The social network Twitter made publically available yesterday millions of messages from accounts linked to the Russian Internet Research Agency, as well as Iran-related accounts previously accused of troll activity and now closed.

The Internet Research Agency has been identified as the Kremlin’s main troll farm under the control of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both, the company and Prigozhin, himself, are subject to US sanctions, and the businessman is among the 13 Russian nationals indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in February in the course of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the US election process.

For accounts with fewer than 5,000 followers, Twitter has hashed certain identifying fields (such as user ID and screen name) in the publicly-available version of the datasets to reduce the potential negative impact on real or compromised accounts — while still enabling longitudinal research, network analysis, and assessment of the underlying content created by these accounts.

Bivol managed to process the Russian troll accounts and published a database with public access*. It shows that there are about 3,000 Bulgaria-related publications. They come from about 800 individual accounts. The large number of accounts, compared with the number of messages shows that there are no troll accounts specializing in specifically targeting Bulgaria.

Recurring troll themes revolve around the energy sector – rave praise for the South Stream pipeline, attacks on its opponents and gloat after Turkish Stream was announced as its replacement. The controversial plan to build a second nuclear power plant (NPP) in the Danube town of Belene is not that prominent. There is voiced satisfaction from the payment that Bulgaria had to make after the arbitration case and this is about it on the Belene NPP.

Other topics favored by the troll farm, include the sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea, the refugee crisis and the construction of a wall along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, the events in Ukraine and Crimea and misinformation about the possible recognition of the annexation by Bulgaria, the “Bulgarian traitors” because of our country’s NATO membership and the non-admission of a Russian plane to Syria.

Troll interference in the elections in Bulgaria is not observed in this dataset, although the published information spans over a significant period – from May 9, 2009, to June 21, 2018.

Lighter topics include the Eurovision song contest, visas for Russian tourists and even the lure of foreign tourists by the so-called Sozopol vampire.

Bulgarian troll farms

Several years ago, Bivol identified the Bulgarian advertising agency Leadway Media Solutions as a troll farm serving politicians. Several political parties, including the left-wing Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the right-wing Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), as well as the current Bulgarian Vice President Iliyana Yotova, who was then MEP, turned among the beneficiaries of these services. This investigation gave birth of the now very popular in the Bulgarian language term “talking points”.

On their part, the trolls of the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party gave themselves up after one of them inadvertently revealed when copying it, an instruction on how to publish the next “talking point” on an internet forum: “Publish with a good mood tonality…”

The troll business can be very influential not only when organized on a large scale, but also if a few but very strongly ideologically motivated people deal with it, showed another investigation by Bivol into a family troll farm in the city of Shumen. Despite the small number of its employees, it has gained significant influence in the Bulgarian segment of Facebook, mainly promoting the BSP.

Picture: The building in St. Petersburg formerly housing the Russian troll factory that has been identified by the United States as the Internet Research Agency of Putin’s “Chef” Prigozhin @AP Images

*When searching in the base, it is desirable to use the * sign to catch the Russian inflection endings of the searched word. For example, Bulgaria (Болгария) will turn only 732 results, while Bolgar* (Болгар*) will turn 3,300 results.

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