The role of the media in the production and dissemination of disinformation campaigns - EU DisinfoLab (2023)

Quality journalism and honest reporting bring decisive facts to the public. But in several cases, the "media" (either self-portraits or prints) played a role in the production and dissemination of disinformation campaigns. In this research report, EU DisinfoLab highlights the most damaging examples of disinformation campaigns that involve the "media" as the main players in these malicious strategies.


This short article compiles a dozen recent examples of actors and misinformers posing as legitimate news sources to gain public legitimacy and influence the debate. In general, these deceptive tactics range from creating completely fake media and actors, such as creating fake news sites and fake people, to incorporating some elements of authenticity and then distorting them: corrupting real journalists, stealing their identity, or promoting authentic sources of advertising. to reinforce misleading content.

This article highlights two trends:

  • trend number 1: Established news brands are spreading disinformation, with high-profile cases like France Soir or the role of mainstream media in electoral misinformation during the US election.
  • trend number 2: Online media claiming to be credible sources for the spread of disinformation, including, for example, coordinated disinformation campaigns in the case of the crash of Flight MH17 in Ukraine.

The list is not exhaustive as our goal is to raise awareness of the phenomenon.

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These activities prevent access to verifiable information. It also hurts professional journalists who adhere to the strict ethical principles of objective and fact-based reporting, thus contaminating an essential information service to citizens in a functioning democracy.

Trend #1: Established news brands are spreading misinformation

One trend calling for media accountability is reputable media outlets or journalists consciously or unknowingly transforming themselves from information brokers into disinformation brokers.

Trust your past credibility, as reputable sources are seen as spreading misinformation.

The conspiracy drift by FranceSoir (since 2016).Founded in 1941 as an underground newspaper by young resistance leaders,francianoche(originally called "France-Soir - Défense de la France") became known as a respected and important French newspaper, especially in the years 1940-1960. However, the channel went bankrupt in 2012 until it was purchased and relaunched in 2016 as an online-only news outlet. as a number ofJournalists have been firedIn late 2019, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and anti-vaccine content circulating on the site increased. In 2020, NewsGuard criticized the outlet for failing to meet several basic journalistic standards. In January 2021 theMinister of Culture of Francehowever, he asked a court to reconsider the vehicle's status as a medium for general and political information.i could keep itAsThe journalists are still busy.there. In March 2021, YouTube decided to shut down the FranceSoir channel for violating its Health Services Terms of Service.Misinformation about COVID-19, and a few months later, the vehicle was blocked from accessing Google Ads after ainvestigation reportbroadcast on the French public channel about the funding of conspiracy websites.

The role of the media in the production and dissemination of disinformation campaigns - EU DisinfoLab (1)
The role of the media in the production and dissemination of disinformation campaigns - EU DisinfoLab (2)

The polarized mainstream media bear a greater responsibility for sharing misinformation than evil foreign actors.

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The mainstream media amplifies misinformation about the US election (October 2020).A study ofBerkman Little Centeranalyzed a sample of 5,000 media reports, 5 million tweets, and 75,000 Facebook posts to conclude that someUS media and political elitesthey were the main bearers of Trump's disinformation campaign against absentee voting. Fox News in particular: the focus of manycontroversiesfor spreading misinformation on topics like climate change and the COVID-19 vaccine, he was a major player. So it turns out that social media (in terms of platforms) and Russian trolls (in terms of actors) played only a minor role in spreading this particular scam.

Overly partisan media play an active role in spreading misinformation.

Beware of excessively political or partisan media (since 2018).In the age of alternative facts, factional media have often amplified misinformation. Many are familiar with the false and misleading content that Breitbart spreads, especially after Breitbart was taken down.Video Frontline American Doctorscall to useHydroxychloroquineto cure COVID-19, or by Russian state news agencies like Sputnik (for example, in support of theVacina Sputnik V🇧🇷 However, the phenomenon also extends to other countries; For example, himInstitute for Strategic Dialoguerecalled that during the 2018 Swedish elections, “nationalist and populist media and politicians in Poland spread disinformation about the Swedish government and society, both in Sweden itself and in the English and Polish media.”

Media outlets that spread disinformation are even recognized as registered newspapers. and COVID-19 (April 2021).and 2021AvazThe report showed that Italians are the least protected non-English Facebook users from misinformation. As the country was severely affected by the pandemic and the resulting infodemic,news guardidentified as a massive disseminator of misinformation about COVID-19, reaching approximately 1.5 million users. While the anti-science vehicle—spreading vaccine conspiracies, alternative cures, or blaming the government and Bill Gates—is not mainstream media, aKodaThe investigation revealed that shares similar content to, an online newspaper registered under Italian law. The two sites share the same editorial team and owner (a digital marketing and communications company) that manages a network of seven Italian websites and Facebook pages that simultaneously amplify each other's content, all branded NewsGuard.

The role of the media in the production and dissemination of disinformation campaigns - EU DisinfoLab (3)

Disinformation actors pose as real journalists and use their reputations to spread misinformation.

