At the Congress of the Party of European Socialists (PES) in Rome, party leader Sergey Stanishev called on all left-wing supporters and followers in Europe to campaign “door to door” to explain to people how the Socialists will lead change in the European Union (EU), the press center of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) announced.
However, a series of leaked internal documents from the BSP archive, AKA BSPLeaks, through the anonymous document sharing platform Balkanleaks.eu, revealed that the Bulgarian Socialists use for their campaign mainly illegal and “subversive” methods.
“From door to door,” “from call to call” and “from troll to troll”
Official correspondence of BSP revealed that Socialist Member of the Parliament Kiril Dobrev has hired the agency “60K”, which has widely used stolen personal data. The agency compiled lists with names of elderly people and then canvassed them over the phone from its call center. After the publication of the site “Offnews” on the subject, the Commission for Personal Data Protection started a probe.
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Moreover, an army of fake profiles in forums and on social networks has been mobilized for manipulation of public opinion. Some of them were partisan volunteers and others were paid, but both are known as “internet trolls.” This activity, unlike the theft of personal data to be used by the call center, is not illegal, however, its moral dimension is very questionable, and can be compared to the practice of vote buying.
The analysis of the leaked documents shows that the BSP leadership has walked on a long and painful path of ideological transition from planned to market trolling. In two years, from 2011 to 2013, despite opposition of “red” volunteers, partisan trolls have been replaced by paid professionals from the Leadway company.
From “scientific communism” to “neoliberalism” in trolling
Pioneer in the use of trolls, available on the free capitalist market, is the right-wing Democrats for Strong Bulgaria party (DSB), which in May 2011 hired “Leadway Media Solutions” for “online reputation management” for the mayoral elections. Against 10 000 levs per month, this included 1800 comments in “forums, blogs and social networks” and the creation of 40 profiles of virtual supporters of the Employer (DSB ) – a sort of virtual clappers for party candidates.
The contract with Leadway, shown by the Chairman of DSB Radan Kanev on bTV
During this time, BSP still relied on the labor of brigades of volunteers, leaked documents show. BSP partisan trolls were first exposed in a publication of Bivol from December 2013. In a leaked document from the youth organization of the Socialist Party, dated March 2011, Luba Totina explains the need for “active citizenship in already functioning non-partisan pages” in order “to create attitudes and spread rumors.”
The “red” headquarters denied the information then, but two months later top party functionary Anton Kutev personally admitted that the Centenarian (as the Socialists call their party, citing its 100-years of history – editor’s note) used for such purposes supporters and volunteers.
On July 28, 2011, the youth organization of BSP distributed the following scheme, featuring an almost scientific mathematical approach:
“Comments by multiplication”
The scheme was made for six internet sites and seven people. Each “commentator” has a number that corresponds to the day of the week 1 – Monday, 2 – Tuesday etc. Figure 1 shows the combination when number 7- Sunday is a “distributor.” His or her job is to choose on Sunday a story that is repeated in all six sites and distribute it to the other six “commentators” in the group; their task is to write one comment each and enter it in the table of Belavov. From there, the “distributor” multiplies the comments in all sites, as shown on figure 2. In this combination, when there is one comment from the group, then 6 = 36; when there are two 12 = 72 etc. The idea is to write less and be busier just one day of the week.”
Two illustrations are attached in order to explain the text:
Unfortunately Bivol does not have the so-called “table Belavov.” Belavov is actually engineer Nikolay Belalov, municipal councilor from BSP in the Sofia City Council and supervisor of “Personnel Training” in the National Council of the Socialist Party.
“Partisan” vs “paid” trolls
Since the beginning of 2013, professional trolls of “Leadway” have already been serving the campaign for the referendum on the construction of a second Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), according to leaked documents from other internal correspondence of BSP. It further shows that there was clearly antagonism between “partisan” and “paid” trolls, where the first were upset by the inclusion of the second.
In a document, dated February 4, 2013, entitled “Analysis of the Internet Campaign,” referring to the referendum on the Belene NPP in 2013, techniques for influencing public opinion through social networks are analyzed with their pros and cons. Activity in several groups and web pages is examined:
Referendum on Belene NPP – 2332 members;
National Referendum – Nuclear Energy – 2651 members;
Referendum – Truth and Real Alternative – RILA – 151 likes;
The Truth about Belene NPP – 5768 members
The last page and group have been “set up by a group of “Leadway Media” in the last three weeks of the campaign,” the document says. The group is administered by troll Luka Trayanov, who is detected in other documents of “Leadway.”
Despite the double-digit difference in attracted internet users, compared to “partisan” trolls, the rapporteurs were not satisfied with the work of “Leadway.” This is evident from the criticism in the analysis:
“It is a fact that in the short period during which they had to work, they had no useful move, but to artificially fill pages with “likes” and group members. However, it is also a fact that in the end they agreed to work under these conditions and they just had to take a different approach.”
The conclusion of the party functionaries about the paid campaign is negative: “Overall, this kind of campaign boils down only to some reporting activity; there is no direct result and only the fact that it has no influence in social networks prevents it from becoming anti- campaign.”
This view, apparently, was not taken into account by the BSP leadership. Subsequent reports of “Leadway” to Anton Kutev and Socialist MEP Iliyana Yotova show that the party still preferred market trolls and used them throughout 2013 and early 2014, until Bivol exposed the scheme.
The icing on the cake of course is the fact, acknowledged by Iliyana Yotova that the company has paid the trolls with European money directly invoiced to the European Parliament.
Completely in the spirit of European market liberalism.
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