Duped Hollywood Celebrities Back in the News After Russian Disinformation Report

A Russian propaganda campaign that recruited famous actors through pay-for-videos site Cameo is the subject of a new article by Business Insider.

The article follows on the heels of a joint report published last week by Graphika and Stanford Internet Observatory. Both pieces cited an article I co-bylined, “How Russia Tried to Weaponize Charlie Sheen,” with Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon in September.

Via “Russian trolls used Facebook, Cameo to help free alleged spy in Libya” by Kevin Shalvey, Business Insider, December 19, 2020:

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After 18 months in Libyan prisons, alleged Russian spy Maxim Shugaley this month walked free, boarded a plane, and was greeted in Moscow as a returning hero.

During his long absence, Russia Today had aired an action thriller called “Shugaley” that dramatized his arrest, complete with explosions, gunfights, and torture scenes…

A roster of Hollywood actors also had recorded short supportive messages for him via the Cameo app. “Wall Street” star Charlie Sheen did one, speaking to Shugaley from the sparsely decorated kitchen where he did many of his Cameo videos […] according to last week’s report from Stanford researchers, who cited previous reporting on Shugaley and the IRA from The New York Times, Foreign Policy, Bloomberg News, and BBC Africa

Sheen was just one of a few high-profile Hollywood names that sent warm wishes to Shugaley. “Snatch” actor Vinnie Jones and “Rocky IV” star Dolph Lundgren each recorded their own videos, which were later posted on vk.com. “Machete” star Danny Trejo shot one, too, as first captured on Shooting the Messenger.

Click here to read the original story as first reported by Foreign Policy.

Click here to read the Stanford/Graphika report, which covers a larger-context disinformation operation targeting Libya, Syria, and Sudan.

Update, December 28, 2020: Gizmodo, Haaretz, and Inside Hook have also picked-up the story.

Via “Charlie Sheen, Dolph Lundgren, and Danny Trejo All Spread Russian Propaganda on Cameo: Report” by Tom McKay, Gizmodo, December 23, 2020:

News of the actors’ involvement in the odd campaign to free Shugaley was first broken by Foreign Policy, which noted that other efforts to raise the profile of Shugaley’s detention by Libyan authorities included the suspected agent’s election “to the regional parliament in the Komi republic in northwestern Russia.” Foreign Policy detailed numerous other suspicious incidents casting doubts on the Russian government’s claim he was a mere academic, including his alleged involvement in a purported plot to interfere in Madagascar’s 2018 elections. The magazine also contacted several celebrities involved in the Cameo campaign; an agent for one of them, English actor Vinnie Jones, told Foreign Policy that the $300 payment for the video was from an anonymous client.

The Haaretz and Inside Hook pieces, which do not credit Foreign Policy’s reporting, can be read here and here.

Russian Election Trolls Were Recruited via Online Job Posts

Russian troll factory recruited “kremlebots” via conspicuous online job ads, allegedly expected applicants to work for free

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice released the latest round of indictments in the federal investigation into alleged election meddling.

The indictments name 13 Russian nationals who allegedly “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes” on behalf of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a notorious pro-Putin “troll farm” based in Saint Petersburg.

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According to the indictments, IRA trolls purchased “political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities,” organised “political rallies inside the United States…while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons,” and “without revealing their Russian association,” even “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

It would appear that members of IRA’s so-called troll army were carefully selected-and-vetted masters of political subterfuge.

However, archived job posts show the company recruited staff by placing conspicuous-sounding ads on Russian job websites, then allegedly expected successful applicants to work for free.

The ads for “Social Networking Specialist,” “Media Monitoring Specialist,” and “Content Manager,” among otherswere placed mid-2014, around the same time it’s alleged that IRA began operations to interfere in the 2016 election.

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Via Google Translate:

LLC Internet Research

St. Petersburg

Required work experience: 1-3 years

Full time, full day

SMM Manager / Social Networking Specialist / SMM Specialist

Duties:

Conducting projects in social networks
Preparation of thematic posts
Content placement
Work with reviews
Development and implementation of mechanisms to attract the audience of social networks
Conducting groups in social networks: filling with information content, links, surveys
Monitoring company mentions on the network
Monitoring of target groups
Monitoring social networks and the blogosphere

Requirements:

Knowledge of the basics of SMM / SMO
Competent Russian language
Experience of successful work with social networks (content and attracting the audience)
Creativity of thinking
The ability to write information texts
Confident PC user Responsibility, dedication, active life position, initiative, diligence, ability to work in a team
The experience of creating a community (launching and maintaining discussions)
Own active blog or group in social networks

Conditions:

Opportunity for professional growth and career development
Work in a young and friendly team
Working hours: 5/2
Wages up to 40,000 rubles
Staraya Derevnya, m. Chernaya Rechka
Full time in the employer’s territory

According to a post by a former IRA intern on another Russian job website that allows employees to review their employers, a revolving door of “very young adolescent 18-20-year-old” applicants were expected to work for free at the behest of the “ubiquitous aunt Tatyana”—presumably referring to Tatyana Kazakbayeva, who according to Business Insider used to work at the company.

In 2015, IRA was sued by a former employee, St. Petersburg resident Lyudmila Savchuk, for non-payment of wages and for failing to give employees proper working contracts.

Savchuck received symbolic damages of one rouble after reaching an agreement with her former employer.