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Uzbek Student Offered State Job After Proposing A ‘Troll Factory’ To Counter Government Critics

Webster University

An Uzbek university student appeared to call on the authorities in her home province to create online trolls to counter government critics.

No sooner had the student finished making her pitch when she was offered a job with the local government in southern Qashqadaryo Province.

The student, whose name has not been made public, made the proposal during a December 13 meeting between students at Qashqadaryo State University and Governor Murotjon Azimov.

The student appeared to suggest that the State Agency for Information and Mass Communication should create online student groups to counter critics and “showcase the positive changes” occurring in Qashqadaryo.

Footage from the meeting appears to show the student calling for online groups consisting of students and volunteers to be created in all of the province’s 13 districts.

Some Uzbek media outlets have said the initiative would amount to creating a “troll factory.”

She also called on the authorities to provide students with “the necessary equipment” and “regular training.”

The student added that the authorities should counter reporters and bloggers who ignore “100 positive things” but highlight “one negative” and report on it in the “wrong way.”

“As you just mentioned, these bloggers’ coverage has become somewhat upsetting to us,” the student said, in an apparent reference to the governor’s speech at the same gathering.

In the footage, Azimov can be heard asking, “Are you a student or a teacher?” After responding that she is a student, Azimov said, “We’ll hire you to work for the provincial government.” The audience is heard bursting into applause.

It was not clear what job Azimov offered to the student or whether it was genuine.

Azimov met with the students at Qashqadaryo State University after attending the unveiling of a new dormitory and a refurbished building for the Faculty of Medicine.

Other students also made proposals during their meeting with Azimov. One student suggested the authorities should provide grants for various projects, including for “educating young people in the spirit of patriotism” and “prevention of crime among the youth.”

It was not clear if the proposals by the students were staged, which is common in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation.

Since Azimov’s meeting with the students, the authorities have not confirmed whether the female student was hired or if her proposal was accepted.

Governments Using Trolls

A number of authoritarian governments have been accused of using online trolls to manipulate public opinion and attack critics.

A 2019 report by Oxford University’s Internet Institute said Uzbekistan was among 25 countries “working with private companies or strategic communications firms offering a computational propaganda as a service.”

“In some cases, like in Azerbaijan, Israel, Russia, Tajikistan, [and] Uzbekistan, student or youth groups are hired by government agencies to use computational propaganda,” the report said.

It is unknown how many people Uzbek authorities have recruited as online trolls.

In neighboring Tajikistan, some 400 university students, lecturers, and officials were pressured by the state to serve as Internet trolls to target government critics, a 2019 investigation by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service revealed.

A report funded by the British government and released in May revealed how Russia has used online trolls to spread lies, target world leaders’ social media accounts, hijack online discussions, manipulate opinion polls, and promote the Kremlin’s narrative during the war in Ukraine.

The trolls mostly used social media and the comments sections of popular websites, the report said.

Russia was also accused of seeking to meddle in the U.S. presidential election in 2016 by using online trolls, a claim Moscow has denied.

Source: Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty