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Europe banned Russia's RT network. Its content is still being spread.| GuyWhoKnowsThings

The website that calls itself Man Stuff News caters to a certain sensibility, with categories like “Backyard Grilling,” “TV Shows for Guys” and “Beard Grooming.” A recent article titled “Advice for Dads During Childbirth” offered this bit of advice: “Just remember to spend some time together before deciding whether to give birth or not.”

However, go to its section dedicated to world news and the nature of the coverage changes dramatically. There, a recent article disparaged a international order arrest Russian President Vladimir V. Putin for war crimes. He repeated, word for word, an article that had appeared a day earlier under another byline on the website of RTRussia's global television network.

RT, which the US State Department describes as a key player in the Kremlin's disinformation and propaganda apparatus, has been blocked in the European Union, Canada and other countries since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. However, sites like Man Stuff News have helped RT bypass restrictions and continue reaching European and American audiences, according to a new report.

Replicas of RT articles have been bleached thousands of times across hundreds of sites, according to the report, written by researchers from the German Marshall Fund, the University of Amsterdam and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a nonprofit research organization. The sites include content aggregators such as Infowars, run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones; repurposed RT mirrors from abandoned “zombie” sites; fake local media outlets with names like San Francisco Telegraph; and domains focused on spirituality, yoga, aliens, and the apocalypse. Many of the articles were then spread through social media.

The reason for republishing RT content likely varies from site to site, but surreptitious republishing represents a particular danger in the European Union, where concerns about Kremlin-linked disinformation campaigns are intensifying, especially as Russia attempts weaken European support for Ukraine before parliamentary elections next week.

“This is really the tip of the iceberg of Russian propaganda,” said Bret Schafer, a co-author of the report and a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. “When we were running search results in the EU, it was quite evident that if Russian propaganda is not appearing in Russian domains, it is coming, which is kind of a double whammy because it's not just about evading restrictions and bans, but that is doing it. in places that are less transparent than RT itself.”

RT said in a statement that its content did not follow the “US State Department/NATO party line” and added that it is “very pleased that RT's news content is so popular across a wide range of platforms.” and users.”

A message sent to an email address listed on the Man Stuff News website registry went unanswered. The site offers few details about where it is based or who operates it.

The researchers concluded that when non-Russian sources parroted Kremlin talking points, they helped legitimize the narratives to an often unsuspecting audience. The copied articles, which investigators described as “Russian propaganda dummies,” targeted a huge geographic swath of viewers through sites registered in at least 40 countries on six continents, including countries where RT is apparently blocked. When taking into account RT's non-English language content along with that of other Kremlin-controlled media outlets, the true extent of Russian propaganda laundering is likely much larger, the researchers said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: in a speech this month that she was “particularly concerned about the rise of foreign interference and manipulation in our societies, our democracies and our elections.” She cited “swarms of negative misinformation” about specific issues and candidates and malicious attempts to “buy influence and cause chaos.”

Last month, a consortium of 36 European fact-checking organizations said that false or misleading content about the European Union or Ukraine was among the most frequent forms of disinformation it had encountered.

A EU report This year he said that overseas actors (obviously from Russia, but also from China) were coordinating on “virtually every platform” to create an alternative information environment that would erode trust in democracy. Last month, the European Commission carried out a pre-election campaign stress test to assess the readiness of platforms against AI-generated spoofing, influence campaigns from bot accounts, and other threats.

Since 2022, the Kremlin has been unable to access some of its main messaging channels in the West after Canada and the European Union They took RT off their airwaves. This month, the block suspended four other Russian broadcasting media.

In the United States, government regulators took no action against the American outpost of the Russian network, RT America. Instead, television distributors across the country cut ties with RT America in early 2022, and close Within days.

Online platforms They have also tried to curb RT's reach; YouTube blocked global access to RT-affiliated channels and said it was striving to remove harmful misinformation. However, laundered RT content persists there and on other platforms, researchers said, echoing recommendations from other research groups. On YouTube, RT articles appeared to have been narrated using an automated text-to-speech generator to bypass filters. Content copied from RT also appeared on major social and messaging sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Substack, Telegram and X, as well as specialized platforms such as Gab and Rumble, researchers said.

Using more than 1,500 RT articles published last year, the researchers searched for websites that featured similar content or metadata, limiting their search to results geolocated in the United States and Belgium, the de facto capital of the European Union.

Some of the sites were likely circulating RT's content with the network's permission, researchers said, while others had plagiarized RT without its knowledge. The sites may have been ideologically aligned with the Kremlin, or may have been more intent on generating traffic to increase visibility or advertising revenue. Some of the sites revealed that they were reposting RT content. (Man Stuff News ended its copy of the article on Putin's arrest warrant by publishing the web address of the original RT story.)

Verbatim replicas of RT articles appeared in media outlets affiliated with governments in Cambodia, Iran, Nigeria and Yemen, as well as in a Lebanese outlet owned by Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia backed by Iran. Investigators connected a website to a conservative Catholic online ministry in Texas that had posts about abortion, candle making and, in an example taken from RT, the lack of aid after an earthquake in Syria.

Investigators noted that RT was far from the only Kremlin media outlet that was being whitewashed. As major elections approach in the European Union and the United States, Russian disinformation agents have refined their strategies. Recent videos With synthetic voices and other signs of manipulation by artificial intelligence, they targeted right-wing American voters with false messages about President Biden. Fake news organizations produced by Russian agents have imitated real American media while promoting Kremlin propaganda; a former deputy sheriff in Florida who received political asylum in Moscow has built more than 160 fake sites of this type.

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