18 June 2024

Pro-Russian actors flooding newsrooms with fake content to overwhelm fact-checkers


Pro-Russian actors flooding newsrooms with fake content to overwhelm fact-checkers

Pro-Russian actors are inundating newsrooms with false information in a strategic attempt to overwhelm verification resources and amplify the spread of disinformation, a recent study from by Finnish software and methodologies company Check First has revealed.

The identified scheme is part of a global ongoing operation dubbed “Operation Overload.” It involves anonymous pro-Russian actors systematically contacting journalists through emails and social media, urging them to verify suspected fake news. The goal is to stretch fact-checkers thin and to ensure the false narratives reach wider audiences, whether debunked or not. This operation capitalizes on the principle that “all publicity is good publicity.”

The operation has targeted over 800 news organizations across Europe and outside of the European Union, disseminating around 2,400 tweets and more than 200 emails, with the majority of messages containing misleading links hosted on the messaging app Telegram.

In the past few months, more than 250 fact-checks referencing the fake narratives of Operation Overload have been published. These fact-checks, while intended to debunk the misinformation, inadvertently help spread the disinformation further.

Examples from the report highlight emails from supposed concerned citizens who have seen dubious claims in Russian media, asking journalists to verify and share their findings widely. This tactic demonstrates the operation’s intention to maximize audience reach regardless of the truth of the narratives.

Check First notes that the disinformation often originates from Russian social media platforms and spreads through Russian-language websites and blogs, including state media outlets. The fake news frequently targets Ukrainian refugees in the West, aiming to discredit them and further the Kremlin's military agenda.

The sheer volume of these requests creates a false sense of urgency among journalists, leading to the scheme’s success. Check First emphasizes that the operation serves both domestic propaganda and foreign interference purposes.


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