New Disinformation Digest from the East StratCom Task Force
View this email in your browser

Inside the "Ministry of Truth"

Its employees call it the "Ministry of Truth": Since last year, global media have been covering the troll factory in Saint Petersburg. Under the official name "Internet Research Agency," hundreds of employees are paid for spreading pro-Kremlin messaging on social networks or in the comment sections of news sites. Radio Liberty has now spoken with the third whistleblower from the agency, Olga Maltseva, who stepped up last week.
The agency also stands behind successful disinformation about an alleged chemical disaster in the US state of Louisana or about an alleged spread of Ebola in Atlanta. Earlier this year, the trolls tried to influence the Dutch referendum on the EU's Association Agreement with Ukraine with a fake video containing a terror threat against the Dutch.
"When the situation in Syria became worse, [we had to write] a lot about Syria. But still, mostly it was about Ukraine," Ms Maltseva describes her job, which was writing blog posts. She also helped to reveal some details that established a link between the troll factory and attacks on Russian opposition activists.

Ms Maltseva also had a very interesting conversation with her former boss, after it became clear she wants to talk publicly about her job. "He offered me money for being silent, not to tell anything [about the agency] on the internet. They told me that I will be turned into some kind of vicious opposition activist, that I was stupid to be led to this, and that I do not need this. 'You will have a family soon, why would you need such a fuss,' they said."

If you want to know why the employees of the "Ministry of Truth" are investigated on polygraph; why Maltseva had trouble getting paid; or why she sues the agency, read the full article by Radio Free Europe here (in Russian).  
Find out more about the work of pro-Kremlin trolls:
  • How did the Agency react to the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov? The trolls were told to stop working on everything else, and to focus on spreading disinformation about who killed the opposition politician – blaming the Ukrainians, the Americans, or the Russian opposition activists themselves. The Lithuanian film War 2020 sheds light on this (in English).
  • The study by NATO StratCom Centre of Excellence "Internet trolling as a tool of hybrid warfare: the case of Latvia" analyses trolling and its different forms (in English).

Between East and West

A recent poll analyses the effects of the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign on public opinion in Central Europe, namely in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It concludes that "although Russia has not been able to win the hearts and minds of the people in this region, it has managed to enchant them". 
The poll assesses, inter alia, populations' trust in traditional versus alternative media (see chart):
It also draws the conclusion that in all three countries, about half of the populations see their country‘s position between East and West, noting that this segment of the population could become the easiest target for propaganda and misinformation efforts of the Kremlin.
The European values think tank in Prague contributed to the above mentioned poll in the Czech Republic. They also found that despite limited US involvement in Syria, half of the Czech population believes that the US is responsible for Syrian refugees in Europe. Furthermore, nearly four out of ten Czechs blame the US for the Ukrainian crisis, although there are Russian troops occupying part of the territory of Ukraine and only 20% of the Czech population believe the disinformation that Russian forces are not operating in Ukraine. These results are presented in a separate study.

Social media giants team up against misinformation

This week, social media giants Facebook and Twitter announced that they are stepping up action against misinformation in their networks. Reuters reports that the two companies joined the First Draft Coalition, which was set up in June 2015 and includes major organisations such as YouTube, the New York Times, BuzzFeed News, the Washington Post, CNN, France Info, Euronews and AFP.

The forum will create a voluntary code of practice and promote news literacy among social media users. At the end of October, it plans to launch a platform to help members to verify questionable news stories based on user-generated content on social media. Bellingcat, an investigative journalism group, whose work dismantling pro-Kremlin disinformation on the conflict in Ukraine has been featured in the Disinformation Digest, is also a founding member.
President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev are served Ukha, the traditional Russian fish soup. (Image: Sputnik)

Friday Fun: Big fish

Ahead of the parliamentary elections, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin found himself in two accidental, yet too good to be true photo opportunities. During a boat trip on Lake Ilmen in North-Western Russia, the President and Prime Minister Medvedev seemingly by coincidence met a boat with people who were presented as Russian fishermen. They invited the two leaders to help with the fishing, after which they were offered a bowl of traditional fish soup in the setting of a supposedly primitive fireplace. The photo series can be seen to reinforce the image of a special bond between the President and his Prime Minister. It was quickly ridiculed in Russian social media as a “Potemkin village”, i.e. a case of staged reality with everything in the photos - the boat, the people, the fire place - looking more staged than one would expect in a real fishing village in the Russian countryside.

Then, while strolling on Red Square with Moscow’s mayor Sergey Sobiyanin, President Putin found himself surrounded by a group of brides who started taking “selfies” with a modest-looking president. Independent TV Rain (Dozhd) compiled a short video about the incident on Red Square, showing that the “brides” are in fact models who often do photo shoots to promote bridal dresses. TV Rain also added highlights from previous cases when the Russian president has appeared in obviously staged situations: From his flight with cranes on a hang glider to his spectacular discovery of two ancient Greek amphorae while diving at an under-water excavation site in the Black Sea. TV Rain asks if the reason for the "accidental" encounter was to soften the president’s image as a tough leader, or to remind Russia that the president remains the country’s most eligible bachelor.
The Disinformation Review collects examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation all around Europe and beyond. Every week, it exposes the breadth of this campaign, showing the countries and languages targeted. We're always looking for new partners to cooperate with us for that.
The Disinformation Digest analyses how pro-Kremlin media see the world and what independent Russian voices say. It follows key trends on Russian social media, so you can put pro-Kremlin narratives into their wider context. And finally… some Friday fun before the weekend!
DISCLAIMER: The Disinformation Digest is based on the analysis of the EU East StratCom Task Force; opinions and judgements expressed do not represent official EU positions.
Copyright © 16/09/2016 European External Action Service. All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:

This newsletter is sent using as service provider.
Find out more about how we protect your data by clicking here.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list