I was a Putin’s troll and I wrote a fake story in support of Donald Trump in September 2016, two months before the elections. And not only that: I used the Facebook ads system to promote the article on the territory of the USA so that the text where I was posing a middle-aged life-long Democrat would reach even more readers. I did not spend a lot of money from what I can recall but the article reached thousands of readers spreading from Pennsylvania and Indiana (I specifically targeted these states because I knew that Donald Trump message could find resonance in this area). Moreover, I had set up a fake account on Facebook where I used a pseudonym with which I had signed some articles many years before. I then proceeded to join as many Facebook groups about politics as I possibly could and sent as many friend requests as I possibly could to people I did not know. I even “stole” friends from other people if these people seemed to be particularly engaged in Facebook political activism and if they appeared very responsive to political posts. In the space of just a few weeks, my alter ego had almost 5000 friends, the Facebook limit (don’t worry to look me up in Facebook now because 1) you won’t find my name here 2) I have already cancelled that account, being a political animal and a news junkie is not fun for a long time).
My article appeared in the form of a letter from a reader to our then just nascent website “East & West”. The only problem is there was no “reader”, because we almost did not have any readers at the time, our website had started only a few weeks before. I had made it all up. My reader was a fictional character.
Now I hate to sound just like I am backtracking, but I might just have exaggerated a bit. Because maybe, but just maybe, I wasn’t really a Kremlin troll after all. And I was not for the simple reason that I never did anything other than independently working for the website I was writing for and I was never contacted by the Kremlin or by Putin’s agents. I have never been to the mythical Saint Petersburg troll factory and in fact I have never been to Saint Petersburg at all. The only time I was in Russia was 10 long years ago. So unless you can unconsciously work for Putin and the Russian security services without realizing it and without actually having been contacted by them, I am pretty sure I am on the safe side if I say that I was never a Kremlin troll and I did not commit any crime punishable under US federal law. I realize that online the general criterium seems to be: “When in doubt, then Russian troll” but if you look at the issue clear-headedly it would seem a bit of an exaggeration, a bit of a “fake news” (just to make use, one more time, of this loaded expression) to maintain in all seriousness that the internet and social media have all been taken over by the Russians.
If I wanted to be a Russian troll, maybe I would not have chosen the Russian sounding pseudonym I had adopted. I had actually never really wanted to have a “fake” Facebook profile, but I was simply trying to protect my private life from the ideas and opinions I wanted to make public, so I thought I could have a real private apolitical Facebook profile and a “professional” one. I did not want to see real friends unfriend me because they did not like some comment I had made somewhere on Facebook or some of my political views which probably I should have kept for myself anyway.
My “fake” letter from a reader was the best and most immediate literary form I could come up with for the feelings I had about Donald Trump and the message I wanted to transmit: “The Democrats are not so democratic anymore, there is nothing left-wing in them, so if you want a candidate for the people then maybe Donald Trump is the most appropriate choice”. As you can see, there is really nothing particularly original about these words. I was simply picking up some absolutely mainstream talking points and packaging them all in a single text. That the Democrats are not the party of the people anymore is shown by the simple fact that they, like many other pseudoliberals and pseudoleftists all across the Western world, have started to call the political forces that resonate well with the working classes “populists”, as if being a populist, being on the side of “the people”, was some sort of insult in a political system that calls itself a democracy and bases its entire legitimacy of the support of the people. Every democracy is by definition populist. In theory, at least. In reality, a democracy that ceases to serve the interests of the working class, of the people who need to work for a living, is probably not a democracy anymore.
To conclude: was my reader fictional? Yes. Was I making stuff up? Hardly, I was just expression and appropriating very widespread feelings. Was I trying to exploit societal divisions in the US to discredit American democracy? My Lord, that sounded pompous. Did I interfere in the US election? I wrote a text on the coming election. Is this already election meddling? For some, apparently, it already is, “even if just one person had left a comment in English on social media to the American public, it would have been an attempt to interfere”. For me, instead, it is a big gaint stinking hot mountain of horses**t. Did I make Donald Trump win? Hardly. In spite of Facebook showing that the text reached thousands of people, the actual article on the website was seen only 68 times. 68! Was I working for the Kremlin? Jeezz, why do you keep asking these absurd questions?!?
PS If I was a Kremlin troll and our actions constituted an interference in the US election, then I guess the Guardian must have been financed by the Kremlin too for this report