Russian disinformation spreads despite ban, report says
After Russia invaded Ukraine last February, the European Union moved to block RT and Sputnik, two of the Kremlin’s top channels for spreading propaganda and disinformation about the war.
Nearly six months later, the number of websites promoting similar content has exploded as Russia looks for ways to evade the ban. They renamed their work to disguise it. They have transferred some propaganda tasks to diplomats. And they cut and pasted a lot of content on new websites – sites that so far have had no apparent connection to Russia.
NewsGuard, a New York-based company that researches and tracks online misinformation, has now identified 250 websites that are actively spreading Russian disinformation about the war, with dozens of New sites added in recent months.
Statements on these websites include allegations that the Ukrainian military orchestrated a number of deadly Russian attacks to gain global support, that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was faking public appearances. them, or that Ukrainian refugees are committing crimes in Germany and Poland.
Some websites act as independent consulting organizations or news outlets. About half are in English, while others speak French, German or Italian. Many were established long before the war and were clearly not tied to the Russian government until they suddenly began to oppose the Kremlin’s talking points.
“They may be setting up sleeping sites,” said NewsGuard co-CEO Gordon Crovitz. Sleeper sites are sites created for a largely dormant misinformation campaign, slowly building an audience through innocuous or irrelevant posts, then moving on to propaganda. transmission or misinformation at a specified time.
While NewsGuard’s analysis found that much of the disinformation about the war in Ukraine came from Russia, it uncovered instances of false statements made to a pro-Ukrainian faction. They included claims of a sniper fighter known as the Ghost of Kyiv which officials later acknowledged as a legend.
YouTube, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, are all committed to removing RT and Sputnik from their platforms in the European Union. But researchers have found that in some cases, all Russia had to do to evade the ban was post it from another account.
The Center for the Situation of Misinformation, a coalition of misinformation researchers based in Europe, found that some RT video content was showing up on social media under the brand name. new logos and symbols. In the case of some video footage, the RT branding was simply removed from the video and re-posted on a new YouTube channel that is not covered by the EU ban.
Felix Kartte, senior advisor at Reset, a UK-based non-profit organization, funded the work of the Situation Information Center and criticized the role of social media in policymaking. democratic discourse.
“Instead of putting effective content moderation systems into practice, they are playing with the Kremlin’s disinformation machine,” says Kartte.
YouTube’s parent company did not immediately respond to questions seeking comment about the ban.
In the EU, officials are trying to strengthen their defenses. This spring, the EU passed legislation requiring tech companies to do more to root out misinformation. Failing companies can face large fines.
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova last month called misinformation “a growing problem in the EU and we really must take stronger measures”.
The proliferation of websites spreading misinformation about the war in Ukraine suggests that Russia has a plan in place in case governments or tech companies try to restrict RT and Sputnik. That means Western leaders and tech companies will have to shut down a website or two if they hope to stem the Kremlin’s flow of misinformation.
Steven Brill, another co-CEO of NewsGuard, said: “The Russians are a lot smarter.
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