WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the European Union moved to block RT and Sputnik, two of the Kremlin’s main channels for spreading propaganda and disinformation about the war.
Nearly six months later, the number of sites posting similar content has skyrocketed as Moscow finds new ways to circumvent the ban. His name has been changed to Camouflage himself. He has received a share of the propaganda work of diplomats. And they have copied and pasted a lot of material onto new websites that until now had no apparent connection to Russia.
NewsGuard, a New York firm that studies and tracks disinformation on the Internet, has identified 250 websites that are actively spreading Russian propaganda about the war, dozens of them have surfaced in recent months.
Claims posted on these websites include that the Ukrainian military has staged some of the deadliest Russian attacks to garner worldwide support; That the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, fakes his public appearance or that refugees from Ukraine are committing crimes in Germany and Poland.
Some websites present themselves as learning centers or independent media. About half are in English, while the others are in French, German or Italian. Many were built long before the war and had no apparent connection to the Russian government until suddenly they began to repeat the logic of the Kremlin.
“It’s possible they’re setting up inactive websites,” said NewsGuard co-CEO Gordon Kravitz. Sleeper sites are sites created for a disinformation campaign that remain largely dormant, allowing visitors through spontaneous or unrelated posts to gradually switch to propaganda or disinformation at a certain point, only at a certain point in time. manufactures.
Although NewsGuard analysts found that most of the misinformation about the war in Ukraine comes from Russia, they also found cases of pro-Ukrainian false claims. These included claims about the existence of a top fighter pilot called the Ghost of Kyiv, which officials later admitted was a myth.
Facebook and Instagram owners YouTube, TikTok and Meta have pledged to remove RT and Sputnik from their platforms within the European Union. But researchers have found that, in some cases, all Russia had to post from a different account was to remove the ban.
The Disinformation Situation Centre, a coalition of researchers on propaganda based in Europe, found that some audiovisual content from RT appeared on social networks under a new brand and logo. In the case of some videos, the RT logo was simply removed and reposted on a new YouTube channel that was not affected by the Brussels measures.
More aggressive moderation of social media content could make it harder for Russia to get around the veto, said Felix Carte, a consultant with Reset, a British NGO that has funded the work of the Disinformation Situation Center and is critical of social media’s role. Is. In democratic speech.
“Instead of putting in place effective content moderation systems, they are playing the role of cat and mouse with the Kremlin’s disinformation system,” Carte said.
YouTube’s parent company did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ban.
In the European Union, officials are trying to strengthen their defenses. This spring, Block passed a law requiring tech companies to do more to root out misinformation. Those who do not do so may have to pay heavy fines.
“Disruption is a growing problem in the European Union and we need to take strong action,” said European Commission vice-president Vera Jourova last month.
The proliferation of websites spreading propaganda about the war in Ukraine suggests that Russia had a plan when governments or tech firms tried to ban RT and Sputnik. That means Western leaders and companies will have to do more than just shut down a website or two to stop the flow of propaganda from the Kremlin.
“The Russians are a lot smarter,” said NewsGuard’s other co-CEO, Steven Brill.