Fake: Ukraine To Accept 20,000 Refugees Instead Of Germany

StopFake.org - Fri, 12/14/2018 - 10:17

Citing a Bavarian newspaper, last week scores of pro-Kremlin media claimed that Ukraine would accept 20,000 refugees instead of Germany with headlines such as Why does Poroshenko need militants from Asia and Africa?

Citing a German publication called Kraichgau News, Russian media claim that by the end of 2018 Ukraine will accept no less than 20,000 refugees most likely those who are currently in Bavaria. This deal allegedly resulted from an agreement with Ukraine’s Interior Ministry and its German counterpart and Ukraine is actively preparing for the reception of such a large number of people.

Website screenshot RIA

This fake began to be widely republished in Russian media during the recent EU Eastern Partnership summit at the end of November. The Eastern Partnership is a European Union program launched in 2009 in the framework of European Neighborhood Policy and addressed to six countries in Eastern Europe: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Kraichgau News is neither Bavarian nor is it a newspaper. It is an internet portal where anyone can post their information based in the Baden-Württemberg area. A user calling themselves Kerstin Neumann who wrote the article that Russian media cite registered with the Kraichgau News portal one day before publishing her fake story on November 1.

Replying to StopFake’s inquiry about these claims, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry confirmed that German diplomat  Dorothea Metschkowski. who specializes in human rights, recently presented a human rights project in Kyiv aimed at fostering tolerance towards refugees in Ukraine. All other claims about refuges are patently false, the ministry said.

While Ukraine is actively cooperating with Germany on human rights issues, there is no agreement between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding refugees.

Categories: World News

Russia’s “Nazi” Narrative Against Lithuania and the Baltic States

StopFake.org - 1 hour 22 min ago

By Lukas Andriukaitis, for Integrity Initiative

The 2016 US Presidential elections were the final wake-up call for Western countries to grasp the full scope of Russian information warfare. For more than a decade, Russia has been waging (link sends email) an unceasing and far-reaching information campaign against NATO and the Western countries, which were caught by surprise. Meanwhile, the Baltic States have been fighting on the information front (link sends email) since gaining independence in 1990. The scope of different tactics, narratives and methods used against the Baltics is vast, so in this article only we will address the most prominent and effective one. The Vilnius Institute of Policy Analysis (link sends email) (VIPA) presents examples of Russia using its ‘Nazi’ narrative to target the Baltic States.

Nazi Narrative

The methods we are going to describe being used against the Baltics can easily be adjusted to the specifics of any Western country and used against them. This means there is much to learn from the active Baltic information battle grounds.

According to (link sends email) Jolanta Darczewska, head of the Department for internal security in Eastern Europe at the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies, Russia’s military doctrine stipulates the use of information warfare for two different goals: mobilization of the enemy’s internal opposition and mobilization of Russia’s own public. Externally, the aim of these methods is to manage by fear and neutralize the damage to Russia’s global image caused by its real military aggression. Domestically, these operations aim to create images of internal and external enemies, to emphasize the stability of the Russian regime and to project the role of the ruling elite.

The Kremlin uses several different narratives against the Baltics: they are Russophobic (link sends email), suffering massive emigration (link sends email), their economies are going down (link sends email) the drain, their citizens are poor (link sends email), and so on. However, the ‘Nazi/fascism’ narrative seems to be the most effective. This approach is primarily used domestically, to create external enemies, to make the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and to portray Russia as a ‘besieged fortress’. Due to highly politicized and emotionally charged memory politics in Russia, the Soviet victory against Nazi Germany is glorified unquestioningly, with a particular emphasis on the national celebration on 9 May of victory in the ‘Great Patriotic War’, as Russia calls World War II. The vast majority of the Russian public buys into this dominant narrative, while measures (link sends email) are taken against criticism of the Soviet period and its symbols. VIPA has already written about historical WWII reenactments in annual children military camps. Yet another grotesque example of these narratives is Kubinka’s Patriot Park (link sends email). Last year, a full battle of Berlin reenactment took place at this Russian ‘military Disneyland’ near Moscow, including an infamous storming of the Reichstag.

Here is actual footage of a reenactment of Soviet troops storming the Reichstag:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bCkr8t1q18 (link sends email)
Video Source – YouTube

We also saw the Nazi narrative widely used as an excuse to invade Ukraine. Ukraine was and still is portrayed (link sends email) by the Kremlin and Kremlin-friendly media as being ruled by a ‘Fascist junta (link sends email)’ and the annexation of Crimea was conducted to save the Russian speakers from the Nazis.

Conveniently and without making responsible, rigorous distinctions, this narrative mixes the terms ‘nationalists’, ‘Nazis’, ‘fascists’ and ‘radicals’ into one concept and uses it to attract attention and elicit strong emotions. The Nazi narrative is extremely effective in Russian society, and here is how it works in practice against the Baltic States.

TV Reports

Television in Russia remains the champion of the information landscape, combining both entertainment and information operations (“infotainment”). RT alone has 35 million (link sends email) viewers daily worldwide with digital platforms in six languages. One popular type of TV show is ‘investigation journalism’, where a group of ‘journalists’ are sent to report from the scene, especially in neighboring countries such as the Baltic States and Ukraine. Here are a few classic examples of such shows.

Zvezda TV

On 16 March, 2017, the Zvezda military TV channel published an article, then showed a video report (link sends email), called ‘Baltics Embrace Nazi March’. The date of 16 March is a much-debated Remembrance day for the ‘Latvian Legionnaires’. The celebration attracts controversy as the Legion was a Nazi unit, although some maintain that its main aim was to liberate Latvia from the Soviet Union.

https://tvzvezda.ru/news/vstrane_i_mire/content/201703162308-vhf1.htm (link sends email)

The TV anchor describes a march in the centre of Riga, mentioning that not only Latvians, but also Estonians, Lithuanians and Ukrainians took part. According to the reporter, local MPs joined the march, and people protesting against it were taken away by police. The number of people marching was not mentioned. The report mixed historical footage of marching Nazi soldiers and the Latvian parade.

Image Source – tvzvezda.ru (link sends email)

The anchor then talks about Nazi Germany invading Russia, massacring civilians and committing other war crimes. Next, the Nazi tradition of marching with torches is mentioned, and the claim is made that the Baltics have resurrected this tradition.

Visual comparisons are shown in the background to compare Nazi Germany and the Baltics.

Image Source – tvzvezda.ru (link sends email)

Here is a diagram of how the story building takes place:

The story begins with a controversial event in Latvia, then a comparison with Nazi Germany is made. Subsequently, footage of torchlit parades in Nazi Germany is used and visual parallels are made with today’s Estonia and Latvia. Finally, a march by Lithuanian nationalists is added into the narrative.

From the moment Nazi Germany footage is shown, the story is told in the light of Nazism. Generalizations are made about all three Baltic countries, even though the controversial event took place in Latvia. Viewers are left with the impression that Nazism is ominously on the rise in the Baltics.

RT

Another example of such manipulation was aired by RT on 24 May, 2012. The story was called ‘Nazi kindergarten Shame: Baltics divided over dark past’ and looked into an instance when children at a Latvian kindergarten were taught history lessons by reenactors wearing Latvian Legionnaire uniforms.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkH2q-9Cdkk&feature=youtu.be&a (link sends email)=

Video Source – YouTube (link sends email)

The story, like the previous one, listed valid concerns about pre-school children being taught history while being given imitation weapons to play with in a private kindergarten.

Image Source – YouTube (link sends email)

The story then takes a wild turn, airing an interview with an anonymous woman who is concerned about her safety because of Latvian nationalists. This is followed by a comment by a marginal Latvian anti-fascist group leader, who insists that such instances are common in Latvia.

Image Source – YouTube (link sends email)

After that, the story turns to the 16 March Legionnaire march, and the narrator starts drawing broader conclusions. The narrator claims that neo-Nazism is on the rise in the Baltics and that since gaining independence, the Baltic states have became vocally critical of the Soviet period of their history. The narrator continues with a claim that those who fought against the USSR are called ‘freedom fighters’ in the Baltics, despite the fact that they allegedly fought alongside the Nazis.

