As 2017 has progressed, independent Russian journalists have rooted out fake rallies and spammed the internet with pro-Trump comments. It all falls under the aegis of the euphemistically named Internet Research Agency, Russia’s troll army. And, now, Russian journalists have literally dug up the receipts, and all those trolls paid to bomb your Facebook with whining about how Trump is super-virile and totally not in bed with Putin? They’re barely getting paid at all, at least according to one vocal yet anonymous participant.
Quartz has a good overview of the information collected about the Internet Research Agency, aka Russia’s troll farm. One of those trolls, going by the alias Maksim, came forward and admitted he got paid about $1000 a month to spend hours a day complaining in comments sections and on Facebook. Granted, that’s at least a living wage in Russia, but defending Trump’s golf handicap is a miserable way to make a living when you work in the White House, let alone in St. Petersburg.
Overall, over two years, Russian spent $2.3 million in the U.S., most of it on salaries, it turns out. Promoting their own posts, which is social media 101, didn’t even make up a tenth of the budget, meaning your local taco truck is probably a more effective Facebook propagandist. And in turn, this illustrates an important point.
It’s easy to lay the blame for politics that people disagree with on almost anything other than actual disagreement. But Russia’s overall operation was tiny; for example, the RNC spent half a billion dollars on Trump in 2016. Yet when was the last time you changed your mind because of some rando on Facebook?
While it’s likely this was far from the only funding that Russia, let alone other foreign governments and companies, has dumped into U.S. politics, as we’ve laid out before, the vast majority of people are fully capable of forming their own opinions. It’s important to know what Russia, a hostile power, is up to, but it’s also important to put it into the proper context. If people decide that everybody who disagrees is an unwitting (or witting) Russian stooge, that’s no better than assuming they’re too dumb to understand how brilliant your political philosophy is. Yet that’s also exactly the goal of Russia’s operations in the first place.