In Venezuela, prospective trolls sign up for Twitter and Instagram accounts at government-sanctioned kiosks in town squares and are rewarded for their participation with access to scarce food coupons, according to Venezuelan researcher Marianne Diaz of the group @DerechosDigitales. A self-described former troll in India says he was given a half-dozen Facebook accounts and eight cell phones after he joined a 300-person team that worked to intimidate opponents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And in Ecuador, contracting documents detail government payments to a public relations company that set up and ran a troll farm used to harass political opponents. [...]
In response to revolutions and social movements launched on Twitter and Facebook, national governments initially censored content, blocked access to social media and used surveillance technology to monitor their citizens. But it turned out to be far more effective to simply inundate the platforms with a torrent of disinformation and anonymized threats -- what the researchers dubbed a strategy of "information abundance" made possible by the rapid spread of social media. [...]
Turkey is a prime example, according to Camille Francois, who directed the Jigsaw project as a principal researcher at Google. Since the 2013 protests at Istanbul's Gezi Park, President Recep Erdogan's government has used a combination of online and offline repression to turn social media "into a near dead zone for genuine social protest in Turkey," Francois said. "Five years later, there is very little organically organized activity."
Type the word "dog" into Google Translate 19 times, request that the nonsensical message be flipped from Maori into English, and out pops what appears to be a garbled religious prophecy.
"Doomsday Clock is three minutes at twelve," it reads. "We are experiencing characters and a dramatic developments in the world, which indicate that we are increasingly approaching the end times and Jesus' return."
That's just one of many bizarre and sometimes ominous translations that users on Reddit and elsewhere have dredged up from Google Translate, Google's decade-old service that can now interpret messages in over 100 languages. In Somali, for instance, strings of the word "ag" translate into missives about the "sons of Gershon," the "name of the LORD," and references to Biblical terminology like "cubits" and Deuteronomy.
Much of the system was automated, including the creation of Apple accounts. According to Diachenko, the scammers used jailbroken iPhones they managed with a tool to generate Apple accounts with predefined user data. He showed Motherboard a video the Facebook group promoted with a bank of iPhones on a rack, all running the automated software.
"With the account creation process automated, the malicious actors then took the process further, automatically changing cards until a valid one is found, automatically buying games and resources, automatically posting the games and resources for sale, working with a digital wallet for order processing, and managing multiple Apple devices to distribute the load," Kromtech's report said. "The end result: an automated money laundering tool for credit card thieves."
The impressive thing here is how little human interaction was needed at any stage of the process. Their scripting fu is strong.