A couple of days ago, I lampooned a story that made the front page of “Sputnik,” the Kremlin-backed, English-language media outlet whose mission it is to seed Moscow-friendly bullshit in the American news cycle.
You can read that hilarious post here: “Halloween-Themed Russian Propaganda Site Uncovers Nefarious Syria Plot.” Even if you’re not interested, I recommend giving it a skim just for the comedic value.
In that post I also referred readers back to this piece, “Reuters Exclusive: How You Were Duped By RT, Sputnik, And US-Based Blogger,” in which Reuters verified the existence of a dynamic I’ve been discussing since this site’s inception late last year. Here are the important excerpts from me:
I’ve long contended that, as conspiratorial as it may sound, all manner of alt-Right websites were engaged in a 24-7, Russia-sponsored propaganda push to sway public opinion in the US ahead of last year’s election.
What the vast majority of netizens (both liberal and conservative) in the US don’t understand is how concentrated an effort this truly was. And more importantly, it wasn’t just carried out via blatantly fake, fly-by-night websites.
Rather, this was an effort that utilized some of the most “trusted” alt-Right portals as conduits. Portals which are just as popular (if not more so) today than they were in the lead-up to the election. Portals which I guarantee some HR readers still frequent. These are the sites I commonly refer to as “progeny” of Breitbart.
One of the most common tactics among such sites was to create a veritable echo chamber of bullshit. To be sure, all media is an echo chamber of bullshit. That goes for Fox and Breitbart on the Right and for CNN, MSNBC, etc. on the Left.
But this was different.
What these sites did was take stories (likely emanating from emissaries in the remnants of the Eastern bloc), combine them with what, on the surface, looked like learned analysis, and then pass them around to each other, creating the illusion of legitimacy and journalistic veracity.
Often, those stories would be subsequently cited by RT and Sputnik (popular Russian state-owned, English language propaganda outlets). Then, the very same sites would turn around and cite the very same RT and Sputnik as proof that they were correct.
By the time the recycling exercise was complete, no one could tell where the story originally came from.
And here’s what Reuters said about that very same process:
Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump’s quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.
Russia Today and Sputnik published anti-Clinton stories while pro-Kremlin bloggers prepared a Twitter campaign calling into question the fairness of an anticipated Clinton victory, according to a report by U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the election made public in January. [bit.ly/2kMiKSA]
Russia Today did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Sputnik dismissed the assertions by the U.S. officials that it participated in a Kremlin campaign as an “absolute pack of lies.”
Yes, “an absolute pack of lies,” in that way where “absolute pack of lies” means “that’s exactly what we were doing”.
Well, guess what? The same goddamn thing happened with the #MACRONLEAKS fiasco, specifically on Friday evening.
Check this out from The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab:
With less than two days to go before the final round of the French Elections, an emerging hashtag campaign, #MacronLeaks, was amplified throughout multiple social media platforms. #MacronLeaks reached 47,000 tweets in just three and a half hours after the initial tweet. This hashtag guided users to an alleged, possibly 9 GB, leak of Emmanuel Macron’s “campaign emails,” reportedly showing evidence of offshore accounts, tax evasion, and a slew of other nefarious activities.
Through a machine analysis, DFRLab tracked the onset of the campaign to the Twitter account of Jack Posobiec, the Washington DC Bureau Chief of an obscure, alt-right website, theRebelMedia. Posobiec’s bio on theRebel.media reveals that “in 2016, Jack was the Special Projects Director for Citizens for Trump, the largest Trump grassroots organization in the US,” and he is “a proud member of #SlavRight,” a nationalist Slavic movement.
The amplification of this “leak” came a day after Jack Posobiec claimed he was “being sued” by Emmanuel Macron. The hashtag also appeared hours before midnight in Paris when the official deadline to halt campaign activity was set.
Some 90 minutes after Posobiec began tweeting, his posts were retweeted by two of nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen’s most active and aggressive online supporters, @Messsmer and @AudreyPatriote, both of whom the DFRLab has identified as the leaders of numerous pro-Le Pen hashtag drives (see here and here).
These accounts then began posting their own tweets, sharing WikiLeaks’ posts.
@Messsmer and @AudreyPatriote have a history of cooperation on hashtag drives, and those hashtag drives are usually amplified by likely bots.
Those include the accounts @patricia691503 and @Georges_Resist, both of which posted dozens of retweets in a span of two hours. They also include @Languillem, which in March was the most active amplifier of Kremlin outlets RT and Sputnik in French, as the DFRLab has reported.
Go figure, right?
This is the same old game. And I’ll bet you unwittingly (and probably unwillingly) fell for it.
Here’s a fun exercise, Google the above-mentioned Jack Posobiec with the names of some of the sites you frequent and see if you can find instances of an echo chamber effect between Jack and those sites. Trust me, it won’t take you long to get some hits.
This also kind of makes you question the legitimacy of some of these sites’ traffic numbers and their social media engagement.