Russia’s ‘Fake News’ Swirls in U.S. and Europe

Here come yet more stories of Russia interfering in elections, Moscow-sponsored attempts to sow discord and Putin-led conspiracy-theory spreading. But it has to be said: These tales are suspiciously thinly sourced.

This time, it’s happening in the theater of European Parliament elections. But there’s also a renewed effort to convince Americans that 5G will kill their children. Or something.

Sure, there could be a there there—but where? In today’s SB Blogwatch, we break out the popcorn.

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention: the two-fuse riddle.

Vlad Mad Bro?

What’s the craic? Matt Apuzzo and Adam Satariano allege, “Russia Is Targeting Europe’s Elections”:

 Less than two weeks before pivotal elections for the European Parliament, a constellation of websites and social media accounts linked to Russia or far-right groups is spreading disinformation, encouraging discord and amplifying distrust. [They] share many of the same digital fingerprints or tactics used in previous Russian attacks, including the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Russia remains undeterred in its campaign to widen political divisions and weaken Western institutions. … Investigators are confident … that networks of Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts, WhatsApp groups and websites are spreading false and divisive stories about the European Union, NATO, immigrants and more.

Putin has long sought to divide the European Union, and has supported populist movements that seek to undermine the bloc from within. … The primary point is to muddle the conversation, make people question what is true, and erode trust.

Sounds scary. Steven “meta” Musil sums up the situation—“Russia-linked disinformation efforts”:

 Disinformation has long been a part of Russia’s foreign policy strategy, and social media has allowed the trolling effort to expand on a viral scale. … US intelligence agencies have warned Congress that these campaigns will continue in the future.

An analysis prepared for the Senate found that Russia’s disinformation campaign before the 2016 election used every major social media platform … to try to sow … political discord. … Earlier this month, Facebook said it had removed 118 fake accounts, pages and groups from Russia that posted content about politics in Ukraine and other countries in Europe.

The current campaign uses messages taken directly from Russian news media. … Investigators believe millions of people have been exposed to the propaganda material.

What does Russia have to say today? For RT—a/k/a TV-Novosti—Graham Dockery sarcastically quips, “Just don’t ask for proof”:

 Those dastardly Russian hackers are alive and well and meddling in the upcoming European Parliament elections. … Just don’t expect to see any proof.

Fresh from interfering in seemingly everything wrong in America, unidentified Russian hackers have shifted their attention to Europe. … The story is heavy with accusation.

Running through the article is a palpable fear that the centrism that has dominated European politics for more than half a century is now under threat. … However, never once does it occur to the authors that perhaps Europeans are simply tiring of the consensus.

But nope, it’s all a sinister Russian plot to undermine democracy. Let’s go with that.

But they would say that, wouldn’t they? Here’s Alex Stamos:

 It seems quite likely that there is Russian activity targeting the EU elections, but the links here are quite tenuous. To their credit, the authors acknowledge this … in the 22nd paragraph after a screaming headline.

Also, you have to be careful applying the term “investigators” to social media monitors working for non-neutral activist groups. … Any attribution that comes from partisan sources needs to be backed by extremely strong evidence before media amplification like this.

My Mom said that if I was a girl I was going to be named Cassandra. … Prediction for 2020: … Citizens won’t know who to believe and nihilism will continue to win.

Speaking of 2020, here come Emily Birnbaum and Olivia Beavers—“Americans mimic Russian disinformation tactics”:

 Increased efforts to spread conspiracy theories and misleading content, as well as sowing discord over topics that already divide voters, are raising alarms among analysts and lawmakers. … Experts say they have noticed a spike in disinformation as each Democratic hopeful has entered the 2020 race.

The escalating disinformation campaigns bear striking resemblances to Russian campaigns. … Though much of the activity in the U.S. appears to be coming from individuals rather than coordinated groups

According to research published last month by NYU, people on both sides of the aisle share and are targeted by disinformation, but the majority comes from right-wing sources. … Because domestic actors were able to observe Russia’s success … a variety of actors have been inspired to take the same approach.

Oh. Well, what about this? Mark Scott has, “Half of European voters may have viewed Russian-backed ‘fake news’”:

 Researchers found a vast network of automated social media accounts, allegedly controlled by Russian actors, that foment extremist views by amplifying content produced by the hard-right Alternative for Germany, as well as various supporters of the United Kingdom leaving the EU.

[But] independent researchers questioned if [they] would be able to accurately verify if these accounts were associated with a foreign influence campaign.

In Britain, where political divisions remain raw since the country voted to leave the EU … Russian-sponsored activity has remained constant. … During the recent debate over whether British lawmakers should accept the Brexit deal negotiated by Theresa May, Russian-backed accounts promoted both anti- and pro-Brexit positions to foster division among local voters, according to the analysis.

But Thomas Rid—@RidT—pours scorn:

 Hey, we can’t verify many facts here, but whatevs, let’s run with the story. Also, who can come up with the most sensationalist headline?

OK, what about this smoking gun? William J. Broad and Sophia Kishkovsky shoot, “Your 5G Phone Won’t Hurt You. But Russia Wants You to Think Otherwise”:

 The cellphones known as 5G … represent the vanguard of a wireless era rich in interconnected cars, factories and cities. … But a television network a few blocks from the White House has been stirring concerns about a hidden flaw.

The Russian network RT America aired the segment, titled “A Dangerous ‘Experiment on Humanity,’” in covering what its guest experts call 5G’s dire health threats. … Now, it is linking 5G signals to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s.

Yet even as RT America, the cat’s paw of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has been doing its best to stoke the fears of American viewers, Mr. Putin, on Feb. 20, ordered the launch of Russian 5G networks in a tone evoking optimism. … Analysts see RT’s attack on 5G as geopolitically bold.

Already this year [RT] has run seven … program[s] assailing 5G’s health impacts. … The most recent, on April 14, reported that children exposed to signals from 5G cellphone towers would suffer cancer, nosebleeds and learning disabilities.

Hundreds of blogs and websites appear to be picking up the network’s 5G alarms, seldom if ever noting the Russian origins.

The RT network … gives the marginal a megaphone and traffics in false equivalence. Earlier campaigns took aim at fracking, vaccination and genetically modified organisms.

To which nutcracker46 dances around the question: [You’re fired—Ed.]

 It fits the interests of those authoritarian … states to cast doubt on progressive tech in liberal democracies. At home, Russia dictates, “build out 5G infrastructure.”

In the West, the propaganda questions, “Are you sure 5G is safe? Also, are those vaccines safe? Pest resistant crops, whoah, you’re gonna eat them? You might die.”

Meanwhile, is there anything new here? Not according to jhvance:

 ”Divide and conquer” is pretty much the oldest competitive/military strategy. … Confusion, misdirection and subterfuge are merely tactical maneuvering in order to effect that strategy used by most every actor on the geopolitical stage.

And Finally:

Can You Solve The Two-Fuse Riddle?

You have been reading SB Blogwatch by Richi Jennings. Richi curates the best bloggy bits, finest forums, and weirdest websites… so you don’t have to. Hatemail may be directed to @RiCHi or Ask your doctor before reading. Your mileage may vary. E&OE.

Image source: Виктория Бородинова (Pixabay)

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Richi Jennings

Richi is a foolish independent industry analyst, editor, writer, and fan of the Oxford comma. He’s previously written or edited for Computerworld, Petri, Microsoft, HP, Cyren, Webroot, Micro Focus, Osterman Research, Ferris Research, NetApp on Forbes and His work has won awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors, ABM/Jesse H. Neal, and B2B Magazine.

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