Image Source – YouTube (link sends email)

The narrator concludes that in Baltic schools, children are taught false historical facts and that this will breed a future generation of neo-Nazis.

This is another example of a story starting with a disputed event, then spiralling out of control to make broad generalizations. A story that began by questioning if kindergarten childrens should be exposed to weapons was used to portray all three Baltic States as rewriting history and breeding a new generation of neo-Nazis.

Channel 1

Lastly, a good example of ‘Nazi’ narrative building was published as a reaction to NATO’s video clip about the Forest Brothers, postwar resistance fighters in the Baltic States who fought a desperate asymmetrical war against the USSR. Russian Channel 1 news showed a video report on 12 July, 2017, expressing outrage about the NATO video. In contrast to previous examples, this story uses exclusively the Forest Brothers’ video to make hasty generalizations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MdzzeN0iSY (link sends email)

Video Source (link sends email) – 1TV

The narrator began by saying that the Forest Brothers, “Nazi sympathizers” from the Russian point of view, were portrayed in the NATO video as heroes. She stressed that the Forest Brothers killed thousands of innocent people in the Baltics, which was not mentioned in the NATO video.

Image Source – 1TV (link sends email)

Starting with excerpts from the NATO video, which is called a historical reconstruction, the video footage soon shifts to WWII images of Nazi Germany attacking the USSR in 1941. Again, a visual parallel is used to the Forest Brothers as Nazis. This pseudo-analogy is followed by a statement that the Baltic States are re-writing history.

Image Source – 1TV (link sends email)

The narrator then argues that NATO is supporting the falsification of history and implies that NATO is pro-Nazi as well.

Conclusions

Russia’s information warfare against the West never stops. A determined twisting of narratives, followed by highly emotional supporting audio and visual material, creates a powerful effect on viewers and spreads a defined message only tenuously linked to the truth. The examples analyzed above are taken from TV shows, but the same methods are used in social media, articles, radio shows and newspapers. These messages are not only targeted at the domestic audience, but also at foreign countries. RT operates in 6 different languages, and the list of examples is endless. These messages are usually conveyed very skillfully, and if the viewer does not question what they are seeing, a very specific version of the truth is planted in his mind. Information warfare in all of its many chameleon-like manifestations may well have become Moscow’s most powerful weapon yet.

By Lukas Andriukaitis, for Integrity Initiative

Lukas Andriukaitis is Associate Analyst at Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis (link sends email) and a Digital Forensic Research Associate at Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Categories: World News

NTV goes to Denmark: a story about backfire

StopFake.org - Wed, 04/25/2018 - 18:09

By EU vs Disinfo

Located in the far Western corner of the Baltic Sea, Denmark does not appear very often on the radar of the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign. Last week, however, it did. In hindsight, the Russian state-controlled TV station NTV probably now regrets its decision to send a crew to film in Denmark because things did not work out quite as planned; at least not when NTV’s story, like a boomerang, reached Danish audiences.

No fairy tale

NTV’s news story told Russian audiences a tale about Denmark as a country allegedly obsessed by unfounded and “hysterical” fears of Russian aggression. NTV illustrated its attempt to ridicule the Danish nation with footage of Russian strategic bombers over the Baltic sea and dramatic music.

NTV illustrated what it described as “hysterical” Danish fears of Russian aggression with this T-95 strategic bomber being intercepted by NATO fighter jets.

NTV’s report had its main focus on a newly built military installation on the Danish island of Bornholm, which collects signal intelligence from the Baltic sea region.

NTV travelled to the Danish island of Bornholm to inspect a newly erected radio mast used for gathering military signal intelligence from the Baltic sea region.

Something rotten

Journalists at the Danish radio station Radio24Syv, who watched the news item after it had been broadcast in an NTV news programme, smelled that something was not right with the interviews NTV had made with Danish politicians and local people on the island. Had NTV perhaps made use of the tradition on Russian TV of dubbing interviews in order to change what the interviewees had actually said?

Not unlike a similar incident in 2016 when French Canal Plus presented French people with the evidence that they had been mistranslated by Russian state TV Rossiya 24, the Danish radio station decided to gather reactions from the Danish interviewees in NTV’s production after they had been allowed to see how their statements had been rendered in Russian.

“My statement in the Russian version of the programme does not correspond with the statement I gave them. I’m left with a feeling of fake news, misuse and maybe even a deliberately wrong translation”, MP Nick Hækkerup, a former Defence Minister, told Radio24Syv.

“The programme is one big manipulation filled with lies. The interview took place under the condition that our quotes were to be used in a meaningful way and our statements be clearly explained. This did not happen. The Russian audience clearly are not being allowed to know why we are scared of Putin’s aggressive and unpredictable politics”, MP Mogens Lykketoft, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former President of the UN General Assembly, told Radio24Syv.

“I can tell from the translation that I have been quoted saying things I have never said, that’s for certain. They’re welcome to come back here so we can talk about it”, Michael Møller, a local museum owner on the island of Bornholm, told Radio24Syv.

Fight backfire with backfire

Facing potential face loss for one of Russia’s largest media outlets, the Russian Embassy in Copenhagen decided to opt for a rebuttal: the two MPs and former ministers, the embassy explained on Twitter, had in fact never appeared in on NTV!

The journalist behind the story, Tinne Hjersing Knudsen, replied with screenshots from NTV showing the interviews with the politicians, asking if NTV had perhaps interviewed their identical twins?

Apparently, the Russian embassy had managed to find an alternative version of NTVs news story where the two Danish politicians had suddenly – and conveniently for NTV’s reputation – been edited out of the production.

In other words, the Russian embassy’s attempt to create a smokescreen in order to confuse Danish audiences, ended up adding backfire on top of the already rather serious backfire created by the doctored interview translations. Radio24Syv’s story had broken on Monday morning. No wonder that, by the time Danish TV2 contacted the embassy for the evening news programme, it refused to give any further comment to the case.

Read Radio24Syv’s story in English

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: British Parliament moves toward a more coordinated investigation

StopFake.org - Tue, 04/24/2018 - 17:20

Topics of the Week

British Parliament moves toward an effective and comprehensive investigation of Russian influence, setting an example for other national parliaments to expose and counter disinformation and influence operations.

The Democratic Party has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Russia, Trump, and Wikileaks for carrying out an illegal conspiracy to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The US and British governments have issued a joint alert warning businesses about a Russian cyber campaign to hack routers.

Good Old Soviet Joke

Q: Is it true that the Soviet Union is the most progressive country in the world?

A: Of course! Life was already better yesterday than it’s going to be tomorrow!

Policy & Research News British Parliament sets example in amping up investigations

Motivated by recent cases of ever bolder hostilities by the Russian Federation – possible meddling in the Brexit referendum and the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter – the British Parliament is starting to set some useful examples. Most national parliaments in Europe have the power, at least on paper, to publicly scrutinize and investigate the influence operations of foreign powers (along with any other internal or external issues), but almost none of them actually use it.

It’s a common problem of many state agencies and institutions that even though they are aware of some aspects of the Kremlin’s hostile influence, they do not understand or have the capacity to monitor the whole picture and the connections between issues like political corruption, economic influence, and disinformation operations. The British Parliament has decided to address this challenge by creating “The Russia Co-ordination Group”, consisting of the Chairs of different parliamentary committees, including those dedicated to defence, foreign affairs, internal security, finances and intelligence supervision.

The main goal of this coordinated parliamentary group is to make the scrutiny of Russian-related activities more effective through sharing knowledge about relevant inquiries by the Committees. It will not run joint inquiries, but it will make use of informal meetings to coordinate their work and share existing knowledge in order to make the investigations more comprehensive and maximize the results.

The Chair of the Co-ordination Group is Tory MP Tom Tugendhat. He explained that the group was created due to the need to “understand the extent of Putin’s activity”. According to his statement, “Committees tend to operate separately, they may not have the full picture – seeing the symptoms rather than the cause.” Tugendhat believes the UK should go even further and impose sanctions on oligarchs and government officials with links to Vladimir Putin.

