Certain websites that are proxies of the Russian government have been concentrating on undermining the hegemony of the United States and disrupting ties with its allies since most of their creations in the early 2000’s. Throughout the years, these sites have built an ecosystem to broaden disinformation and propaganda and sway their viewers, especially when it comes to politics and economic affairs. The following is a list of the main contributors: The Strategic Culture Foundation (SCF), New Eastern Outlook (NEO), Global Research, News Front, SouthFront, Geopolitica.ru, and Katehon as profiled in a recent report from the U.S. Department of State (DOS)
Their continuous strategy of sharing multiple versions of one story to confuse and divide viewers is the problem that needs to be dealt with directly, according to the Global Engagement Center (GEC) of the DOS. Their goal is to raise “awareness of the threat posed by disinformation and further the international dialogue among nations, organizations, and individuals who are committed to countering these malign efforts.” This is the beginning of a multi-pronged effort to remove fake information from the social media sphere.
The information the ecosystem tries to influence is categorized into five pillars that the GEC has characterized. These pillars are:
• official government communications,
• state-funded global messaging,
• cultivation of proxy sources,
• weaponization of social media, and
• cyber-enabled information.
Currently, the disinformation hot zone is this year’s Presidential election. According to The Guardian, Newsroom for American and European Based Citizens (NAEBC), a fake media organization based in Russia, has been manipulating American voters on both “left and right wings.” To put more specifically, “[But] the overall strategy looks unchanged: energize Trump supporters, depress support for Biden, and target both sides with divisive and polarising messages,” said Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at social media analytics firm Graphika.
This may not be one of the main proxy sites (meaning NAEBC), however, both News Front and SouthFront have posted content about US elections, according to Facebook. Earlier this year, Facebook stated that both networks posted on “topics such as the military conflict in Ukraine, the Syrian civil war, the annexation of Crimea, NATO, US elections, and more recently the coronavirus pandemic…” These sites are notorious for broadening disinformation and propaganda. So much so, News Front used premeditated tactics, which led to near “total dismantling of its presence on social media,” (GEC), early in 2020. Additionally, SouthFront is known to be a sister site to News Front. Therefore, while they claim to have “alternative points of view,” they boost false information and reshare posts from different sites in the ecosystem, many coming from News Front.
Another proxy site outed by the GEC that influenced US elections in the past is Katehon. During the 2016 elections, the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), a Moscow-based think tank, had plans for Russian influence in the elections and proposed to “plant fake news and promote exaggerated polling data,” as specified by press reports. Katehon co-wrote a report with RISS analyzing US ideology to help RISS spread disinformation and disrupt American voters in advance of the 2016 election.
Along with politics, another important topic that has been deeply influenced by the ecosystem is the coronavirus. Global Research, being a Canadian-based site, has magnetized attention towards this influential event and has worked alongside Chinese websites to spread disinformation about COVID-19. For instance, earlier this year Michel Chossudovsky, founder and head of Global Research, selected articles like “Understanding China,” from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be featured on their site which entailed blaming the US for the outbreak. During this time, their goal was to react to COVID-19 by finding ways to conceive it as a Western conspiracy. One of the authors of said articles claimed, “Westerners live in an illusionary black and white world framed for them by the programming from their Zionist media.”
According to The Globe and Mail (Canada), “[The site] has posted more than 40,000 of its own pieces since its launch [in 2001]…reports often get cross-posted on a series of other sites or aggressively spread across Facebook and Twitter by followers who actively share or retweet them, including a number of…bots…” It may be a fringe site, but it has made a substantial impact over time.
Moreover, these proxy sites in and out of the ecosystem, like Global Research, North Front, SouthFront, Katehon, and others are deeply entwined in one another’s outlets where they use the same authors, who come from Russia, China, and sometimes the Middle East. They share time and time again articles that spread disinformation and propaganda about these controversial issues to create chaos and break trust with a government and its citizens.
Not only will demonstrating how the pillars of the ecosystem interact with each other provide a greater understanding of how these networks function, but will also help emphasize the need to pay attention to these voices and how cyber defense can overpower pseudo-sites and their fake authors.