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The Internet Communications News

Russian Fake News Ecosystem Targets Syrian Human Rights Workers (securityledger.com) 259

chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: Kremlin linked news sites like RT and Sputnik figure prominently in an online disinformation campaign portraying Syrian humanitarian workers ("White Helmets") as terrorists and crisis actors, according to an analysis (PDF) by researchers at University of Washington and Harvard. An online "echosystem" of propaganda websites including Russia backed news outlets Sputnik and RT is attacking the credibility of humanitarian workers on the ground in rebel occupied Syria, according to a new analysis by researchers at The University of Washington and Harvard University. Online rumors circulated through so called "alternative" media sites have attacked the Syrian Civil Defense (aka "White Helmets") as "crisis actors" and Western agents working on behalf of the U.S. and NATO. Statistical analysis of the online rumors reveal a tight network of websites sharing nearly identical content via Twitter and other social media platforms, wrote Kate Starbird. Starbird is an Assistant Professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering at University of Washington and a leading expert on so-called "crisis informatics."

In activity reminiscent of the disinformation campaigns that roiled the U.S. Presidential election in 2016, articles by what Starbird describes as "a few prominent journalists and bloggers" writing for self described "alternative" news sites like 21stCenturyWire, GlobalResearch, MintPressNews, and ActivistPost are picked up by other, smaller and more niche websites including both left- and right-leaning partisan news sites, "clickbait sites," and conspiracy theory websites. Government funded media outlets from Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia figure prominently in the Syrian disinformation campaign, Starbird's team found. In particular, "Russian government-funded media outlets (i.e. SputnikNews and RT) play a prominent and multi-faceted role within this ecosystem," she wrote.

Russian Fake News Ecosystem Targets Syrian Human Rights Workers

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  • Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 12, 2018 @11:34AM (#56600688)

    For millennials (particularly the one that posted this): 'fake news' is only a concern if you, the dumbass, believe it. 'Fake news' has been with us under its former name, 'propaganda' since human beings have had the ability to relay information to one another, and yet, time and humanity have marched on. Is there anything, anything at all, that folks 35 and under are capable of applying critical thought to? Is there a single millennial out there that wasn't molded into just a human-robot-victim hybrid by their parents? If this is representative of your 'higher education', you are right: your degrees are worthless. Just because you invent a name for something and start a meme does not mean you have personally discovered anything or that your style of sharing is anythng resembling accute or profound. Your parents have created the most epic failure of intelligence, consciousness, and presence of mind or heart the world has ever seen.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do we really have to have an anti-russia or anti-potus post every. single. fucking. day. on a tech news website?

    You are not changing anybody's mind and you never will.

    • Long term poster, utterly sick of endless Russia articles here.

      I get that we have some politics on the site, but this is getting ridiculous and almost every time the"evidence"is miniscule but the reaction is screeching.

      No I'm not even in America, I didn't vote, but this endless ruining of a classic tech site news, needs to stop.

      Not posting AC.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    the "Russian Fake News Ecosystem" differs from the media in the United States, specifically NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, Snapchat, Facebook, Yahoo, etc? Thanks.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are no "moderate rebels" and there are no knights in white hats. There are terrorists of varying degrees of viciousness, funded, trained and armed by the US and UK, trying to overthrow another government. The real propaganda is the US media, working on behalf of the oligarchs, OWNED by the oligarchs, who are the real power in our broken government.

    We dodged a bullet not letting Clinton take us to war with Russia, but Trump is just a patsy. If they can't get him into a war in Syria, they'll do it in Ir

  • One great revolution caused by Internet is the collapse of media monopolies. And it is a good thing. Media monopolies were used to engineer public opinion. One example is "Weapons of Mass Destruction" fake news which was publicized by almost all main stream media to justify a war with terrible consequences. I do not automatically trust any news coming from any source. I check at least one contrary argument before making my mind.
  • by RandomFactor ( 22447 ) on Saturday May 12, 2018 @12:34PM (#56600844)

    In activity reminiscent of the disinformation campaigns that roiled the U.S. Presidential election in 2016

    [At the cost of some karma....]

    I looked through about 100 of the Facebook ads in the dump and got bored. They were targeted at anything polarizing. Presumably later ones were around the two candidates, but I didn't see it.

    The early ones were all inciting LGBTxxx, Black Racist, White Racist, Pro/Anti Immigration, Anti-Police passions. Most of the ads had almost no exposure receiving on the order of 0-10 clicks and a few dozen views, although a few received over 1k views and dozens of clicks.

