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How A Network of Automated Websites Spreads Pro-Russian Disinformation

March 29th, 2021 14:32

The Ger­man Mar­shall Fund’s Alliance for Secur­ing Democ­ra­cy, a US think tank, is report­ing about an obscure net­work of auto­mat­ed web­sites spread­ing pro-Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion. Accord­ing to the GMF report:

Feb­ru­ary 25, 2021 Corona24[.]news, one of the obscure web­sites push­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion about Ukraini­ans and the U.S. COVID-19 vac­cine, went inac­tive some­time around late 2020. While live, its oper­a­tions were sus­pi­cious. The web­site took arti­cles from oth­er sources around the world, includ­ing legit­i­mate news out­lets, trans­lat­ed the con­tent into Eng­lish, and repub­lished the text under the ban­ner of “Coro­na 24 News.” Corona24[.]news pub­lished an extreme­ly high vol­ume of arti­cles usu­al­ly sourced from main­stream news out­lets, many from around Europe, and passed them through what appeared to be an auto­mat­ed con­tent deliv­ery sys­tem. Yet some of its sto­ries showed slight mod­i­fi­ca­tions, includ­ing the arti­cle from the Lugan­sk Media Cen­ter, which accused the Unit­ed States of killing Ukrain­ian ser­vice mem­bers with a coro­n­avirus vac­cine. In total, Coro­na 24 News pub­lished hun­dreds of thou­sands of arti­cles, most direct copies of orig­i­nal source mate­r­i­al, mak­ing these selec­tive mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the Lugan­sk Media Cen­ter piece high­ly unusual.

Read the rest here.

The report notes that the web­site Corona24.news oper­at­ed as part of a col­lec­tion of web­sites all con­struct­ed in a sim­i­lar fash­ion and pub­lished a high vol­ume of large­ly benign con­tent trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish, sourced from around the Inter­net. The sites usu­al­ly include some ref­er­ence to “24” in their domain names, although half of them have already gone offline:

  • italy24news.com (online)
  • de24.news (online)
  • fr24news.com (offline)
  • en24.news (offline)
  • news24.news (offline)
  • saudi24news.com (online)
  • web24.news (offline)
  • football24.news (online)

Past Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report cov­er­age of coor­di­nat­ed dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns includes:

  • In March, we dis­cov­ered that YouTube had been flood­ed with videos white­wash­ing China’s human rights vio­la­tions in Xinjiang.
  • In Jan­u­ary, we report­ed that pro-Krem­lin media had shift­ed from Covid-19 dis­in­for­ma­tion to pro­mot­ing Russ­ian vaccines.
  • In Jan­u­ary, we report­ed that the EU had increased its efforts to com­bat Russ­ian disinformation.