Russia has developed yet another method of disseminating false information about its invasion of Ukraine by employing technological gimmicks that enable its war propaganda videos to get through technological and governmental constraints.
Researchers at Nisos, a U.S.-based intelligence company that tracks disinformation and other cyber threats, said in a report released on Wednesday that accounts linked to Russian state-controlled media have used the new technique to spread dozens of videos in 18 different languages without leaving any obvious telltale signs that would reveal the source.
The movies promote Kremlin conspiracy theories that attribute civilian casualties to Ukraine and assert that locals in Russian-annexed territories have warmly welcomed their occupiers.
The Russian government now has a direct line to millions thanks to the English-language distribution of propaganda movies on Twitter and lesser-known websites liked by American conservatives, such as Gab and Truth Social, founded by former President Donald Trump.
Versions of the movies were also made in Spanish, Italian, German, and more than a dozen other languages, a sign of the Kremlin’s goals and the wide-ranging scope of its disinformation efforts.
The genius of this strategy, according to Patricia Bailey, senior intelligence analyst at Nisos, “is that the movies may be downloaded directly from Telegram, and it erases the trail that researchers try to trace.” They are flexible and innovative. Additionally, they are examining their audience.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, the European Union tried to impose a ban on RT and Sputnik, two of Russia’s most prominent state-run media organizations. To hinder Russia’s capacity to disseminate its propaganda, tech giants like Google’s YouTube and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram also stated they would prohibit content from the 27-nation EU.
Russian attempts to circumvent the new laws started almost right once. Videos that make refuted claims regarding the war are hosted on brand-new websites. Some of the work was done by Russian diplomats.
As revealed by analysts at Nisos, the most recent operation entailed posting propaganda films to Telegram. This network is widely used by conservatives in the US and Eastern Europe and is lightly monitored. In several instances, RT-specific watermarks were erased to conceal the source of the video.
The videos were obtained from Telegram and then shared on websites like Twitter without any labels or other cues that they had been made by Russian state media. Researchers at Nisos were able to connect hundreds of accounts that eventually shared or reposted the movies to the Russian military, embassies, or official media.
Some of the accounts appeared to use fictitious profile pictures or post content in odd ways, raising suspicions that they were phoney.
One illustration is a Twitter account purportedly managed by a Japanese woman who had a particular interest in Russian propaganda. The account user solely posted Russian propaganda films, not just in Japanese but also in Farsi, Polish, Spanish, and Russian. Instead of posting about various themes like entertainment, food, travel, or family.
Researchers discovered that the account cited or reposted articles from Russian embassies hundreds of times, demonstrating once more the strong connection between Russian diplomats and the nation’s propaganda efforts.
According to Bailey, the network is “only one piece of a puzzle that is pretty substantial” regarding Russia’s overall capacity for deception.
Twitter identifies the information from Russian state media and marks it as such. The business claims that since late February, it has applied labels to more than 900,000 distinct Tweets linked to Russian state media channels like RT. The platform also doesn’t shill for content from state media accounts.
A spokeswoman for the business informed the media that “we employ labels to make it clear on Twitter when an account is owned by a state actor, such as a state-backed media outlet, and we will not suggest or amplify Tweets from these types of accounts.”
Russian Disinformation Campaigns
Russia attempted to create a fictitious conspiracy theory this week accusing the United States of sabotaging the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea.
The same week, Meta identified a vast Russian disinformation network that operated websites imitating well-known European news organizations. The websites published propaganda instead of news to sour relations between Ukraine and its allies in the west.
According to analysts, that operation was the biggest of its sort to come from Russia since the war started.
According to a report by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which assisted in identifying the network banned by Meta, “the network demonstrated an overarching pattern of targeting Europe with anti-Ukraine messages and displays of sympathy for Russian interests.”