The Investigators

Finland convicts 3 pro-Russian trolls of defaming journalist

Finnish investigative journalist Jessikka Aro was harassed by pro-Russian trolls for years. This month, a court in Helsinki convicted three people of defaming her.

Jessikka Aro was targeted with 'completely nasty, monstrous lies, conspiracy theories'

Finnish investigative journalist Jessikka Aro was hounded online and in person by pro-Russian trolls for years as a result of her reporting on a 'troll farm' based in St. Petersburg. (YLE)

Finland has taken decisive action against pro-Russian disinformation this month, thanks in no small part to the experience of investigative journalist Jessikka Aro.

If you're a journalist like her, sitting in Helsinki — about a two-hour drive from the Russian border — the threat from pro-Russian elements online, and even in the street, is very real.

"It's completely nasty, monstrous lies, conspiracy theories. They frame me as some kind of a pro-NATO extremist, as mentally ill, as brain damaged, as a drug dealer," said Aro.

"They also manipulated horrible photos of me and even stalk me whatever I do publicly," Aro told CBC's The Investigators with Diana Swain this week.

Aro, who works for Finnish public broadcaster YLE, began investigating the Internet Research Agency based in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2015. That's the "troll farm" linked to alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

'It really became a security risk'

Her reporting put Aro in the crosshairs of a pro-Russian website, MV-Lehti. And so began a campaign to discredit Aro's work and destroy her personal life.

"It went on (for) years," she said. "It really became a security risk because there were then so many actual people wanting to harass me and wanting to threaten me, and even follow me in the streets of Helsinki, because of this disinformation campaign."

But this month,  a court in Helsinki convicted three internet trolls, all Finns, who are linked to the website of defamation against Aro. Ilja Janitskin was sentenced to 22 months in prison, sending a clear message that the court takes the issue seriously.

Janitskin and two other journalists were ordered to pay €136,000 ($203,000 Cdn) in compensation, BBC reported.

'In the end, I am just so relieved'

"I was just enormously happy to see justice working. I mean, it took a while, many years, to see this finally happen. But in the end, I am just so relieved," said Aro.

Despite the verdict, Aro doesn't expect the harassment to end.

"When you Google my name you will not find my proper professional journalistic investigations. Instead, you will find trash. So unfortunately, because Google lets this happen, this stuff will stay at the higher end of Google results for some time," said Aro.

Not that she's going to let up.

"I'm just looking forward for this opportunity for me to publish and talk about my investigations and about Russian trolls, and what they're up to," she said.

Watch Jessikka Aro detail how pro-Russian tolls harassed her

Journalist Jessikka Aro stands up to pro-Russian trolls | The Investigators with Diana Swain

4 years ago
Duration 4:23

Also this week on The Investigators with Diana Swain, we ask Vice's Oobah Butler to explain why he pranked journalists. Plus, how a publication ban affected The Fifth Estate's investigation of a missing Newfoundland woman. Watch The Investigators with Diana Swain Thursdays at 7 p.m. on CBC Television; Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. ET and Sundays at 5:30 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.


Owen Leitch

Senior Producer

Owen Leitch is the Toronto-based senior producer of The Investigators with Diana Swain.