    Seems to be a long running low level propaganda operation aimed at dividing the US into camps/sowing dissent/keeping wounds open. Considering the polarization in the country, it could well be working in the long run, but I don't think we can honestly blame our woes on external actors.

    It would be more accurate to state that the -reaction- to the disinformation campaigns roiled the post election year.

    Definitely worth seeing if anything can be done about them because of the long term damage they are designed to do, but not significant in a single election. I am not terribly optimistic about countermeasures however, Russia will just get a bit better at hiding their connection to ads and everything will continue on as it has.

    • I am not terribly optimistic about countermeasures however, Russia will just get a bit better at hiding their connection to ads and everything will continue on as it has.

      It's actually pretty easy to track this stuff down when we care because financial activity leaves signs. That's why Trump wants us to stop looking; there is evidence, and it will be found. Ultimately, someone has to pay a bunch of money to make this stuff happen, and there are records of those payments. This is why it's important to require that someone use identification when placing political advertisements. Then you can track the action back to its source, and account for the expenditure of money (about

    • in key districts. So it's not fair to say there was no impact. The election was so close it's entirely possible this was the proverbial straw. Also, there's strong evidence that Russia got ahold of tons of voter demographics during the election during one of the hacks. At the very least they would have used these to target ads. There's also some evidence they shared that data with the Republican party.

      All that said, if Hilary hadn't been so damn arrogant and had just campaigned in the Rust belt none of
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      TFA says under the "more info" link that the ads were seen by over 11 million Americans.

      https://democrats-intelligence... [house.gov]

      Keep in mind that's just the ads, which were a very small part of their efforts. The latest stats I could find show they had 1000 people working on this stuff, much of it around fake social media accounts, memes and trolling.

    • How's that different from any tabloid media? Reader explotation for nefarious purposes. Practically any user content driven popular website without active and skillful moderation becomes a tabloid of fake news 0-60 in 3 sec.

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Saturday May 12, 2018 @12:48PM (#56600890) Homepage Journal

    Every once in a while, a story comes up on /. that makes me question the authors sanity. This is one of them.

    There is plenty of reason to doubt the neutrality and motives of the White Helmets, outside of and being shared around long before any Russian news stories. There are plenty of pictures where the same people are seen as victims in different locations, and the curious fact that the White Helmets are routinely at the scene immediately and seemingly active exclusively in islamist-controlled territory.

    So what is this story? FUD? Did too many questionable details about these guys surface recently?

    From an outside perspective, two things seem to be obvious: One, the White Helmets are doing humanitarian work and providing emergency services to civilian victims in a war zone. Two, they are clearly aligned with one of the sides in this conflict.

    Neither of these diminishes the importance of the other.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      the White Helmets are routinely at the scene immediately and seemingly active exclusively in islamist-controlled territory.

      Only if you divide Syria in three: Assad, the Kurds and everyone else are Islamists. Now Assad has an army and medics, the Kurds has the Peshmerga and medics, the rest have... what? Not that I've ever seen any evidence that the White Helmets were allowed to work under ISIS, they didn't tolerate anybody. So they've worked in the areas controlled by "other" rebel groups, which is undoubtedly a mixed bunch but hardly proof of foul play. Are they neutral? Hell no, it's basically "Assad is killing us please help

      • by Tom ( 822 )

        Only if you divide Syria in three: Assad, the Kurds and everyone else are Islamists.

        That is actually more or less the case, is it not? All of the two dozen or so named rebel groups have at various times allied with either Daesh or Al Qaida (Jabhat Fateh Al Sham).

        Not that I've ever seen any evidence that the White Helmets were allowed to work under ISIS, they didn't tolerate anybody.

        They do seem to stay away from ISIS territory. I do remember seing a video where POWs were executed by ISIS and then taken away by White Helmets, but I might misremember the details.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      This is how Russia works. A mixture of truth and misinformation, sowing doubt and uncertainty everywhere. People start to distrust everything, especially the media that is the only source of information about these things (since most people can't go to Syria to verify for themselves).

      That opens up opportunities for post-truth politics. That's where we are.

      • by Tom ( 822 )

        I repeat: This isn't news, it's olds. I've seen the White Helmets being doubted publicly for well over a year, maybe two. Sometimes even in mainstream media.

        That they are part of the ISIS propaganda efforts is plain as day. The only question remaining is how strongly they are aligned with Daesh, if they are a pure propaganda tool created for this purpose or a humanitarian organisation being used additionally for propaganda, or somewhere inbetween.

