Russian-led misinformation campaign targets hosts of major international news sites

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A number of major European news websites have been targeted by a pro-Kremlin propaganda and disinformation campaign, a new report by Cardiff University has claimed. The targeted portals include leading media houses such as the UK’s The Times, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Die Welt, France’s Le Figaro, and La Stampa in Italy.

The propoganda has targeted the comments’ section in an effort that has been described as a “major influence operation”. According to the report, the campaign is systematically manipulating Western media, by posting provocative pro-Russian or anti-Western comments on articles related to Russia.

The team at Cardiff University’s Crime and Security Research Institute said that this effort covered at least 242 such stories. The comments were then used by Russian-language media outlets as the basis of stories about political events and were also reported on by other fringe media outlets with track records of spreading disinformation and propaganda.

Additionally, a number of these comments had unusually high numbers of “upvotes” or “likes” on platforms where these functions are available, suggesting an attempt to present these comments as representative of public opinion. It is understood that Western security services have linked some of these to Russian intelligence agencies.

Director of the Crime and Security Research Institute Professor Martin Innes, who heads the Open Source Communications Analytics Research (OSCAR) programme, said the campaign uncovered was “especially significant” because of its international scale and sophisticated manipulation of media outlets.

“By hijacking the comments sections of Western media brands, it has been able to present its propaganda as indicative of mainstream opinion,” he said.

One account was found to have changed location 69 times and changed name 549 times since it was created last June.

“There has been a tendency to think about influence operations as just pivoting around the use of fake social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook and the like,” Prof Innes added.

In recent weeks, these comments focused on stories related to Afghanistan with fake posts suggesting thhat Britons were seeing the unfolding events as a signal of the collapse of Western liberalism and NATO. In turn, these comments would be then picked up in Russia and described as ‘the position of a majority of the British public’.

via Euronews, BBC