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Posing as journalists in the face of misinformation (February 2021).Axiospublished a report on the stories of journalists whose names, photos and signatures were stolen by evil actors to support fake news on the Internet. For example, one reporter says his identity was hacked to spread a right-wing meme plot that the incoming US Secretary of Defense was planning to outsource systems to China; another became a driver of pro-regime Iranian propaganda from a fake Twitter. MiscellaneousQuestionswarns that media coverage is a faster, more efficient, and less responsible way to embed a narrative, ensure visibility, and provide a facade of trustworthiness. As a result, genuine journalists are increasingly under attack at the expense of their professional credibility.

Trend #2: Online media impersonate credible sources to spread misinformation

From malicious websites posing as legitimate news sources to fake people posing as journalists or experts, foreign and domestic disinformation operations have involved cases where it has been claimed that the state of the media is playing with a false pretense of authenticity, to promote disinformation and polarize content.

Online media in cooperation with Russian intelligence to deceive a criminal case.

Bonanza Media & MH17 (November 2020).Billing itself as an independent investigative platform in the Netherlands, Bonanza Media is a special disinformation media project dedicated to spreading alternative narratives about the causes of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), as discovered byrattlesnake cat🇧🇷 Former RT journalist Yana Yerlashova created the vehicle with the help of Dutch blogger Max van der Werff, who managed to get references from the Dutch press shortly after the website was founded in 2019. Investigation revealed that Bonanza Media coordinated with Russian military intelligence shortly after its creation and played a roleproviding misleading elements in criminal proceedingsabout the MH17 crash. The agency also launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance a supposedly independent documentary and located witnesses to back up its version of the story. In recent months, the channel has expanded its MH17-related conspiracy content to include misinformation about COVID-19 (for example, accusing governments and mainstream media of overreacting to the health threat, fighting against lockdown measures or repeating claims that hospitals were empty).

Online media falsify legitimate media and conduct disinformation campaigns within the EU.

FranceLibre24: counterfeiting and manipulation of online content (January 2020).In France, a former EU DisinfoLabdetectionrevealed how a French-language outlet called France Libre 24 was in fact secretly run by a controversial far-right Polish media network., which exists to this day, uses a spoofing strategy as its name resembles the quality news outlet France24. The output claims to republish content from reputable sources. However, the articles are often manipulated to contain false or divisive messages in order to influence the French political scene on issues that divide the public, such as identity, religion, security and migration. Whatpoliticallywrites, such cases draw our attention to the thorny challenges posed by disinformation campaigns within the EU.

An online media company that uses fake personas to recruit freelance journalists.

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PeaceData and the 2020 US Elections (September 2020).US cyber security companyFrameI found that self-defined"world news organization“Peace Data was a Russian intelligence operation set up by the Russian Internet Investigation Agency (IRA). The FBI closed the store where a "content farm' of stories to sow discord ahead of the 2020 US presidential election. Peace Data has appointed its staff, editors and editorial assistants, all of whom have beenwrong peoplewith AI-generated profile pictures. Russian trolls used these fake personas to contact American freelance writers and journalists and pay them to write articles for the site.

The media are used to influence domestic politics in order to silence the opposition.

Pro-Tabboune operations in Algeria (since 2019).Online media disguised as authentic channels have been used for national influence campaigns, such as in a multi-platform activity promoting the interests of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, from his 2019 presidential bid to the 2020 constitutional referendum and general elections beginning in 2021.Framereveals that the operation also targeted the Hirak anti-corruption protest movement to silence dissenting voices. Platforms and pages, some posing as independent media outlets or imitating legitimate news organizations, were created to spread politically motivated messages in support of Tebboune.

The media hire real independent journalists to promote hidden agendas.

AlphaPro and Pakistani advertising (May 2021).In mid-2021, Facebook removed a network of accounts and pages that originated from Pakistan and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior to target domestic and international audiences (English, Pashto, and Arabic speakers) associated with a PR firm. based in pakistan in connection. AlphaPro.Facebookfound some links between the latter and another group of since-deleted accounts attributed to employees of the Pakistan Army Public Relations Department. Many accounts featured fake characters or pretended to be independent outlets promoting a clear political agenda against India and Pakistan.Framewrites: "Accounts in this campaign also impersonated independent media outlets, creating original video content with paid actors and freelance journalists, showing how political interests can negotiate the values ​​of a free press to further their own agendas covert".

The media outsources its evil activities to frontline media organizations and military factions.

Russia-related assets in Africa (December 2020).In December 2020, Facebook removed three separate networks targeting communities in Africa with a total of 5.7 million followers. EITHERStanford Internet ObservatorymiFramereported that the actors in two of these networks were formerly linked to the Internet Investigation Agency (IRA) and Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin. These gray propaganda activities took the form of covert operations with fake social media accounts, creation of front media organizations, funding and majority ownership of local news channels in several African countries (e.g. Central African Republic, Madagascar, Libya, etc.). which then began airing pro-Russian content.

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In short, the above list of examples is not exhaustive. It reflects how disinformation experts find a media dimension in each new information operation discovered.


1. EU NGO uncovers 265 fake news pushing anti Pak propaganda
2. Can the European Democracy Action Plan Deliver? A Conversation with Věra Jourová
(Carnegie Europe)
3. 'Fake news' in the 2018 elections in Italy
4. EU Organizes Anti-Disinformation Campaign
(UATV English)
5. The IOGs Digital Directions - The Prevalence and Threat of Disinformation | Trust in Government
(Institute on Governance)
6. Regulation of information spread on social media: is it being done too hastily?
(International Journalism Festival)
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