UK media is reporting that as the biggest western social media companies have tightened their policies around disinformation on their platforms, Russian propaganda efforts have pivoted to find new tactics and outlets. According to the Financial Times:
September 23, 2021 Since 2017, the biggest western social media companies have tried to tighten their policies around propaganda and disinformation on their platforms. Facebook said it had removed more than 6,000 Russian-linked accounts, pages and groups from its main site and Instagram in that time period. Twitter said it had banned more than 5,000 Russian accounts since 2018 and YouTube said it had removed more than 2m Russian videos since 2019. Many of the banned posts and accounts have been linked to the internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-backed group that was accused of using social media to try to influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, or to the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. In response, Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts have pivoted to find new outlets, said Vasily Gatov, a visiting fellow at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. […]
Researchers at Cardiff University found that the reader comment sections of western media outlets such as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, Fox News and Der Spiegel are increasingly being manipulated by propagandists, who then point to pro-Kremlin comments as evidence of sympathy for the Russian government in the west. The comments are used as the basis for positive news stories in the Russian media, such as the news website inoSMI.ru, with headlines such as “Fox News readers: Russians are afraid of no one” and “German readers: Russians will always be one step ahead of Nato.” InoSMI.ru is an online media outlet that translates foreign press articles about Russia and its interests abroad, for Russian-speaking audiences in Russia and eastern Europe. It is part of Rossiya Segodnya, a news agency owned and operated by the Russian government. It garners about 270,000 unique visits per day and from February to April 2021, more than two-thirds of its articles followed the “readers think” formula.
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The FT article notes that content from InoSMI.ru, in turn, gets reposted by an extensive international network of news sites across Europe, such as the PolitRussia and the Patriot Media Group, a conglomerate owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin. A US grand jury indicted Prigozhin for organizing activities interfering with the 2016 US presidential election.
In September, we reported that major Western media outlets across 16 countries had been targeted by a coordinated disinformation campaign posting pro-Russian statements in the comment sections of articles relevant to Russia.