Furthermore, the British Parliament also made public the official proposal of Cambridge Analytica, which reveals its methods and capabilities to influence public opinion before elections or referendums. If you are interested in what companies like this can do for their clients, you can read the full proposal here.

US Developments Democratic Party files suit against Russia, Trump, and Wikileaks

Last Friday, the Democratic Party sued the Russian government, Donald Trump and Wikileaks for carrying out a wide-ranging illegal conspiracy to influence the 2016 US presidential election. The Democratic Party claims that Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its clandestine representatives by hacking Democratic Party computers in order to tilt the election in Trump’s favor. Wikileaks is included in the lawsuit for leaking thousands of hacked emails, which the Democrats claim was intended to create conflict within the Democratic base.

Defendants in the multimillion-dollar lawsuit include Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Trump ally Roger Stone, and three people indicted in the Mueller investigation (including Paul Manafort and Rick Gates). The GOP and allies of Donald Trump have called the accusations of collusion “bogus” and the lawsuit a “sham.”

The implications of the lawsuit are unclear as of yet, but there is a precedent: in 1972, the DNC sued then-President Nixon’s reelection committee, seeking $1 million in damages for breaking in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building. The suit was ultimately successful, yielding a $750,000 settlement from the Nixon campaign on the day he left office in 1974. Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor, thinks the current suit has merit, even though foreign countries have immunity from most US lawsuits. “There’s no way it’s going to be dismissed,” he said“At least not on the computer-fraud part of the case, which is really the heart of it. The Democrats have every right to bring this suit as they are aggrieved. My question is: What took them so long?”

More information and analysis about the lawsuit is available here and here.

Trump administration rejects more Russian sanctions, creating controversy

More signs of disunity appeared last week between President Trump and his national security apparatus. After recent US-led coalition airstrikes hit targets in Damascus, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced that further action would be taken by the US against Russia in the form of sanctions targeting Russian companies that are assisting Syria’s chemical weapons program. However, this announcement was contradicted by the White House the very next day, when President Trump announced that no such measures were approved, highlighting the lack of consensus and clear foreign policy strategy. Several officials have stated that the incident occurred because the White House did not inform Haley of its decision to change course regarding new sanctions.

Meanwhile, the sanctions already in place have begun to take a major toll on one of Russia’s industrial titans. What started as a huge selloff of shares and spike in aluminum prices is now impacting the global aluminum supply chain. Steps may have to be taken to make exceptions for some of Rusal’s business entities so that European allies aren’t also affected by these latest US sanctions.

Russian Americans call out the Congress of Russian Americans for disinfo

Back in March, the Congress of Russian Americans (CRA) sent a letter to Donald Trump’s office, which claims to speak on behalf of five million Russian-speaking Americans. The letter, which was supported by the Russian Foreign Ministry and broadly circulated in the Russian media (including RT and Sputnik), lamented the state of relations between the US and Russia and deplored the recent expulsion of Russian diplomats. It also denies Russian involvement in the Skripal poisoning.

In response to this letter, 144 Russian-born Americans from various professional spheres sent their own letter to the president last week describing the CRA as a “seemingly pro-Kremlin organization.” They denounce the CRA’s attempt to speak on behalf of all US Russian speakers and categorically oppose its positions, asserting that “there is little doubt that the CRA letter is yet another act in an ongoing informational warfare waged against the United States by the Russian government.” The letter addsthat “none among our numerous respondents reported any incidents of discrimination due to their Russian origin” and points to the CRA letter’s wide circulation in pro-Kremlin media as evidence of its use for the “relentless manipulation of public opinion.”

US and UK governments warn of Russian campaign to hack routers

The US and British governments have issued a joint alert warning businesses about “the worldwide cyber exploitation of network infrastructure devices […] by Russian state-sponsored cyber actors.” The primary targets are “government and private-sector organizations, critical infrastructure providers, and the Internet service providers (ISPs) supporting these sectors.” According to Ciaran Martin of Britain’s National Cyber Security Center, the apparent aim of the attacks was to take control of the devices that connect networks to the Internet and to gain access to ISP customers “for espionage or other purposes.” This attack is part of a growing list of cyber threats coming from Russia including the NotPetya worm, which has been called the costliest cyberattack in history, and computer malware targeting the US energy grid.

Jeanette Manfra, the chief cybersecurity official for the Department of Homeland Security agreed with her British counterpart in blaming the Kremlin for these malicious activities. The warning is part of an ongoing effort by the United States to identify and publicly disclose bad behavior in cyberspace and create deterrents.

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative Whataboutism masterclass

With every passing week more evidence comes to light of Russian state involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in SalisburyThe OPCW has confirmedEnglish expert findings that the chemical weapon used in Salisbury was Novichok.

We already know that one of the Kremlin’s favourite manipulation techniques is to deflect blame by accusing the accuser. Thus, Russia tries to discredit individuals, organizations, institutions, and states which provide evidence of Russian misdeeds. In so doing, Russian propagandists challenge the credibility of their opponent and seek to undermine their moral authority to accuse Russia.

Last week, Maria Zakharova provided a masterclass for everyone interested in mastering this technique. With arguments criticizing Britain in this century running out, Zakharova conveniently turned to British history:

“Let’s put aside morals and the law and talk about something different. Maybe the UK Ambassador does not know his own country’s history, role and involvement in processes that took place in other countries over the past centuries […]

Let us talk about state contracts, assassinations and Britain’s reputation […]

The impact of colonial rule in India was extremely devastating […]

Africa has also suffered its share of British abuses. Some 13 million Africans have been removed from the continent as slaves […]

The British were among the first to invent concentration camps for civilians in the Boer War of 1899-1902 […]

In the 1870s, on the orders of the British authorities, a genocide of Zulus was perpetrated in the Cape Colony and in 1954-1961 of the Kikuyu people in Kenya […]

Remembering the notorious Opium Wars would not come amiss […]

The Greeks, too, got their share of British brutality […]”

And so on and so forth. The Russian MFA Communications Department has apparently studied British history books well, given Zakharova’s mention of so many episodes. How any of this relates to the specific issue at hand – the Skripal poisoning – would be a surprise to anyone. In any case, we’ll be waiting impatiently for the Russians to start talking about the dinosaurs.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion Estonian Internal Security Service Annual Review 2017

In its 2017 annual review, the Estonian Internal Security Service (KAPO) identifies the Kremlin’s influence operations as well as its aggressive foreign policy as a serious threat to Estonia. Regarding Russian propaganda, its most common themes in Estonia were ridiculing Estonia over fears of Russian military exercises and blaming the US and NATO for Estonia’s Russophobia. The most inflammatory disinformation targeting Estonia in 2017 was provided by the Petersburg-Channel 5 and its reporter Anatoliy Maiorov, who entered Estonia under illicitly via the Schengen visa area to avoid detection by the Estonian security services. He is now banned from entering the Schengen visa area for three years. The Petersburg-Channel 5 is jointly owned by the National Media Group and the St Petersburg City Council and receives additional murky financing.

In Estonia, Russia also uses various tools to influence young people, especially Russian-speaking youth. It seeks to manipulate history and historical events for propaganda purposes, particularly those relating to WWII and the myth of the Great Victory, as well as to politicize the subject of Soviet and Russian war memorials abroad in order to disrupt social coherence and create animosity between ethnic groups.

Estonia experienced high levels of Russian intelligence activities during 2017. KAPO captured the first ever Russian GRU agent in Estonia, as well as an additional Estonian citizen suspected of working for the GRU. Furthermore, three FSB agents were captured and prosecuted, and two Russian diplomats were expelled for attempting to instigate conflict and create tensions between ethnic groups. A section of the review is also devoted to the protection of state secrets and identifies the most common breaches, offers profiles of people who are most likely to breach classified information, and provides useful security recommendations.

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.

Categories: World News

China Central Television backs Russian version of the Syrian crisis, saying chemical attacks were staged

StopFake.org - Mon, 04/23/2018 - 17:54

Screenshot from the CCTV news report citing Russian media, which claimed that the chemical attacks in Douma were staged

By Oiwan Lam, for Global Voices

Days after the United States, the United Kingdom and France launched airstirkes in Syria in response to the suspected use of chemical weapons near Damascus by the Syrian government, Chinese President Xi Jinping called British Prime Minister Theresa May and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stressing the need to cool down the conflict and investigate the chemical attacks.

