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CNN: Russia creates network of media clone sites with top topics: war in Ukraine, Gaza conflict, EU climate crisis

Websites imitating large and influential media outlets published fake news, including the death of a teenager due to savings on street lighting in Germany.

CNN: Russia creates network of media clone sites with top topics: war in Ukraine, Gaza conflict, EU climate crisis
Photo: Media Confidential

Russia has become more active in spreading disinformation in European countries amid the European Parliament elections. Its methods have become more sophisticated and have moved beyond online platforms into public discourse, according to a CNN report.

The US cybersecurity company SentinelOne, together with the EU's independent research group DisinfoLab, has been working to uncover a Russian influence network that has been operating in Europe since 2022 called Dviynyk. SentinelOne's Chief Security Advisor Morgan Wright noted that artificial intelligence and deepfakes have quickly become tools for spreading lies. 

Dviynyk creates clone websites of well-known European media organisations, including major media outlets such as the Guardian and Bild. It uses these clones to spread fake news.

The network focuses on fake stories designed to influence attitudes towards the war in Ukraine and Gaza. But during the year, the climate crisis became another top topic, according to the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO).

One such fake story, published on a website that mimicked Bild, described how a teenage cyclist died after street lights were switched off to save electricity. The fake article claimed that the German government had switched off the lights because of an energy crisis caused by sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine. The story was refuted by numerous German media outlets, but continued to circulate on Facebook.

EDMO Secretary General Paula Gori said that the spread of false climate narratives aligns with Russia's geopolitical goals, as the country's lucrative oil and gas sector has been hit by sanctions and the EU's import ban.

‘It's quite easy for Russians to spread disinformation that the EU is suffering from sanctions and European citizens are suffering because of the lack of gas from Russia,’ she said. 

Gori added that Russia has another interest in spreading lies about the EU's climate policy: Moscow wants to strengthen relations with the Global South, where it competes with the West for business and influence. So it is trying to portray the failure of Europe's climate policy to stop the industrialisation of poor countries. 

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