The Russian disinformation network targets politicians in the run-up to the EU elections

A growing Russian disinformation network is targeting European Union countries ahead of EU Parliament elections scheduled for June, researchers say, largely aimed at spreading false claims about the war in Ukraine and political leaders critical of Russia.

The disinformation network, operating under the name 'Pravda' and posing as news websites, is now targeting this information all 27 EU countries with its contents. Researchers at the European Digital Media Observatory say the network's use of artificial intelligence to produce large amounts of content provides insight into Russian disinformation tactics in the run-up to the US presidential election.

Darren Linvill, a professor at Clemson University in South Carolina who specializes in research on social media disinformation, told CBS News that Russian disinformation tactics have evolved. “Russians are masters of story laundering, the process of posting a false or misleading story and then weaving it into online conversations in a way that obscures the original source,” he said.

“They will discredit institutions, undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process, and attack moderate political candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, in an effort further fuel extremism,” he said.

fr.jpg
Screenshot of a pravda-fr.com article.

CBS News


A CBS News analysis found that the bogus news websites published dozens of false claims in the past two weeks alone. One is that the US will soon intensify the conflict in Ukraine; The American, British and German governments were responsible for the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister of Slovakia; and EU officials intensify a witch hunt amid investigations into Russian interference in EU offices.

Professional media organizations tend to link news articles to the journalists who reported the information in the name of transparency. However, these manufactured items do not. Instead, they link to Telegram accounts such as Rybar, a channel founded by Russian military blogger Mikhail Zvinchuk, who previously worked for the Russian Ministry of Defense. Rybar has grown rapidly to more than 1.2 million subscribers pro-Russian attitude about the conflict in Ukraine.

Thanos Sitistas, a Pravda Network lead researcher for the observatory, told CBS News that the Russian disinformation network may be testing which stories have an impact. “The tool(s) they use offer a high degree of automation,he wrote in an email.For the most part, they pick up the content from certain Telegram accounts and reproduce it as is.”

the.jpg
Screenshot of a pravda-de.com article.

CBS News


“They look for weaknesses and strengths and will eventually adapt accordingly,” he said. “They also map the local information landscape and can adapt their future strategies by identifying which stories are impactful and which are not.”

Articles on Pravda EN and its sister websites in various European languages ​​follow the same structure of information coming from pro-Russian Telegram accounts.

The researchers at the observatory underlined a sharp increase in the number of new Pravda websites in March, citing proof that the network has been expanded to at least 28 countries, including 19 EU Member States. It started with five websites launched in 2023, focusing on German, English, French, Spanish and Polish languages.

The French government found it from my own research, the websites all had a common IP address hosted on a server traced to Russia, as well as the same external links and sections.

es.jpg
Screenshot of a pravda-es.com article.

CBS News


Recent analysis from Microsoft's Threat Analysis Center said Russia “remains the most committed and capable threat” to the 2024 US presidential election elections, with new forms of influence and interference, including the use of generative AI.

The observatory researchers said that the Pravda network's websites exhibit “a high level of automation,” as content is published 24/7 and in large volumes. An analysis by CBS News found that as many as 70 articles were published on Pravda EN in one hour, with the majority focusing on the conflict in Ukraine.

US agencies have increasingly warned about the use of generative AI by foreign actors in an attempt to influence the 2024 elections.

Advances in generative AI lower the barrier to entry for US adversaries, including Russia, to spread disinformation, FBI Director Christopher Wray said in February, as their tactics became “more realistic and harder to detect.”

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