Rent-a-troll: Researchers pit disinformation farmers against each other

For a relatively low price, you can unleash troll and bot armies to manipulate social media just like (or better than) state actors.

Enlarge / For a relatively low price, you can unleash troll and bot armies to manipulate social media just like (or better than) state actors. (credit: Donald Iain Smith / Getty Images)

The same sorts of organizations that once made their money performing “black SEO”—using fraudulent means to raise paying customers’ search engine ranks, often for illicit reasons—are now diving into a whole new sort of online manipulation. Researchers at security threat tracking company Recorded Future have found companies selling disinformation campaign capabilities similar to the ones used by Russian “troll factories” during the 2016 US presidential campaign and other state-sponsored information operations.

In a report issued this month, researchers from Recorded Future’s Insikt Group describe how they engaged two providers of advertising disinformation services to assess the threat posed by such operations. Both disinformation operators were advertising services on Russian-language underground forums alongside purveyors of hacking tools and other criminal activities. But one of the services also has a public Internet presence, offering less illicit marketing services through an open website.

“Both of these companies, their bread and butter is negative takedown stuff—discrediting your opponent or competitor,” Recorded Future Director of Analysts Roman Sannikov told Ars in an interview. “But they can also promote companies, using the same networks of social media accounts.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Rent-a-troll: Researchers pit disinformation farmers against each other

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