They threatened to kill her. He called her a drug addict, a douchebag, a mentally ill person. She has gone so far as to fear someone might physically attack her. Such was the daily life of Finnish journalist and writer Jessica Aru. And those behind these threats are Russian trolls.
– I didn’t feel safe in Finland anymore, so I ran away, says Aru to Dagbladet BOK.
Jessica Aro is a journalist for the Finnish broadcasting company Yle, and in 2014 she began working to expose Russian troll factories and the Russian information war inside and outside Russia’s borders. This became the book “Troll Putin – Russia’s Information War Against the Democratic World.”
The Russian government has repeatedly denied that it interferes with the politics of other countries through pressure and manipulation. In his work, Arrow described how the Russian regime used enormous resources to spread its propaganda also to the democratic world. And how all this was organized by large companies working around the clock with many departments.
– My last visit to Russia was in 2015, when I met people who worked at the Troll factory in St. Petersburg. Brave people who dare to talk to me. Until then, these factories were spreading Russian propaganda around the clock, Arrow says.
It didn’t take long after Arrow started digging, before she herself became a target.
– In fake news stories on the internet and on social media, I have been described as a foreign agent and a criminal. Such misinformation can be dangerous, not only for free speech, but also for me as an individual. I saw how the Russians managed to manipulate people’s thoughts, attitudes and behavior.
Aru became a target in Finland after hundreds of different stories about her were published on social media. Aru said that unknown people, Finnish citizens, threatened her.
Some wanted to kill me, others sent hateful letters, and some said I should be in prison. Today Arrow says: People have been brainwashed into hating me.
In 2017, she chose to leave Finland. She had a plan to create a quiet life for herself with her husband and children. But everything was frozen. Where did Aru live in the following years, she didn’t want to say anything about it, but it was hard.
– Today I finally have a child and my family. This crazy Kremlin propaganda stole a piece of my life, and it still does. I try to pretend I live a completely normal life. It says I’m not on their shit list, that I’m being stalked or harassed online.
But there are still messages on social media that Jessica Arrow is a NATO prostitute, brainwashed, psychotic, and paid by CIA. Some people wrote that it would have been better if she had died, according to Arrow.
– It is unpleasant, but it is important for people to realize how Russia uses enormous resources to influence and manipulate public discourse, not only in Russia, but also in the rest of the world. Russia is waging a very active information war.
In 2019 Aru returned to Finland. In the same year, she published the book “Putin’s trolls – Russia’s information war against the democratic world” in finnish. The book has been translated into Swedish, Hungarian, Polish, Estonian, English, and now also Norwegian.
– I’m glad about that, says Arrow.
There is also the Norwegian journalist and President of Barents Press Norge, Amund Trelevik. A few years ago he was in St. Petersburg, where he interviewed a Russian woman who allegedly worked undercover in one of the country’s witch factories.
– It was the factory of Putin’s chef, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and it was created in every possible way. It was a very office building with thematic sections, says Trelevik.
Here, according to Trelevik, there were different departments that worked specifically with NATO, Ukraine and the Russian opposition – inside and outside Russia.
– The woman we met was supposed to be a clairvoyant. You might laugh about it, but superstition in Russia is very relevant, and fortune-tellers are often something people believe in, says Trelevik.
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The woman had several fake social media profiles, as well as writing a blog as a fortune teller. Then the Russian opposition politician showed how organized the troll factories were Boris Nemtsov was killed In February 2015, just days before he led a demonstration against the war in eastern Ukraine.
– Then there were all the trolls at the pumps to discredit Nemtsov and his work. The debates were built: one troll wrote a comment, and then other trolls came and attacked that troll. There were contrived feuds between the three, who were all trolls. Very sarcastic and very detailed, says Trelevik:
– If you extend this to what Jessikka Aro has been exposed to, all the trolls are after her. Which one must assume was a very unpleasant experience.
Trelevik wants more debate about Russian propaganda and information warfare.
– We must realize that what these trolls are doing is very dangerous and we must discuss it further – also in Norway, he says and adds:
Operations to influence and manipulate public discourse, which is what these trolls are actually doing, is more common than we would like to believe. It is therefore a good idea to publish this book in Norwegian. We hope to increase knowledge and discussion about this here at home.
Jessica Arrow was a trailblazer and journalistic hero who has come under attack for her work exposing how Russian troll factories have systematically meddled in Western media, politics and public debate, says Thomas Nielsen, editor of The Independent Barents Observer.
– When I revealed this in 2015, there were few in Europe who paid attention to it. Through the book, Aro gives clear examples that enable people to identify themselves, both in Norway, but also in Sweden, Finland and other European countries. Jessica Arrow deserves credit for her work, he says.
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