Use Putin Fox News for propaganda

The fight against Putin's fake news

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Vladimir Putin's face was a study. His host, French President Emmanuel Macron, stood next to him at a press conference and practically accused Putin of being behind a Russian fake news attack against him during the election campaign. "Sputnik and Russia Today did not behave like media representatives, but like tools of influence and propaganda - false propaganda," Macron said.

Russia Today (RT), which is also available in a German edition, and Sputnik News are Russian state media. They have a huge budget, bases all over the world, are very professional and have the task of creating confusion in the western world and Putin's strategic goals - separation of the EU from the USA and fragmentation by means of cleverly used disinformation and outspoken fake news of the EU - to operate. In the case of Macron, they tried to portray him as a US spy and - in the game about the gang together with the National Front - as a homosexual.

"They have much better tools than the old KGB in the Soviet Union," says a representative of the East Stratcom Task Force in Brussels, a department of the EU Commission. "In the 1970s, the KGB really had to work hard to get a disinformazia story into a Western medium. Today these stories hiss like lightning through dozens of countries."

The East Stratcom Task Force is trying to do something about it, with modest means: a dozen employees, a rather old-fashioned website (eeas.europa.eu) and a dry enumeration of disinformation (euvsdisinfo.eu).

Report and falsify

Stratcom was founded in 2015 by the EU Council of Presidents and Heads of Government with the express aim of counteracting Russian propaganda through disinformation, but also the values ​​of the EU in countries of the Eastern Partnership (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus) to convey.

The strongest weapon of the small department is probably a network of around 400 institutions and people, including several media outlets, which report Russian fake news and in some cases also falsify it.

The most famous example: In Lithuania, a message was sent out that a German Bundeswehr soldier (from the NATO contingent there) had raped a girl from an orphanage. This was intended to delegitimize the stationing of NATO troops to protect against Russian attacks in the Baltic states.

Local news media immediately reported this to their own Ministry of Defense, but also to Stratcom, and it was quickly discovered that the message was being distributed via a wrong email address and that the informant from the orphanage did not even exist. The fake or hoax could be stopped before it spread dangerously.

Destabilize target countries

In the case of another "rape story", this did not happen so quickly: Russian broadcasters broadcast an underage German-Russian girl who was abused by migrants in Berlin. Hundreds of Russian Germans demonstrated furiously. But the allegedly kidnapped girl Lisa had only stayed with her boyfriend.

In this way, Putin wants to destabilize the target countries, stir up distrust of the local elites, influence their credibility - and thus also the elections. In the US, evidence is growing daily that Russian agents supported Trump's election campaign with disinformation about Hillary Clinton, possibly in collaboration with Trump's team. The material was played on the Wikileaks platform.

The election campaigns in France and the Netherlands were also affected. Most recently, Putin, who had so far rejected any Russian involvement, said it was conceivable that "patriotic private hackers" from Russia intervened in the US election campaign. The Federal Intelligence Service fears something similar for the German federal election in autumn.

Stumble upon your own fakes

Occasionally Putin seems to fall for his own fake news himself. A few months ago he publicly criticized the acquittal of an Iraqi who had raped a ten-year-old boy in a Vienna bathroom. This is due to political correctness. But there was no acquittal, but the annulment and renegotiation on only one point. The Russian state media had reported broadly on the alleged acquittal.

The disinformation media also try to give each other legitimacy and credibility by quoting each other. You will also find understanding in western news outlets such as "heise.de", where in December 2016 the fight against fake news was made fun of - under the title: "Panic in politics and the media that fear for their influence".

Not all EU members were happy when Stratcom was founded. Many do not want to spoil themselves with Russia. But now there is more awareness of the problem - and there are also other initiatives against Russian fake news.

At the beginning of the year, the Czech government founded a "Center against Terrorism and Hybrid Dangers" - which was promptly violently attacked by the Putin-friendly President Milos Zeman. The billionaire and supporter of democracy movements George Soros, who is severely hostile to Putin-friendly Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, donated 100,000 euros to the German research agency Correctiv, which generally takes action against fakes on the Internet.

Facebook is now starting a fact check with private media partners and is also supporting the "News Integrity Initiative" of New York journalism professor Jeff Jarvis. The German Ministry of the Interior is rolling over plans for a defense center, and fact checker units are being set up in many German media outlets.

Stratcom's small squad know they are facing an adversary with tremendous resources. But sensitivity has increased in the western states, says one of the team: "We'll just keep going." (Hans Rauscher, 4.6.2017)