive to troll interventions.


Anton Sobolev, postdoctoral fellow, Yale University