But China’s state-owned media outlets echoed Russia’s allegation that the chemical attacks in Douma were staged. Microblogging website Weibo’s top search result showed a China Central Television report about a Russian journalist’s interview with a Syrian child who was featured in a video distributed by various Western media outlets:

Russian reporter revealed the ‘chemical attack’ video was fake: the Syrian boy explained how the video was staged] According to Russian report, the ‘white helmet’ organization workers, supported by Britain and other Western countries, used food to lure Syrian kids into making the fake video that showed the so-called catastrophe of a chemical attack. The 11-year-old boy, Hassan, who received first aid after the purported chemical attacks, said, ‘People grabbed me and poured water all over me when I entered [the first aid station].’

As anticipated, the CCTV news features attracted a number of nationalistic and anti-imperialist comments, like this one:

More than one hundred years ago, the U.S., Britain and France invaded China and burned the Old Summer Palace; today they invaded Syria. The nature of imperialists has never changed.

The Syrian civil war broke out after several months of a violent government crackdown against unarmed protesters in 2011; the armed conflict has led to the death of more than half a million people in the country. Despite the subsequent humanitarian crisis, China has often sided with Russia in vetoing United Nations Security Council resolutions on the crisis, claiming that military invention and economic sanctions would derail the issue of political settlement and undermine regional peace and stability. China has supported five of the seven Russian-led vetoes.

After the US-led airstrikes, China again voted in favor of a resolution drafted by Russia to condemn the military interventions. China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, stressed:

As always, we oppose the use of force in international relations and call for respect for other countries’ sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Any unilateral military action bypassing the Security Council runs contrary to the purpose and principles of the UN charter and violates the principles of international law and the basic norms governing international relations, and will further complicate the Syrian issue.

At the same time, viral commentary circulated on various social media platforms comparing the current Syrian crisis to China’s situation during the First and Second World Wars, and arguing that weak countries will always be bullied by strong ones — hence, it is essential for China to become strong.

However, many netizens did not buy the Russian version of the story — although, to be accurate, Russia put forward several accounts of the events, first claiming that the chemical attacks were staged, then that they were real but Assad wasn’t responsible, then that they were indeed staged, but by the UK. Russian state TV even used a set from a movie to emphasize that the attacks were fake.

Judging from the CCTV discussion thread on Weibo, though, it was the “fake news” narrative that stuck, many netizens found it implausible:

Who can prove that this video was not staged? Who can prove that this video is for real?

Do not believe Russia.

In contemporary world history, Russia has a role in all evil deeds.

@ComYouthLeague, a political satire social media outlet, mocked China’s propaganda:

【短评】美国此次轰炸叙利亚,中国媒体造谣煽动力度非常大。这侧面说明戳到了中国政府的痛处。此前俄罗斯爹地一再暗示强硬保护阿萨德。结果美国扔了一通导弹,俄罗斯大气不敢出,更别说帮着拦导弹了。这让习近平心里怎么想?俄罗斯爹地怎么不要孩儿们了?说好的再爱我一次呢? pic.twitter.com/FEMRUtrpIi

— 共青团流亡中央 (@ComYouthLeague) 17 апреля 2018 г.

[Short commentary] Mainland Chinese media outlets spent great effort in spreading rumors concerning the U.S. airstrikes in Syria. This, in a way, reflected that airstrikes had hurt the Chinese government. The Russian daddy once promised that he would protect Assad. Yet, the US launched airstrikes and Russia could not do anything, let alone block the missiles. How would Xi feel about that? Has the Russian daddy given up on his kids? What has happened to the promise of love?

One key component that is missing from the Chinese social media discussion is the misery of the Syrian people — and it begs the ethical question of why China, if it really is a strong country, keeps voting at the UN against international intervention, under the pretext of state sovereignty. If Western countries are the imperialists as Chinese propaganda authorities and nationalists have suggested, what is China in the arena of international politics?

By Oiwan Lam, for Global Voices

Categories: World News

The week in Russian media: threats of annihilation

StopFake.org - Mon, 04/23/2018 - 17:48

By EU vs Disinfo

An odd but not surprising theme appeared in Russian media during this week. Whereas threatening with the possible use of nuclear arms is a recurring theme in Russian state media, and from representatives of the Kremlin, talk about total annihilation is maybe more rare.

On April 16 in one of the main programs on Russian state TV, a Member of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defence Policy stated that ‘had the US included air strikes on Russian air defences in Syria, 500 million Europeans would have been reduced to radioactive ash‘.

Now, for those following Russian state media it probably does ring a bell. In fact, the very same TV channel – Rossiya 1 – aired a show on March 16 2014 where Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov warned that his country could turn the United States into “radioactive ash”.

But that was not the only talk of annihilation we saw from Russian media during the week. For example, Moskovski Komsomolets reported how the mayor of the city Pskov regretted that the Lord forbids Russians to erase Americans from the face of the earth.

Meanwhile, the pro-Kremlin nationalist outlet Tsargrad TV presented a video simulating a nuclear explosion outside the White House as a measure taken by the US to morally prepare their population for the threat. 40 other Russian language outlets picked up the topic from Tsargrad, among others Sputnik.

Actually, this video is not an assessment of a perceived threat, but was made as a simulation in order to prepare emergency managers  to improve the response in the event of major disasters.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Anatomy of a Russian chemical weapons lab lie

StopFake.org - Mon, 04/23/2018 - 17:24

If Moscow wants its Syrian allies to skirt the blame for chemical attacks, they’re going to have to come up with some better evidence than a few beakers and boilers in a dingy basement.

Russia and Syria say the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syriawas all a rebel-staged fake— and promise that they’ve got the evidence to prove it. But one of the pieces of evidence they say shows a secret rebel chemical weapons lab shows nothing of the sort, experts say.

At the center of the claim is a building in Al-Shifuniya, in East Ghouta where the Syrian military says it found “a chemical warehouse used to manufacture chemical weapons against the Syrian Army” and a “research lab for experiments” run by the Islamist militant group Jaish al Islam in mid-March. The allegation tracked with an uptick in Russian claims about a rebel chemical weapons “false flag” in the making shortly after the Trump administration was considering military options to respond to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chlorine gas in early 2018—including an alleged February 25 chlorine attack on Al-Shifuniya itself.

Since Syrian state TV ran videos of the facility, Russia’s state-backed media outlet RT has amplified the story, calling the Al-Shifuniya site “a well-equipped chemical laboratory run by Saudi-backed Islamist terrorists” and the left-leaning Salon columnist Patrick Lawrence has cited the piece approvingly.

Source: RT

Russia’s defense ministry even seized on the facility and included it as evidence in a briefing denying Russian complicity in the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal—without directly tying to lab to the attack in Salisbury, England. “After liberating an array of local communities in Eastern Ghouta, Syrian government forces located a clandestine workshop for the production of chemical munitions,” a Russian defense ministry slide with pictures of the facility reads. “[It is clear] that the workshop for chemical munitions is for provocational measures, as with previous impositions of guilt on Syrian government forces for employing chemical weapons.”

Source

Videos of the Al-Shifuniya facility show fliers with the logo of Jaish al-Islam, one of the Islamist militant groups that held control of the the northeast Damascus suburbs.

Source: SANA

The videos also show equipment seemingly from commercial companies, like an air plant marked as the product of Hill-Rom, a medical device maker, a large metal container with a “Flainox” label, the name a fabric dyeing equipment firm, as well as several boiler-like metal containers in the basement.

Source: SANA

Source: SANA

Experts say it’s not clear what the facility in question was used for, but they are convinced that it couldn’t have been used to produce either the chlorine gas or sarin nerve agent that many believe were used in the fatal attack in Douma which prompted the U.S., France, and the U.K. to strike Syria on Friday.

Asked if the equipment in the videos of Al-Shifuniya could be used to produce chlorine gas, Cheryl Rofer, a retired chemist with experience working on chemical weapons and environmental issues at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said “no.”