  • These are the same organizations who, when Russia deliberately bombs hospitals or civilians standing in bread lines in Syria, claim "terrorists" were targeted. And then, when the white helmets show up to do their work, Russia bombs them again so pictures and news of the deliberate attacks will be suppressed.

    These are the same organizations who reported on the killing of a 10-year old girl in Eastern Ukraine when the Ukrainian military and volunteers were fighting the Russian invasion in 2015. The claim wa

    • Oh geez. Why are you crying a river over a fake reporting on a one dead girl? Remember how the day before the Syrian finally expelled the Al-Queda affiliates ("moderate rebels" in the western-speak) from East Aleppo the entire western media exploded about how 83 charred and tortured bodies of the rebels were allegedly seen in East Aleppo. Respectable, established news outlets like BBC, CNN, etc all picked up this story and run with it. And then silence the next day. Nobody followed it up. Nobody retracted i

  • by Zorpheus ( 857617 ) on Saturday May 12, 2018 @01:33PM (#56601010)
    I don't know why the ones who write the article talk about some kind of secret network.
    These stories are on Russia today and Sputnik since weeks. These are known Russian state websites.
    The White helmets are portrayed as the ones who fabricated the proof for the chemical attacks. I don't know if anyone has a proof of what is true or not.
  • Given that they can walk through areas that have just been hit by a sarin gas, a lethal neural toxin, wearing nothing more than a cheap dusk mask and no gloves and not immediately be incapacitated or otherwise or die.

    Yup, that makes perfect sense.

  • by guacamole ( 24270 ) on Saturday May 12, 2018 @01:53PM (#56601086)

    Please get the facts straight.

    The White Helmets are US-UK-Turkish funded emergency first responders who seem to do their work only in jihadist infested rebel areas in Western Syria (but not for example in Kurdish areas). In the places where they're seen, a "human rights worker" would have his head chopped off.

    • I think for a two sentence summary that's not too bad.

      There is a two part article about the white helmets https://www.alternet.org/world... [alternet.org]

      Al Qaeda likes them a lot. Not my opinion, theirs. The WH been very valuable in the propaganda war.

      The topic article of course is entirely about discrediting any information which comes out about the White Helmets.

      We've had a lot of this discrediting of dissent by linking it to Russian Trolls and there will be a lot more. It works very well.

  • Silly Person (Score:4, Informative)

    by smugfunt ( 8972 ) on Saturday May 12, 2018 @01:57PM (#56601092)

    The Telegraph [telegraph.co.uk]
    The Guardian [theguardian.com]

    It is undeniable that the White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society are western funded yet operate only in jihadi held territory. Their videos are staged. Their claims are questionable. The fog of war is thick in the mainstream media.

    • In a article [nytimes.com] about Syria on NY Times, despite painted (as usual) Assad as brutal murder, but could not denied that:

      In March, I met a lawyer named Anas Joudeh, who took part in some of the 2011 protests. Joudeh no longer considers himself a member of the opposition. I asked him why. “No one is 100 percent with the regime, but mostly these people are unified by their resistance to the opposition,” Joudeh told me. “They know what they don’t want, not what they want.” In December, he said, “Syrians abroad who believe in the revolution would call me and say, ‘We lost Aleppo.’ And I would say, ‘What do you mean?’ It was only a Turkish card guarded by jihadis.” For these exiled Syrians, he said, the specter of Assad’s crimes looms so large that they cannot see anything else. They refuse to acknowledge the realities of a rebellion that is corrupt, brutal and compromised by foreign sponsors. This is true. Eastern Aleppo may not have been Raqqa, where ISIS advertised its rigid Islamist dystopia and its mass beheadings. But as a symbol of Syria’s future, it was almost as bad: a chaotic wasteland full of feuding militias — some of them radical Islamists — who hoarded food and weapons while the people starved.

      And, deliberately revealed that:

      [PHOTO of a bombed hospital]
      The roof of the Aleppo Eye Hospital, which rebels used as a military headquarters.

      smugfunt: It is undeniable that the White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society are western funded yet operate only in jihadi held territory.

      And one would wonder why there is no White Helmets in Yemen, why no Western funded "NGO" has ever operated in Yemen and/or is deliberately frequently promoted in MSM like White Helmets.
      Everyone who question the role, motive, credibility of White Helmets, no mater who they are, they were/are/will be immediately labeled as problematic/propagandist/misinformed, as

  • Nothing. His boss would be upset that Trump is fighting against his efforts.

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