©Noshad Ahmed, Pixabay

About Trollrensics

  • Founders: Robert van der Noordaa and Richard Odekerken
  • Founded in: 2019
  • Employees: 2
  • Money raised: -
  • Ultimate goal: The complete dismantling of troll networks.

Troll armies are more active than ever on the Internet. These are accounts that spread disinformation in an automated way, frequently containing disinformation. Robert van der Noordaa and Richard Odekerken, founders of Trollrensics, specialize in the dismantlement of disinformation and have been “troll hunting” for years. They share their story with IO.

How did Trollrensics come into being?

Van der Noordaa: “Seven years ago, when I was still living in Russia and Ukraine, I saw the phenomenon of all kinds of weird Russian accounts being created on social media. That’s when I decided to focus on troll armies and disinformation. People then looked at me askance saying “what are you talking about?” But I was convinced that this was just the beginning, and unfortunately we can indeed now see that it has become a much bigger problem. I asked Richard to join us for the technical side, and then we slowly started working on Trollrensics. We really hit the ground running two years ago and started building our technical platform.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is EvoNY7wXAAErmfq.png
During the Dutch elections, several fake accounts surfaced from people pretending to be from a political party.

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    Where does this interest in disinformation come from?

    Odekerken: “Disinformation is a huge scourge in society and in recent years has been throwing a lot of democratic processes into turmoil.” Van der Noordaa adds: “We really believe that it is of great social importance to protect democracy. Now we can do something about these kinds of propaganda. Think about, for example, the disinformation surrounding covid vaccinations. You can no longer sit back and do nothing. It’s time for action.”

    What is your technical platform capable of?

    Odekerken: “We have developed scrapers that can extract data from all kinds of social media platforms. You type in a search term, and then the tool collects the data and stores it in a database. We have subsequently decoupled the analysis tools from the platform where the data comes from. This means that you don’t have to drag large amounts of data back and forth, but you can do one big analysis instead.”

    This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Poolse-Trollen-werken-alleen-in-de-ochtend-1004x561.jpg
    Analysis of a Polish Troll Army. They don’t work in the afternoon and take every weekend off.

    What was a proud moment for you?

    Van der Noordaa: “One of our most impactful investigations involved dismantling a troll army who focused on the MH17 disaster. Russian trolls sent 65,000 tweets the day after the disaster that put the blame on Ukraine. Those tweets were pushed massively. We investigated these tweets, and then this was published in various journalistic media. It was an important moment for us that we look back on with a great sense of pride.”

    What challenges are there for Trollrensics?

    Odekerken: “Technically, we have lots of challenges. First of all, we have to keep up with supporting so many platforms. Social media is also tricky in this respect, consider TikTok, for example. These platforms do not have an official technical interface, which makes it more difficult for us to access them. As a consequence, we have to deal with all kinds of technical challenges.”

    What does the future look like?

    Van der Noordaa: “We would ideally like to do work for large organizations in the future. Take the Ministry of Defence, for one. Trollrensics can be expanded considerably. We would like to do something socially responsible. We see disinformation as a threat to democracy. With Trollrensics, we’re solving something that society has a hard time doing anything about.”

    Read previous stories in the Start-up of the Day series here.

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