Chlorine is typically produced with electrolysis cells using either large amounts of salt or hydrochloric acid as feedstock and lots of electricity to produce and recover the gas.

“Chlorine is a gas at room temperature and pressure,” explains Clyde Davies, a former research chemist. “Its ‘critical point’, below which it can be liquefied, is about 144 C, but it needs high pressure to do this, which is why it is stored and shipped in gas cylinders. Just like the ones that were dropped on Douma.”

The process can be dangerous and requires special equipment, according to the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism. “In the light of its corrosive and toxic nature, expertise and specialized equipment are required for its safe handling. For example, to transfer chlorine from a 1 ton container to smaller containers, a specialized filling station is required.”

And this facility isn’t anywhere near “the scale needed for the attacks that have been observed,” Rofer wrote in an email. “All of the equipment, except for the boilers, is at laboratory scale. But the more fundamental problem is that none of the equipment is what is needed to produce chlorine and compress it into the cylinders that [investigative journalism outlet] Bellingcat has documented” in Douma.

Nor could the facility to be used to produce nerve agents. “For sarin production, all of this would have to be much more contained than it is,” Rofer writes. The ramshackle construction in the facility would’ve put anyone nearby at high risk of exposure, which can cause harm at very low concentrations. “The housekeeping is terrible,” she adds. “When you’re working with chemicals, housekeeping is more than aesthetic; it’s necessary to avoid injuring yourself. If the setup in the [picture of glassware published by RT] was used to manufacture sarin, the operators are dead.”

Source: RT

Syrian military personnel also pointed to presence of allegedly Saudi chemistry textbooks and a poster as evidence of a foreign hand in the purported chemical weapons facility. As a Syrian military officer points out in the video, a poster with a list of chemicals on it bears the title “The reality and horizon of the Saudi Chemical Industry.” It’s unclear where the poster come from or what it depicts, but it shares the name of a report on Saudi Arabia’s chemical industry produced by the Saudi Consulting House.

Source: SANA

The Al-Shifuniya facility also showed some limited evidence of conventional homemade explosives (HME) production. Items listed on a whiteboard in videos of the facility include perchlorate, aluminum powder, nitrocellulose—chemicals normally associated with HME and rocket propellant—as well as “PETN,” an acronym for pentaerythritol tetranitrate, a common HME in militant improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“These are used to prepare explosives,” a Syrian officer explained in the video, claiming the explosives are mixed with chemical weapons.

Aluminum powder, often used in the production of ammonium nitrate and aluminum explosives, and nitrocellulose are frequently traded by would-be bomb-makers in rebel arms markets in Idlib province in northwest Syria.

Still, while the compounds written on a board are often associated with HME, the facility itself doesn’t appear consistent with other IED factories used for churning out large amounts of bombs. “The blue and yellow jugs are traditional IED main charge containers in Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria etc. But I’d expect bulk quantities of fertilizer, sugar, etc if they were making lots of HME, and I don’t see that. No wires, batteries, caps, triggers, etc to make IEDs,” Brian Castner, a former U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer and an Iraq War veteran, wrote in an email.

But perhaps the oddest thing about this Moscow-Damascus push to tie chemical attacks to a particular lab is how unnecessary it all is. Chlorine is a widely-used industrial chemical, after all. And reports by the UN’s Joint Investigative Mission, charged with investigating allegations of chemical weapons use, has noted that chlorine “is available to all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic.” Russia could’ve easily stuck to hiding behind the—admittedly thin—rhetorical shield of chlorine’s availability.

Russia and Syria have tried, time and again, to push a storyline that rebels have carried out false flag chemical attacks with secret stashes of foreign-supplied weapons. It hasn’t helped Damascus wriggle out of responsibility for previous chemical weapons attacks before, as a handful of UN investigations show. If Moscow wants its Syrian allies to skirt the blame for the alleged chemical attack in Douma, they’re going to have to come up with some better evidence than a few beakers and boilers in a dingy Ghouta basement.

By Adam Rawnsley, for Bellingcat

Adam Rawnsley is a Philadelphia-based reporter covering technology and national security. He co-authors FP’s Situation Report newsletter and has written for The Daily Beast, Wired, and War Is Boring. You can follow him on Twitter at @arawnsley.

This story was published in conjunction with The Daily Beast

Categories: World News

StopFake #180 with Marko Suprun

StopFake.org - Mon, 04/23/2018 - 12:18

Fake: President Porosenko wants Crimeans to be deprived of Ukrainian citizenship; Germany wants out of Russia sanctions; Ukrainian sailors threaten to return to Crimea; Ukrainian military stop residents from occupied territories from attending Easter servies.

Categories: World News

Fake: President Poroshenko Proposes Crimeans be Deprived of Ukrainian Citizenship

StopFake.org - Sat, 04/21/2018 - 20:51

This week the usual suspects – TASS, RIA Novosti, Ukraina.ru, RT, Lenta.ru announced that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko intends to deprive  of Ukrainian citizenship all those who live in Crimea and were forced to take Russian passports because of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.

Website screenshot TASS

Website screenshot Lenta.ru

“With this initiative, Petro Poroshenko actually recognizes the inhabitants of the peninsula as citizens of Russia” RT declared.

Meanwhile the Russia appointed leader of Crimea Sergei Aksionov rushed to reassure that, we never insisted that people give up their Ukrainian passports, except for civil servants, law enforcement personnel and the judiciary”.

Website screenshot Ukraina.ru

President Poroshenko has put forth amendments to the existing citizenship law to be considered by parliament.  The changes the President proposes will not deprive Crimeans of Ukrainian citizenship as Russian media claim, but rather will guarantee those citizenship rights.

Currently Ukraine’s citizenship law states that a person loses Ukrainian citizenship when he or she voluntarily takes on another citizenship. Poroshenko proposes that the law be amended to reflect cases when people take other citizenship unwillingly. The explanatory note Poroshenko submitted with the amendment proposal to parliament establishes “additional grounds for the loss of citizenship” but provides safeguards for those who live in the occupied territories of Ukraine”. Willing collaboration with Russian occupying authorities, participation in elections or serving in the army of another state though are grounds for loss of citizenship.

Russian media completely ignore the fact that the proposed amendments safeguard Ukrainian citizenship in cases where new citizenship is taken under coercion as is the case in illegally annexed Crimea.

The proposed amendments have a long way to go before becoming law and there is no guarantee that parliament will actually approve the President’s amendments. But these are insignificant details for the Kremlin propaganda machine and their anti-Ukrainian agenda.

Categories: World News

Manipulation: Ukrainian Sailors Threaten to Return to Crimea

StopFake.org - Sat, 04/21/2018 - 17:59

On April 18 RIA Novosti, Argumenty I Fakty, PolitNavigator, Moskovskyi Komsomolets and other Russian media disseminated a story claiming that Ukrainian sailors who left Crimea after it was annexed by Russia in 2014 were threatening to return to the occupied peninsula and take Russian citizenship.

Website screenshot PolitNavigator

Website screenshot МК

The source for this distorted claim was an open letter that a group of sailors wrote to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko calling on him to resolve housing shortages that Ukraine’s naval personnel resettled from Crimea were facing.

The open letter addresses housing concerns that naval personnel are confronted with on the mainland. Forced to leave their homes because of the annexation without any compensation, many of these naval personnel have struggled to find housing. They point out in the letter that they chose to remain faithful to their oath to serve their country, and because of that they and their families are facing social and housing difficulties. Previous appeals have fallen on deaf ears, they point out and in the four years since they were forced to leave their homes, these issues have not been resolved.

Обращение военных ч.2

At the end of the letter these naval personnel appeal to President Poroshenko to use his offices to resolve these housing issues and express hope that Ukraine’s leadership will not remain indifferent to their plight. “We hope Ukraine’s leadership won’t be indifferent in resolving this matter and won’t induce naval personnel who finish their tour of duty to return to Crimea, take Russian citizenship just to resolve this housing issue, thereby putting our lives and the lives of our families in danger” the servicemen conclude.

