German media is reporting that websites of large German media brands have been recreated “in a deceptively real way” and that hundreds of fake accounts have shared articles by these fake websites on social media. The influence operation has been described as the “biggest pro-Russian disinformation campaign to date.” According to a ZDF report:
August 29, 2022 It is the biggest disinformation campaign to date: fake media sites spread pro-Russian propaganda, hundreds of fake accounts share it en masse on social media. […] Attempts to influence public opinion in Germany with pro-Russian propaganda have apparently reached unprecedented levels. In a new, large-scale disinformation campaign, strangers have recreated websites of large media brands such as Bild, Welt, t‑online or Spiegel in a deceptively real way in order to publish exactly such false news and fake videos. In a second step, an army of specially created fake accounts spread this fake news on social media. […] The tenor of most of the videos and reports: the sanctions against Russia must end, otherwise Germany will become impoverished, there is a risk of hunger, people could freeze to death in winter, and the economy would collapse. The aim of the campaign: to unsettle the population and create a mood against the sanctions. […] But even if many of the pages could be deleted — the videos are still circulating on social media and the counterfeiters are constantly providing new supplies. The perfidy: An army of probably hundreds of fake profiles on Facebook and Twitter spread the content thousands of times. [Translated with Google Translate]
Read the full report here.
The report notes that many fake accounts pushing the articles had striking similarities. For instance, most profiles were created in May and June 2022, most profile pictures were generated by artificial intelligence, and many profiles stated “Netflix” in their employer and education information.
The Global Influence Operations Report previously reported about a network of automated websites spreading pro-Russian disinformation, which were constructed similarly and published a high volume of largely benign content translated into English, sourced from around the Internet. This time, however, the pro-Russian propaganda was spread through websites that looked exactly like the websites of big German outlets such as Welt, Spiegel, or Bild, suggesting a professionalization of Russian disinformation.