Russian disinformation is spreading fast and wide on the internet even though major Russian news organizations remain banned in some countries.
A new report finds the Russian government has been able to get around the bans by finding new places online to publish its desired messaging.
The report was based on information collected by NewsGuard, a New York-based company that studies and follows online disinformation activity.
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the European Union (EU) moved to block two of Russia’s top state-controlled media companies, RT and Sputnik. RT is an international television network and Sputnik is a news agency.
In addition, Google announced at the start of the war that it was blocking the YouTube channels in Europe for RT and Sputnik. And Meta also took action to block the two Russian media companies from its Facebook and Instagram services across the EU.
But now, NewsGuard says Russia has found ways to keep publishing the same kind of disinformation on a number of other websites.
The group said in its report it had identified 250 websites that are actively spreading Russian disinformation about the war. Many new sites were added in recent months, NewsGuard reports.
Among the claims appearing on the websites was an accusation that Ukraine's army had staged some deadly Russian attacks in an effort to increase international support. Another report claimed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was faking public appearances. And another reported that Ukrainian refugees were carrying out crimes in Germany and Poland.
Some of the sites describe themselves as independent think tanks or news services. About half of the websites are English-language, while others are in French, German or Italian. Many were set up long before the war and were not directly tied to the Russian government before.
“They may be establishing sleeper sites,” said NewsGuard co-CEO Gordon Crovitz. Sleeper sites are websites created for disinformation campaigns. They are designed to slowly build a following by putting out general news before beginning to publish propaganda or disinformation later on.
NewsGuard's study found that much of the disinformation about the war in Ukraine is coming from Russia. But it also found cases of false claims that took pro-Ukrainian positions. Those included claims about a heroic Ukrainian fighter pilot known as the Ghost of Kyiv that later turned out to be false.
Stronger moderation measures for social media content could make it harder for Russia to get around the bans, said Felix Kartte. He is an adviser at Reset, a British nonprofit that supports efforts to fight online disinformation.
"Rather than putting effective content moderation systems in place, they are playing whack-a-mole with (Russia’s) disinformation apparatus,” Kartte said.
EU officials are continuing to take action aimed at reducing the flood of disinformation. Earlier this year, the EU approved legislation that would require technology companies to do more to identify and block disinformation. Companies that fail in those efforts could face large fines.
Last month, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova called disinformation “a growing problem in the EU” and said “stronger measures” were needed to deal with the problem.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
stage – v. to produce or cause to happen for public view or public effect
fake – adj. false, not true
think tank – n. a group of people who advise the government or organizations about particular subjects
moderate – v. to make sure the rules of an internet discussion are not broken
whack-a-mole – n. a game in which players use wooden mallets to hit toy moles that appear at random in holes
apparatus – n. a set of equipment or tools used for a particular purpose
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