ST. PETERSBURG- This year the Western mainstream media got its leopard-print thong in a twist over Russia’s so-called “troll army.” Taking the utterly unsubstantiated claims in its stride, Russia’s most famous “troll factory” in St. Petersburg has created its own PR department.
Evgenniy Dolboyebov is head of the “Self-parody suicide squad,” a unique detachment of elite journalists who he claims will take hybrid information war to the next level.
“Naturally our information war was going quite well, but soon the gayropeans, fifth columnists, and Yankees started to hit back. We needed something new,” Dolboyebov explained.
“The EU ‘mythbusters’ idea was a joke. We’re totally impervious to that. But what we didn’t have an answer for was satire, people taking our propaganda and turning it into a joke. It was making this whole information war effort embarrassing for us. That’s when I knew what we had to do.”
Dolboyebov’s idea sprung from his deep interest in Japanese culture and anime. As he told us:
“In Japan there’s this old samurai proverb: ‘Under the falling blade flows a river of hell. Jump in and you may float.’ I took that to mean that we had to head off those who would mock and satirize us before they got the chance. We would mock ourselves, and satirize ourselves. We are like the kamikaze pilots of the information war.”
The squad consists of 24 young people who create parody accounts of various Russian state-owned media companies, opposition blogs, and internet memes that mock Russian media propaganda by exaggerating it to the point of hyperbole.
A whole floor of the office building at 55 Savushkina Street is dedicated to the squad, which is often forced to work through the night. The lights flicker on and off, and the walls of the corridors bear messages such as “help me,” “suffering,” “who am I,” and “what is reality,” written in what appears to be blood. It soon becomes clear to the visitor that they are in the lair of eccentric, creative types. We spoke to some of these young people to get a feel for their unusual form of journalism.
“I have a Twitter account that mocks (Rossiya 24 news presenter) Dmitry Kiselyov. That way the liberal fifth columnists can’t come up with any jokes of their own.” -Oleg, 25
“I write really over the top articles about geopolitics and conservative ideology. As a joke I try to sell the idea that it’s okay, in fact mandatory, that Russian men openly admit to being sexually attracted to Putin. It’s hilarious!” -Lena, 23
“I’m running a pro-Russian parody site of an anti-Russian parody site of another pro-Russian site. It’s like that movie Inception!” -Tatiana
“Do you have any food?” -Natalia
“My parodies of Russian media are so popular that I’ve actually been invited to lecture at the Legatum Institute.” -Dmitry, 26
“I don’t know what’s real anymore. Is this a dream? Are you real? I need to find out if you’re real! Hold still! COME BACK HERE!” -Olga 25
Dolboyebov has been handsomely rewarded for his innovative ideas, but he doesn’t like to rest on his laurels.
“I’ve got a lot of new ideas in the works. That’s the thing about hybrid information warfare. You have to keep getting more and more meta and confusing until nobody knows what the fuck is going on, not even you. And then, you win.”