China Information Operations Newsletter 4 May 2022
4 May 2022
The Russian troll factory is back & fake fact-checking is a disinformation tactic
We share our research and colleagues’ analyses that explain how misinformation operations during the Russia-Ukraine war are changing the global information environment. The newsletter is a collaboration between the Programme on Democracy and Technology and PeaceTech Lab. It is prepared by Dr Aliaksandr Herasimenka with the assistance of Danielle Recanati.
TikTok has become “one of the leading platforms” for false videos about the war in Ukraine. An investigation conducted by BBC identified the most common categories of misleading content on the platform. These include fabricated livestreams that use old footage and misleading audio to solicit donations, footage originating from military video games, and dated videos from the 2014 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is despite the decision by TikTok to self-ban its operations in Russia by walling off Russian users from seeing any posts at all from outside the country.
Yandex, often referred to as the “Google of Russia,” was revealed to be one of the key tools of Kremlin propaganda. According to an investigation published by Meduza, the company inbuilt self-censorship algorithms in its popular News Feed used by up to 50 million users to promote Kremlin’s agenda before the war in Ukraine. During the war, the Feed withheld credible information about the war. At the same time, the Yandex search engine censored content related to alleged Russian war crime episodes, such as one committed in Bucha. This investigation is likely to further damage trust in the “Google of Russia” domestically.
Russian “troll factory” is back and hijacks western online conversations about Ukraine, warns research commissioned by the British government. The troll factory is targeting politicians and baiting audiences across many countries, including India, South Africa, and the UK. It relies on VPNs to avoid detection, tries to coordinate vast networks of supporters and uses them to amplify “organic” content supporting the Kremlin’s position.
Domestic and external actors across Africa are replicating Russian disinformation tactics. According to the African Center for Strategic Studies (USA), Russia’s information operations across the continent are inspiring misinformation campaigns by other foreign governments and domestic actors in several African countries. It is increasingly difficult to detect and remove these campaigns given that those responsible are “outsourcing posting operations to ‘franchised influencers’ who are supplied content from a central source.”
The Kremlin-backed media are leveraging fact-checking tropes to spread disinformation about the war in Ukraine, threatening the credibility of “fact-checking as an institution.” DFRLab has identified a network of outlets promoting fake fact-checking, which includes Telegram channels, Russian government social media accounts, and VK accounts. These “fact-checks” have reached millions of Russians and become prominent in English-speaking communities.
The Ukraine-Russian ConflictMisinfo.org Dashboard tracks and visualises debunked claims about the war in Ukraine. It sources information from hundreds of trusted fact-checkers worldwide through Google Fact Check Tools. The project is a product of the Social Media Lab at Toronto Metropolitan University.
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