Fake German news sites spread pro-Russian propaganda

For a campaign on Facebook, trolls copied fake pages from established media, including SPIEGEL. The content is adventurous – but also peppered with spelling mistakes.

Facebook (Symbolbild): Klobige Sätze, kyrillische Worte

Facebook (symbol image): Chunky sentences, Cyrillic words

Photo: Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

Links to fake German news sites spreading pro-Russian propaganda have been circulating on Facebook and Twitter for several weeks. This is from a report by the news portal “t-online”

out. The fake websites imitated the offers of established media such as “FAZ”, “Tagesspiegel”, “Bild”, “t-online” and also SPIEGEL. The posts have been shown to Facebook users as sponsored posts in the newsfeed since at least July, or have been published in the comments section of other pages.

»T-online« reports a total of 30 various fake URLs to websites, posing as German media . The links to the pages were distributed by hundreds of so-called sock puppet accounts. These accounts have apparently been generated en masse and with the help of software. In the case of the current campaign, the accounts had a lot in common in terms of name, profession and profile photos that real people do not otherwise have.

Two of the sock puppet accounts: clumsy to very clumsy fake

Photo: Screenshot Facebook

Although the articles exactly fit the layout of existing news websites have been adapted, the fakes of the established media are clumsy to very clumsy in terms of content: the language is often au f it is obvious at first glance that the authors of the articles do not speak German very well. Chunky sentences, unusual formulations and sometimes even Cyrillic words in the fake articles make the articles stand out in addition to their clear propaganda.

The goal: incite anger

A video claims about , “Frau Berbock” betrayed the Greens, “in order to prepare a nuclear apocalypse”. A fake FAZ states: “Many things are considerably more expensive today than they used to be”. The authors forgot to delete the Russian word for “signature” under a fake “t-online” video. And a supposed SPIEGEL article fantasizes that a school had exploded because it was “forced” to “start saving and feed gas into the system in portions because the price of the blue fuel had risen sharply.” All of these posts are incorrect in content.

Fake news portals have appeared on the web more frequently in the past up, about the refugee crisis 2015 and 2016. The aim of the posts is likely to be the same this time as in previous disinformation campaigns: they are intended to stir up anger, irritate and undermine trust in the established media. However, it is unclear how often the links were shared on Facebook and how successful the campaign was. Facebook’s own link analysis tool Crowdtangle does not provide any meaningful numbers.

It is also not easy to determine whether the links in the current case were distributed by real users or only by the sock puppet accounts analyze. A look at numerous relevant Telegram groups shows that the content of the fake pages was hardly ever distributed there, although the content fits well with the orientation of the groups.

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Accordingly, according to “t-online”, German authorities are also reluctant to comment on the subject. The phenomenon of fake media sites is not new, according to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

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How to spot fakes

In order to recognize a fake, it is worth reading the address bar of the browser in addition to reading it carefully. The fake websites cannot come from the domains of the news sites such as “http://www.spiegel.de”, but have similar-sounding, but often much longer addresses.

The EU had sanctioned Russian state media in response to the war of aggression this year

. Covert disinformation campaigns are an important alternative to influencing the mood on the Internet in the interests of the Kremlin. In a quarterly report

Meta only identified a Russian troll campaign at the beginning of August and according to its own statements 45 Accounts on Facebook as well as around 948 Accounts deleted on Instagram. According to »t-online«, Meta is also investigating the fake accounts in the case of the most recent campaign. However, despite the investigation of Meta, some accounts can still be found on the platform.

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