Russian media focused on this one and only sentence while completely ignoring an entire page of text that preceded it in which the naval personnel point out that they have always been patriots of their country, followed orders, many have served in the war in eastern Ukraine and have been decorated for their defense of country.

According to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry after Russia annexed Crimea 3991 military personnel, including 1649 officers left the peninsula for the Ukrainian mainland.

Categories: World News

Disinfo News: The “Troll” That Went Public

StopFake.org - Sat, 04/21/2018 - 01:53

By Polyghaph

It seems that not only were rumors of Ian56‘s (@Ian56789) Twitter “death” (suspension) on Thursday exaggerated, but on Friday afternoon the world became acquainted with the real man behind the Twitter account with over 32,000 followers. And contrary to what you see in his profile pic, he’s not male model David Gandy.

Ian56789 on Twitter vs Ian56789 in real life https://t.co/YOKc2xPopa pic.twitter.com/uJdXN9erwD

— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) 20 апреля 2018 г.

The British outlet Sky News managed to track down a British man who said he was responsible for the Ian56 account. He gave his name as Ian, but without a surname.

In an article by The Guardian, Ian56 had been incorrectly labeled as a Russian “bot,” a type of automated account that randomly retweets and likes other tweets on the platform. Experts, however, labeled the account as a “troll” and not a bot based on its activity and behavior such as using a fake profile pic, unnatural use of English, and a bio that contradicted many of his tweets..

If the Ian on Sky News really is behind Ian56, then Ian56 isn’t the creation of an employee of the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, better known as the “troll factory.”

Ben Nimmo, of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab which previously tracked the account’s activity, explained that by calling the account a bot, some media outlets and authorities actually helped Ian.

“Anyone who calls him a Russian bot is just handing him a propaganda win,” Nimmo told Polygraph.info. He’s a pro-Kremlin troll. “Not, as I suspected, a troll factory account. But a troll. People really, really need a lesson in what bots are,” said Nimmo.

On the other hand, the person behind the account, if it is the “Ian” on TV, apparently fooled the experts who thought they had the account pegged.

Polygraph.info sought comment from the account tweeting at Ian56 last month.

@Ian56789 Please send us your CV, any other identifying information as you have been identified by the Atlantic Council as a Russian troll. We are writing and offer you a response. polygraph-editors@voanews.com

— Polygraph (@PolygraphInfo) 27 марта 2018 г.


The account responded not with information on his identity, but by placing Polygraph.info’s Twitter account on a number of Twitter “lists,” a response at least one EU disinformation expert got as well.

I think someone is not very happy we exposed he/she’s been involved in many disinformation operations in the past two years.
News story here: https://t.co/wieFbxnYB4 pic.twitter.com/PjHhRr4P1q

— Alex. Alaphilippe (@AAlaphilippe) 7 апреля 2018 г.

“I am speaking for the vast majority of British people, 59-point-9 million out of 60-million English people,” said Ian on the Friday evening Sky News broadcast.

Alistair Bunkall of Sky News told Polygraph.info the operator of “Ian56” agreed to an interview by direct message, using a code to identify himself before the network went live via Skype. The network did not include his surname.

On Thursday, when Ian’s account was temporarily suspended, Polygraph.info sought commentary from Twitter on the reason behind the suspension. Twitter was unable to comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons. Twitter did not comment on the reinstatement of the account.

By Polyghaph

Categories: World News

OPCW Has UN Authorization to Inspect Alleged Chemical Attack Site

StopFake.org - Fri, 04/20/2018 - 01:15

UN vehicles carrying Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) team of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrive at the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, Syria, 14 April 2018. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ fact-finding chemical weapons expert team arrived to Damascus to investigate last week’s alleged Syrian government chemical attack in the former rebel-held town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta. EPA-EFE/YOUSSEF BADAWI

Sergei Ryabkov

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister

“Everything rested on the absence of UN Secretariat security department approval for a visit by OPCW experts to the site of the events in Douma.”

Source: TASS

FALSE

The UN has confirmed the OPCW has authorization to inspect the site.

On April 16, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told journalists that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were unable to reach the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma because of a lack of coordination with the U.N. Secretariat’s security department. This was after the British delegation to the OPCW tweeted that Russian and Syrian authorities were denying access to the inspection team.

#OPCW Director Gen briefs Exec Council on his Fact Finding Mission’s deployment to

Categories: World News

Russian Social Media Influence: Understanding Russian Propaganda in Eastern Europe

StopFake.org - Fri, 04/20/2018 - 01:02

By Todd C. Helmus, Elizabeth Bodine-Baron, Andrew Radin, Madeline Magnuson, Joshua Mendelsohn, William Marcellino, Andriy Bega, Zev Winkelman, for RAND

A RAND Corporation study examined Russian-language content on social media and the broader propaganda threat posed to the region of former Soviet states that include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and, to a lesser extent, Moldova and Belarus. In addition to employing a state-funded multilingual television network, operating various Kremlin-supporting news websites, and working through several constellations of Russia-backed “civil society” organizations, Russia employs a sophisticated social media campaign that includes news tweets, nonattributed comments on web pages, troll and bot social media accounts, and fake hashtag and Twitter campaigns. Nowhere is this threat more tangible than in Ukraine, which has been an active propaganda battleground since the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Other countries in the region look at Russia’s actions and annexation of Crimea and recognize the need to pay careful attention to Russia’s propaganda campaign.

To conduct this study, RAND researchers employed a mixed-methods approach that used careful quantitative analysis of social media data to understand the scope of Russian social media campaigns combined with interviews with regional experts and U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization security experts to understand the critical ingredients to countering this campaign.

Research Questions
  1. What is the scope of Russian social media campaigns?
  2. What are the critical ingredients to countering these campaigns?
Key Findings Russia’s goals in its near abroad differ from those for farther-flung states
  • In the Baltics, Ukraine, and other nearby states, the Kremlin aims to drive wedges between ethnic Russian or Russian-speaking populations and their host governments, NATO, and the European Union
  • Farther abroad, the Kremlin attempts to achieve policy paralysis by sowing confusion, stoking fears, and eroding trust in Western and democratic institutions.
Specific communities spread and discuss propaganda
  • RAND identified a Russian activist community on Twitter that consists of approximately 41,000 users who both consume and disseminate anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia propaganda.
  • An opposing Ukrainian activist Twitter community also exists and consists of nearly 39,000 users spreading pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia content.
Broader challenges affect counterpropaganda efforts in the region
  • The high presence of Russian-language populations in the region who descend from Soviet-era migrants and whose host countries have refused them citizenship gives Russia a sympathetic audience.
  • Government policies prioritizing national languages have limited government outreach via the Russian language.
  • Russian broadcast media dominate in the region. Ukraine, however, has censored Russian government broadcasting and a popular Russian social media platform.
  • Social media activists, websites, news sources, and others actively disseminate their own pro-Russia propaganda content without obvious direct support from the Russian state.
  • The panoply of European Union, U.S., and North Atlantic Treaty Organization actors engaged in counterpropaganda efforts challenges coordination and synchronization.
  • Heavy-handed anti-Russia messaging could backfire in the region, given local skepticism of Western propaganda.
Recommendations
  • Highlight and “block” Russian propaganda (RP).
  • Build the resilience of at-risk populations. Introduce media literacy training in the education system to help Russian colinguists and others in the region better identify fake news and other propagandist content. Consider launching a public information campaign that can more immediately teach media literacy to a mass audience.
  • Expand and improve local and original content to displace the Russian media narrative. Empower social media and other activists in the region by identifying key influencers and offering a series of programming geared to enhance their influence potential. Train journalists and fund the creation of alternative media content.
  • Better tell the U.S., North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and European Union (EU) story. The United States, NATO, and EU should offer a compelling argument for populations to align with the West or with individual nation-states. NATO should also better communicate the purpose and intent of its Enhanced Forward Presence units now stationed in the Baltics.
  • Track Russian media and develop analytic methods. Identify fake-news stories and their sources, understand Russian narrative themes and content, and understand the broader Russian strategy that underlies tactical propaganda messaging. In addition, use resonance analysis to track the impact and spread of RP and influence.

