Source: Meduza 2015 article:
“Later that fall, the group leaked emails between government-affiliated company Moscow Information Technologies and various Russian media outlets about the publication of planted stories, in addition to emails allegedly belonging to First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. “
“An outfit called Moscow Information Technologies, or MIT (set up by Sobyanin’s predecessor, former Mayor Yuri Luzhkov), is officially tasked with “providing informational support for the city’s projects.”
But a more honest explanation of MIT’s activities is that it serves as a vehicle for subversive propaganda on the city’s behalf.
A series of stolen emails released by the hacker group “Shaltai Boltai” (whose members the Federal Security Service arrested earlier this year) shows that MIT was involved in a clandestine program to conspire with the Russian media by running articles discrediting opposition candidates in local elections. This effort included fabricating evidence against opposition activists and suppressing unwanted coverage — a clear violation of Russian media laws.”
… “According to the organization’s leaked ledgers, MIT used to funnel up to a million rubles ($17,000) from the mayor’s office for a single newspaper story that either praised City Hall or smeared its opponents. Media outlets published these stories with phony bylines, disguising the fact that this content was essentially a paid advertisement.
The mayor’s office also manipulates the media for favorable coverage through other, more legally sound but still surreptitious means. On top of maintaining a legitimate media empire funded to the tune of 13 billion rubles a year ($230 million) that includes several TV channels, radio stations, and online news websites, Sobyanin’s administration heavily invests in swaying the agenda on Yandex.News, Russia’s biggest online news aggregator.”
… “MIT plays a role here, too. An investigation by the independent news outlet RBC showed that Moscow’s authorities have found a way to dominate the news agenda when it wants, drowning out unfavorable stories with its own.
MIT devised a scheme wherein Moscow’s neighborhood councils (most of them totally loyal to the mayor and to United Russia) set up dozens of similar news websites that are capable of firing off volleys of nearly identical news articles promoting the mayor’s initiatives. This onslaught fools Yandex’s algorithm into thinking that something important is happening. The news aggregator doesn’t differentiate between the sources, and thus assumes there’s a news event that deserves top billing in its ranking system, if hundreds of different outlets are reporting on a single event.”