A controversial report is blaming a Russian propaganda campaign for the success of fake news on social media leading up to Donald Trump’s victory. What was once thought to be kids in Macedonia churning out anti-Hillary Clinton articles for profit has taken a much more serious turn. According to the Washington Post, Russian propaganda creators are responsible for the mass distribution of successful fake news articles smearing Trump’s opponent during the election season.
The fake viral news became a national story after Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg denied reports and user complaints that his social media platform had an impact on the election results. An analysis by Buzzfeed found that in the final three months of the election, fake news about Clinton and Trump outperformed top stories from major news outlets like the New York Times.
Outrage over the viral success of fake election news with headlines like “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide” prompted Google to ban all sites publishing fake news from its advertising service, cutting off a major source of revenue. Facebook followed suit by announcing the platform will no longer display ads from sites sponsoring phony content.
After the outrage of where the content was being seen settled down, the microscope shifted to where the fake news originated from during the election.
Craig Timberg from the Washington Post reports that Russian-sponsored propaganda contributed to the success of fake news during the election citing the findings from two independent researchers.
“‘[Russia wants] to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,’ said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who along with two other researchers has tracked Russian propaganda since 2014. ‘This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.'”
The second source, PropOrNot, is described as a nonpartisan group of researchers who just launched a Google Chrome browser extension flagging websites that are Russian propaganda outlets. PropOrNot estimates that content from their blacklist of 200 websites guilty of peddling Russian propaganda was viewed more than 213 million times on Facebook.
This image is a friendly reminder that Russian influence operations work through both the far-right and the far-left, in the US and abroad! pic.twitter.com/c7jTRNDF9S
— PropOrNot ID Service (@propornot) November 19, 2016
“The way that this propaganda apparatus supported Trump was equivalent to some massive amount of a media buy,” the executive director of PropOrNot, who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to avoid being Russia’s next hacking target. “It was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign… It worked.”
Websites that PropOrNot blacklisted include ZeroHedge, InfoWars, and Natural News are considered to be major repeaters of Russian propaganda online. The complete list of websites can be viewed here.
“While Russian influence operations resemble a marketing effort in some ways, only a few dozen individual outlets (‘sources’) actually produce large amounts of original propaganda content,” PropOrNot’s website states. “That content is then echoed, extended, and amplified through an immense number of secondary sites (‘repeaters’).”
The report sparked a heated debate on Twitter about who’s to blame for the rise of fake news and if Russia is responsible.
Yes, the WashPost is saying: some people who we won’t identify, using methodologies we won’t describe, created This Important Blacklist! https://t.co/4D9o5H7eEj
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) November 25, 2016
Black Agenda Report, an indispensable voice of the radical black left, has been targeted in this “fake news” stuff. https://t.co/3i8JJ9VELR
— Freddie (@freddiedeboer) November 25, 2016
as predicted The Great Fake News Panic of 2016 has media promoting blacklists that includes activist/leftist outlets https://t.co/ATStojjMKl
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) November 25, 2016
Multiple media reports with reliable sources have determined Russia was behind the Wikileaks release of emails that dogged Clinton’s campaign throughout the election and attributed to Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down as the chair of the DNC. But the report using PropOrNot as a nonpartisan source doesn’t appear to be convincing readers that Russia was also behind the rise of fake news during the election. What is clear is that the media has lost the trust of too many Americans, and that void is being filled with the consumption of sensationalized click bait and biased or falsified information online.
[Featured Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]