How Much Does Russia’s Troll Army Cost?

The New York Times Magazine has published a translation of an interesting blog post by Anton Nossik, responding to Adrian Chen’s amazing in-depth investigation into one of the Russian government’s most ambitious Internet troll operations. Nossik raises an important question – aside from the national security concerns posed by this sort of aggressive propaganda campaign, what exactly is it costing the Russian taxpayer?

Looking at this story through the eyes of an American reporter, one can’t help but be frightened: Adrian Chen uncovered a whole spy ring, one that possesses significant resources and acts throughout the entire world, well beyond any legal boundaries.

But when you’re reading this story from inside Russia, a completely different detail strikes your eye: yet another shameless episode of embezzlement of public funds under the completely laughable pretense of “fighting an enemy from without.” The rules are the same for the enemy from within: First make one up, then write a detailed plan, send it to the client, then send a bunch of screenshots of a job done, then stuff your pockets with undocumented cash. There’s no one to ask whether there was any tangible damage to “the enemy” or a strategy or long-term plans. . . . No secrecy of “real” special ops, either. And why even bother? The project is over and done with as soon as the money is in.

A “virtual Potemkin village,” Chen writes, and even he himself perhaps doesn’t realize to what extent this is a perfect definition of the mission he spent half a year meticulously documenting.