By Todd C. Helmus, Elizabeth Bodine-Baron, Andrew Radin, Madeline Magnuson, Joshua Mendelsohn, William Marcellino, Andriy Bega, Zev Winkelman, for RAND

Categories: World News

Figure of the Week: 0

StopFake.org - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 19:09

By EU vs Disinfo

“Not a single Russian-language school is left in Kyiv.”

This sensational headline recently appeared on Ukraina.ru, a Russian website well-known for spreading disinformation about Ukraine.

The claim, like much of the “news” published on Ukraina.ru, is entirely bogus.

As Ukraine’s StopFake reports, as many as 16 schools in the Ukrainian capital currently offer Russian-language curriculums.

Two other outlets, Novorossia.Inform and Novostnoe Agenstvo Kharkov, published the false claim. All three stories quote Ukraine’s education ministry, with Ukraina.ru referring to official figures published by the television channel 112 Ukraina.

A closer look at the channel’s website, however, shows that the allegedly official statistics are in fact a simple Excel sheet without any stamp, link, or other indication of its source.

The disinformation story was released after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on January 23 calling for greater protection of minority languages across all its member states.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Measuring the reach of “fake news” and online disinformation in Europe

StopFake.org - Mon, 02/05/2018 - 18:41

By Reuters Institute

In this factsheet by Richard Fletcher, Alessio Cornia, Lucas Graves and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, we provide top-level usage statistics for the most popular sites that independent fact-checkers and other observers have identified as publishers of false news and online disinformation. We focus on two European countries: France and Italy. We examine France and Italy as two particularly important cases, as both are widely seen as facing serious issues with for-profit and ideologically/politically motivated online disinformation.

We find that:

  • None of the false news websites we considered had an average monthly reach of over 3.5% in 2017, with most reaching less than 1% of the online population in both France and Italy. By comparison, the most popular news websites in France (Le Figaro) and Italy (La Repubblica) had an average monthly reach of 22.3% and 50.9%, respectively;
  • The total time spent with false news websites each month is lower than the time spent with news websites. The most popular false news websites in France were viewed for around 10 million minutes per month, and for 7.5 million minutes in Italy. People spent an average of 178 million minutes per month with Le Monde, and 443 million minutes with La Repubblica—more than the combined time spent with all 20 false news sites in each sample;
  • Despite clear differences in terms of website access, the level of Facebook interaction (defined as the total number of comments, shares, and reactions) generated by a small number of false news outlets matched or exceeded that produced by the most popular news brands. In France, one false news outlet generated an average of over 11 million interactions per month—five times greater than more established news brands. However, in most cases, in both France and Italy, false news outlets do not generate as many interactions as established news brands.

We have shown that many of the most prominent identified false news websites in these countries are far less popular than major established news sites. However, the difference between false news sites and news sites in terms of interactions on Facebook is less clear-cut. We believe that online disinformation is an important issue that the public, publishers, platform companies, policymakers, and other stakeholders should pay serious attention to. But overall, our analysis of the available evidence suggests that false news has more limited reach than is sometimes assumed.

Download Measuring the reach of “fake news” and online distribution in Europe

By Reuters Institute

Categories: World News

StopFake #169 [ENG] with Christi Anne Hofland

StopFake.org - Mon, 02/05/2018 - 11:46

Fake: Russian language woes in Ukraine; Ukraine leads post-Soviet states in anti-Semitism; HIV and AIDS from Donbas sweeping across Ukraine.

Categories: World News

StopFake Helps Schools to Teach Media Literacy

StopFake.org - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 10:46

StopFake became a partner of Learn to Discern – Schools (L2D-s) project, a first-of-its-kind media and information literacy initiative. The project was launched on February 2 in Kyiv.

L2D-s aims to equip secondary school students in Ukraine with the critical thinking and media literacy skills they need to build resilience against disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Science, L2D-s will pilot educational materials to be integrated into existing curricula at 50 secondary schools across four cities: Chernihiv, Ternopil, Mariupol, and Dnipro. StopFake is assisting in development the educational materials for school-children.

The project is funded by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine and the British Embassy Kyiv. It is implemented by IREX, whose Learn to Discern curriculum was first piloted among the general public in Ukraine from 2015 to 2016, also in partnership with StopFake and Academy of Ukrainian Press. During that stage of the project, a handbook on media literacy was developed and 14 thousand of people participated in trainings on media literacy held in 14 regions of Ukraine.

Categories: World News

The Daily Vertical: One-way sovereignty (Transcript)

StopFake.org - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 18:45

Brian Whitmore

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

So what exactly is sovereignty and what exactly constitutes a violation of it?

It’s a question that is apparently high on the agenda in the Federation Council in the aftermath of the doping scandal that got Russia banned from the Winter Olympics and amid the prospect of new Western sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime.

According to a report in RBK, the upper house of Russia’s parliament is considering legislation that would precisely define Russia’s sovereignty and criminalize violations against it.

RBK quoted lawmakers working on the bill as saying that sovereignty means the absolute power of the state inside Russian territory — and any attempt to limit or influence that absolute power is illegal.

Federation Council deputy Lyudmila Bokova, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, says Russia needs a “mirror-like response” to foreign violations of Russian sovereignty.

The mirror, however, appears a bit distorted.

Kremlin officials, for example, have called things like international investigations into illegal Russian doping, Western sanctions against Russian officials, and Western media publishing reports critical of Moscow as violations of Russian sovereignty.

But the Putin regime clearly doesn’t seem to think Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in the Donbas as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

And it doesn’t appear to have a problem with its own de facto occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Transdniester in Moldova.

For the Kremlin, sovereignty appears to be a one-way street.

Russia’s is considered absolute and even extends well beyond its borders.

Everybody else’s, especially that of Russia’s neighbors, is limited, conditional, and negotiable.

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

Categories: World News

Cyber attacks on defense minister undermine bilateral relations

StopFake.org - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 18:41

By Dalia Bankauskaitė, for CEPA

On 18 January, Lithuania experienced a cyber attack  aimed at TV3.lt—the website of a major Lithuanian TV channel—in which hackers inserted false information about Raimundas Karoblis, the minister of national defense. According to the story, Karoblis admitted to being gay and was accused of sexual harassment by a well-known radio journalist and some diplomats. In contrast to previous cyber attacks on the country, this story was written in good Lithuanian. TV3.lt removed the fake article within five minutes, but emails from the website’s account with the false story attached were sent to a number of prominent Lithuanians—politicians, ministers, foreign diplomatic missions, and other news sites. The initial IP address led to St. Petersburg, Russia, and the National Cyber Security Center of Lithuania started an investigation. The cyber attack took place two days after Lithuania released the Magnitsky List, which names 49 Russian citizens banned from entering Lithuania for violating human rights.

But the point here is that every crime has a motive. To paraphrase a Russian saying, Russian hackers and designers of cyber attacks are not as stupid as they look, or as some would like them to be. It is obvious that this false story was meant to be spotted immediately. If the idea was really to compromise the defense minister, the hackers would probably have instead employed much more subtle, effective measures based on longstanding practices of the Russian intelligence services.

What, then, might be the motive of the cyber attack against Karoblis?

First, since the email contained attachments with a virus, any official addressee who opened it–there were only a few—would have had their computers infected. So the aim could have been to get access to a decision-maker’s computer and phone data. The hackers played on the natural inquisitiveness of human nature: inventing an absurd story makes the attachment more tempting to open.

Second, the cyber attack could have been meant to test the resilience of Lithuanian information systems, the speed and scope of their reaction, and how quickly the false message might spread and be received. News websites are attractive targets for cyber attacks because they are information disseminators. Moreover, such sites are a key source of information for citizens in case of emergency. What if these news websites contained lies, false information, or disinformation?

Third, some analysts claimed the attack is an extension of Russia’s Zapad 2017 military exercises. In this instance, the Kremlin repeatedly shows that cyber attacks are integrated into its conventional offensive strategy. During last September’s Zapad 2017 exercises, Russian radio-electronic combat forces disabled much of Latvia’s mobile network and as well as GPS signals in Norwegian air space.

