Often accused of creating its own elaborate web of “fake news,” the Kremlin is adopting the popular term to take aim at reports it doesn’t like from mainstream media outlets in the West. Armed with a big red stamp that reads “fake” and little more, the Kremlin has begun highlighting stories from established Western media outlets like The New York Times, NBC, and Bloomberg that it believes are part of an “information campaign aimed against Russia.”
A new page on the Russian foreign ministry website says it is “exposing” Western media outlets for spreading “false information” about the country. At the time of publication Thursday, there were just five reports listed on the site — one each from Bloomberg, the New York Times, NBC, the Daily Telegraph, and the Santa Monica Observer.
Under each story is this Orwellian message: “This article puts forward information that does not correspond to reality.” According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, the ministry will apply the label to stories lacking an official reaction from the Russian government or those citing anonymous and unverified sources.
The new initiative was announced during a weekly televised address by Zakharova. “We will publish examples of propaganda hoaxes from various media outlets and give links to sources,” she said. Yet, she wasn’t specific about the new enterprise’s process for determining what it deems “fake news,” instead relying on a set of crudely cut screenshots to make her point.
At the same time Zakharova announced the Kremlin’s new initiative, her colleague, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, outlined the Russian military’s gains in its ongoing information war. Shoigu said the Russian military’s “information troops” were successful in spreading “intelligent, effective propaganda,” but did not specify which countries the propaganda was targeting.
What does Russia consider to be “fake news”?
- A Bloomberg story saying Russian hackers had been responsible for hacking the computer of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.
- A New York Times report saying Russia secretly launched a new cruise missile in violation of an arms control treaty.
- A Daily Telegraph report quoting British government sources alleging Russia was involved in a plot to kill the Montenegrin prime minister in 2016.
- An NBC News story suggesting the Kremlin was about to hand over Edward Snowden to the U.S. to “curry favor” with the Trump administration.
- A Santa Monica Observer story about the “suspicious circumstances” surrounding the death of Russian U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin.
As BuzzFeed points out, unlike the other publications, the Santa Monica Observer — a free local weekly newspaper in California — has a history of publishing fake news stories, including one which suggested Tiffany Trump was going to sing “I’m like a bird” at her father’s inauguration.
For some outlets, inclusion on the list should be seen as a positive, according to Alexei Venediktov, the longtime editor of the Echo of Moscow radio station: “You shouldn’t worry at all,” he told the New York Times. He said media outlets should consider inclusion by the foreign ministry to be an honor, “like a medal.”
The “fake news” craze continues
With its latest venture into “fake news,” the Kremlin appears interested in riding on the recent controversy emanating from the U.S.
Trump has employed the term “fake news” of late to counter mounting, damning reports surrounding his chaotic first month in office. With a few exceptions, most notably Fox News, Trump has ramped up his attack on American media of late, recently calling many traditional media outlets such as New York Times, NBC, and CBS “the enemy of the American people.”
The Kremlin’s attempts to meddle in elections outside its borders came to prominence last year after U.S. intelligence community said the Kremlin had illegally tried to interfere with the presidential election outcome by hacking into the DNC servers and leaking sensitive emails, which were subsequently published by Wikileaks.
Since then, authorities across Europe have been bracing themselves for similar meddling in upcoming, critical elections throughout Europe, including in France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Last week France’s foreign minister criticized Russian cyberattacks specifically targeting centrist-left candidate Emmanuel Macron: “This form of interference in French democratic life is unacceptable and I denounce it.” A report from the East StratCom Task Force earlier this year revealed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel — who is seeking reelection in September — was “bombarded” with fake news stories emanating from Russia.
The East StratCom task force was established by the European Union in 2015 with a mandate to “address Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns.”