Yahoo correspondent Michael Isikoff said that Russians who worked for a St. Petersburg “troll factory” were required to watch Netflix’s “House of Cards” to help them write messages that would influence Americans against their own government.
Russian trolls watched ‘House of Cards’ to learn about US politics
He was referring to a story he wrote, published on Sunday, in which an interview broadcast in Russian with a former member of the troll factory revealed the Russians were part of President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to influence the 2016 election.
The independent Russian TV station Rain interviewed an agency worker identified as “Maksim” who said the troll factory, formerly known as the Internet Research Agency, targeted Americans in the comments section of popular websites with messages slamming Hillary Clinton about her family’s past scandals as well as the scandal of her private email server.
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They were also required to post about guns and gays, while mentioning religion. They were never to mention Russia or Putin and they were instructed to use VPNs, or virtual private networks, to disguise their Russian origin.
CNN has not verified the Yahoo report, though the network has reported that Russians purchased political ads on social media in an attempt to target voters.
“Every comma was reviewed by (Maksim’s) bosses to make sure it was in the right place so it sounded like an American posting by Americans,” Isikoff told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “Primarily what he was doing was placing comments on the websites of major news organizations, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others.”
Maksim said he worked for the troll factory during 2015, when they were already posting negative comments about Clinton.
“At first, we were forced to watch the ‘House of Cards’ in English,” Maksim said in the interview, according to Yahoo. “It was necessary to know all the main problems of the United States of America. Tax problems, the problem of gays, sexual minorities, weapons.”
“House of Cards” is about Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), trying to rise in Washington. It’s a show that has always operated on the fringes of absurdity, where murder and blackmail are among the Underwoods’ tools of persuasion.
“The ‘House of Cards’ element is new. We hadn’t heard that before,” Isikoff said. “In some ways, the vision of American politics on ‘House of Cards’ probably more closely resembles Russian politics rather than American politics. We don’t have evidence of major American politicians ordering the assassinations of political foes or journalists, which we do have in Russia.”