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Prigozhin shuts down media empire, and even his trolls turn against him

Image: FB/Trolls and fun via Liga.tech

Yevgeny Prigozhin has apparently not only lost control of the Wagner PMC but also his media empire and troll factory following the unsuccessful coup attempt and exile to Belarus.

According to the Russian media Agentstvo, an internet bot network associated with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s once-famed “troll factory” has started criticizing the businessman since May 2023. The report cites two experts who track bot activity on VKontakte and Twitter.

The creator of the project “Chef’s Trap,” who wished to remain anonymous, told journalists that since May, about 13,000 of Prigozhin’s former bots on VKontakte have stopped working for their creator. “Chef’s Trap” has been monitoring the activity of approximately 127,000 bots on VKontakte since late 2019.

The source stated that there are now about 1,400 accounts on VKontakte that regularly support Prigozhin, down from about 15,000 in May 2023.

Darren Linvill, an internet troll specialist from Clemson University in South Carolina, USA, found that known Twitter bots criticized Prigozhin during his rebellion.

Moreover, Prigozhin’s media holding is also shuttered. On 30 June, Novaya Gazeta Europe reported, citing Rotonda, that Prigozhin’s media holding “Patriot” was closed. Novaya Gazeta noted that seven media sites associated with the “Patriot” holding have stopped updating.

Russian newspaper Kommersant states that Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor has blocked the websites of media outlets connected to Prigozhin, including RIA FAN, Politics Today, Economics Today, Nevskiye Novosti, and Narodniye Novosti, without providing a reason.

The editorial office of Nevskiye Novosti confirmed that it was ceasing operations, though the reason for the media shutdown was not included in their statement.

Russian state-owned news agency TASS, citing several employees of the closed media, also confirmed that the Patriot media holding was ceasing operations. According to the employees, “they were messaged by their bosses and promised they’d be paid their salary for the last month next week.”

Telegram channel Rybar, affiliated with Prigozhin’s media, shared that “today, the employees of the media outlets were told that they no longer had jobs.” The post notes that most of the workers were not formally employed.

Media outlet The Bell reported that the most likely new owner for the “troll factory” and the Patriot media holding would be the National Media Group owned by Russian billionaire Yury Kovalchuk. This was the opinion shared by the employees of Prigozhin questioned by The Bell. They also seemed to be certain that the new owner of the media empire founded by Prigozhin would be controlled “directly by the presidential administration.”

Located near St. Petersburg, Prigozhin’s troll factory, also known as Internet Research Agency (IRA), was one of the more-studied elements of the Russian propaganda machine. To achieve its goals, the troll factory employed fake accounts registered on major social networks, online media sites, and on video hosting services. It expanded threefold in 2018. The troll factory’s employees were given messages they should push in social media and online debates in what an US indictment called “activities as a strategic communications campaign with an emphasis on target group awareness.”

The sad life of Putin’s “Troll Army”

Kremlin trolls exposed: Russia’s information war against Ukraine

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