Zapad 2017 aside, Lithuania’s information environment is constantly exposed to Russian cyber attacks, big and small. Consider the following:

  • In September 2017, the Facebook account of Lithuania’s defense minister was hacked.
  • In June 2017, Lithuania authorities reported that they had found Russian spyware in three government office computers.
  • In February 2017, emails accusing the German-led NATO battalion in Lithuania of sexually assaulting “Lisa”— a teenager who did not exist—were sent to Lithuania’s political elite.
  • A cyber attack similar to those which took place during Zapad 2017 occurred in June 2015 during the international “Saber Strike” military exercise. At that time the website of the Joint Headquarters of the Lithuanian Army was hacked, and a false story claiming that NATO forces had conducted a military exercise to annex the Kaliningrad region was inserted. The story also claimed that the Forest Brothers—Baltic partisans who waged a guerrilla war against the Soviet occupation of the three Baltic states during and after World War II—would attack Kaliningrad.

Given these repeated Kremlin provocations, one wonders whether it is really possible to build the kind of mutually constructive bilateral relations Moscow says it wants.

By Dalia Bankauskaitė, for CEPA

Dalia Bankauskaitė is an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington, D.C. She has extensive professional experience in strategic and integrated communication in public (central and local) and private sectors of Lithuania, Balkans, Ukraine and Georgia. She served as a political counsellor at the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow and served as an Advisor to the European Affairs Committee at the Lithuanian Parliament. Ms. Bankauskaitė holds a Master’s degree from the LSE, UK and EMBA from Baltic Management Institute in Lithuania.

Categories: World News

Update on Twitter’s Review of the 2016 U.S. Election

StopFake.org - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 18:36

By Twitter PublicPolicy

Updated on January 31, 2018

We have expanded the number of people notified about interactions with Twitter accounts potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency. Our notice efforts are focused on certain types of interactions, and they will not encompass every person that ever saw this content. Our goal in providing these notifications is to advance public awareness of and engagement with the important issues raised in our blog post, and provide greater transparency to our account holders and the public.

We have now sent notices to Twitter users with an active email address who our records indicate are based in the US and fall into at least one of the following categories:

  • People who directly engaged during the election period with the 3,814 IRA-linked accounts we identified, either by Retweeting, quoting, replying to, mentioning, or liking those accounts or content created by those accounts;
  • People who were actively following one of the identified IRA-linked accounts at the time those accounts were suspended; and
  • People who opt out of receiving most email updates from Twitter and would not have received our initial notice based on their email settings.

Approximately 1.4 million people have now received a notification from Twitter. We will be sending a short survey to a small group of people who received our notification to gain feedback on this process. As our review continues, we may also email additional users. If and when we do so, we will do our best to keep the public updated.

Original post from January 29, 2018

When we appeared before the United States Congress last fall, Twitter publicly committed to regularly updating both congressional committees and the public on findings from our ongoing review into events surrounding the 2016 U.S. election.

Twitter is committed to providing a platform that fosters healthy civic discourse and democratic debate.  We have been cooperating with congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. We have committed to be as transparent as possible about sharing what we have learned through our retroactive investigation into activity related to the election.

Since we presented our findings to Congress last fall, we have updated our analysis and continue to look for patterns and signals in data. Today, we are sharing an update on several aspects of that ongoing work, as well as steps we are taking to continue to make progress against potential manipulation of our platform.

Informing People of Malicious Activity in the 2016 Election

As previously announced, we identified and suspended a number of accounts that were potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period. Because we have already suspended these accounts, the relevant content on Twitter is no longer publicly available.

Examples of IRA Content

Most user engagement was with a very small number of IRA-associated accounts.  Some examples of content which received significant engagement are:

Updated Numbers of IRA Accounts

As part of our ongoing review, we have identified both more IRA and automated Russia-based accounts. The results of this supplemental analysis are consistent with the results of our previous work: automated election-related content associated with Russian signals represented a very small fraction of the overall activity on Twitter in the ten-week period preceding the 2016 election.

We have identified an additional 1,062 accounts associated with the IRA. We have suspended all of these accounts for Terms of Service violations, primarily spam, and all but a few accounts, which were restored to legitimate users, remain suspended.  At the request of congressional investigators, we are also sharing those account handles with Congress. In total, during the time period we investigated, the 3,814 identified IRA-linked accounts posted 175,993 Tweets, approximately 8.4% of which were election-related.

We have also provided Congress with the results of our supplemental analysis into activity believed to be automated, election-related activity originating out of Russia during the election period. Through our supplemental analysis, we have identified 13,512 additional accounts, for a total of 50,258 automated accounts that we identified as Russian-linked and Tweeting election-related content during the election period, representing approximately two one-hundredths of a percent (0.016%) of the total accounts on Twitter at the time.  However any such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere, and we’re committed to continuing to work on this important issue.

Enhancing Information Quality

After the 2016 election, we launched our Information Quality initiative to further develop strategies to detect and prevent bad actors from abusing our platform. We have since made significant improvements, while recognizing that we have more to do as these patterns of activity develop and shift over time.

With our current capabilities, we detect and block approximately 523,000 suspicious logins daily for being generated through automation. In December 2017, our systems identified and challenged more than 6.4 million suspicious accounts globally per week— a 60% increase in our detection rate from October 2017. We have developed new techniques for identifying malicious automation (such as near-instantaneous replies to Tweets, non-random Tweet timing, and coordinated engagement). We have improved our phone verification process and introduced new challenges, including reCAPTCHAs to validate that a human is in control of an account.

Alongside these improvements, we’re continuing to expand enforcement of our developer and automation rules. Since June 2017, we’ve removed more than 220,000 applications in violation of our rules, collectively responsible for more than 2.2 billion low-quality Tweets.

In 2018, we will build upon our existing improvements. Our plans include:

  • Investing further in machine-learning capabilities that help us detect and mitigate the effect on users of fake, coordinated, and automated account activity;
  • Limiting the ability of users to perform coordinated actions across multiple accounts in Tweetdeck and via the Twitter API;
  • Continuing the expansion of our new developer onboarding process to better manage the use cases for developers building on Twitter’s API. This will help us improve how we enforce our policies on restricted uses of our developer products, including rules on the appropriate use of bots and automation.

Media Literacy and Partnerships

We recognize that Twitter is an important part of a larger ecosystem of how news and information spreads online, and that we have a responsibility to support external programs that empower our users, connecting them with resources to give them control over their online experience.

Our partners Common Sense Media, the National Association for Media Literacy, the Family Online Safety Institute and Connect Safely, amongst others, have helped us to craft materials and conduct workshops to help our users learn how to process online information and understand which sources of news have integrity. We focus on elements like verification of sources, critical thinking, active citizenship online and the breaking down of digital divides.

Learn more about our most recent efforts for Media Literacy Week in countries like the U.S., Canada and Ireland, and follow our partners @MediaLiteracyEd, @CommonSenseEdu and @ConnectSafely for new initiatives like the Teachers Institute at Twitter HQ.

Twitter is proud to partner with journalistic NGOs for trainings and outreach initiatives, including Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. We will keep working with reporters, journalism NGOs, and media organizations to ensure that Twitter’s full capabilities are built into newsrooms and established media outlets worldwide.

Moving Forward

Even as we continue to learn from the events of the 2016 U.S. election, we are taking steps every day to improve the security of our platform and stay one step ahead of those who would abuse it. As part of our preparations for the U.S. midterm elections, our teams are organizing to:

  • Verify major party candidates for all statewide and federal elective offices, and major national party accounts, as a hedge against impersonation;
  • Maintain open lines of communication to federal and state election officials to quickly escalate issues that arise;
  • Address escalations of account issues with respect to violations of Twitter Rules or applicable laws;
  • Continually improve and apply our anti-spam technology to address networks of malicious automation targeting election-related matters; and
  • Monitor trends and spikes in conversations relating to the 2018 elections for potential manipulation activity.

We are committed to ensuring that Twitter is safe and secure for all users and serves to advance healthy civic discussion and engagement. Our work on these issues will never be done, and we will continue in our efforts to protect Twitter against bad actors and networks of malicious automation and manipulation.

By Twitter PublicPolicy

Categories: World News