Introduction and Context

Throughout the election season of 2016, an increasing number of reporters and journalists have done remarkable work investigating the origins and operations of “fake news” outlets on the internet. Some notable examples include:

How Facebook powers money machines for obscure political 'news' sites
by Dan Tynan, Aug 24 2016, The Guardian
Online Scam Artists Are Using Hoaxes About Terrorist Attacks To Make Money
by Craig Silverman, Aug 19 2016, Buzzfeed News
Facebook Made This Sketchy Website’s Fake Story A Top Trending Topic
by Craig Silverman, Aug 29 2016, Buzzfeed News
We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned
by Larua Sydell, Nov 23 2016, NPR
Seattle’s own ‘click-bait’ news site serves up red meat for liberals
by Danny Westneat, Nov 25, 2016, Seattle Times
How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study
by Sapna Maheshwari, November 20 2016, New York Times

Buzzfeed News in particular has done pioneering analytical work on this, and their stories on the “fake news” issue are an excellent resource. [1] Public discussion has now correctly recognized that “fake news” is a serious problem with real-world consequences, and a number of innovative actors have started to discuss, research, and develop potential solutions. However, the public discussion of all this has, until very recently, generally assumed that the “fake news” problem has been mostly driven by “clickbait”-style commercial motivations:

Renegade Facebook Employees Form Task Force To Battle Fake News
by Sheera Frenkel, Nov 14 2016, Buzzfeed News
Facebook's Fight Against Fake News Was Undercut by Fear of Conservative Backlash
by Michael Nunez, Nov 14 2016, Gizmodo
Here’s a Chrome Extension That Will Flag Fake-News Sites for You
by Brian Feldman, Nov 15, 2016, New York Magazine
We Have a Bad News Problem, Not a Fake News Problem
by David Mikkelson, Nov 17 2016, Snopes
How to Spot Fake News
by Lori Robertson and Eugene Kiely, Nov 18 2016, FactCheck.org

This evolving thread of stories analyzing “fake news” has been simultaneously accompanied by a very different but parallel thread of stories and public discussion about Russian cyber-espionage, propaganda, and “active measures” targeted at the West. Reporting on this initially focused on Russian-backed comment-troll farms, but quickly expanded beyond that:

Documents Show How Russia’s Troll Army Hit America
by Max Seddon, Jun 2 2014, Buzzfeed News
The Agency: From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities
by Adrian Chen, Jun 2 2015, New York Times
Salutin' Putin: Inside a Russian troll house
by Shaun Walker in St Petersburg, The Guardian, 2 April 2015

While the public discourse correctly recognized that “fake news” was becoming a serious problem, especially in light of the election, very few journalists and researchers sought to systematically connect the dots between fake news and Russian cyberespionage, propaganda, and “active measures” generally. However, as the election season ramped up an increasing number of intrepid reporters and researchers started investigating this connection, which had been discussed extensively in the specialist press for years. Much of this research inspired our efforts at ProPornoT.

For example:

Unmasking the Men Behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street's Renegade Blog
by Tracy Alloway and Luke Kawa, Apr 29, 2016, Bloomberg
Social Network Analysis Reveals Full Scale of Kremlin's Twitter Bot Campaign
by Lawrence Alexander, Apr 2 2015, Global Voices
When Online Kremlin Propaganda Leaves the Web, It Looks Like This
by Lawrence Alexander, Sep 29 2015, StopFake
Social Media as a Tool of Hybrid Warfare,
by Sanda Svetoka, Jul 7 2016, NATO StratCom
The Fringes of Disinfo: A Network Based on Referrers
by Andrew Aaron Weisburd, Feb 7 2016, in активные мероприятия
Putin's Army Of Internet Trolls Is Influencing The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal
by Paul Roderick Gregory, 5 June 2016, Forbes
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: Russia's information war meets the US election
by Chris Zappone, 15 June 2016, Sydney Morning Herald
The Kremlin’s Candidate: In the 2016 election, Putin’s propaganda network is picking sides
by Michael Crowley, May/June 2016, Politico
Prof. Chodakiewicz discusses Russian military and influence operations at US Army Europe Senior Leaders Forum
by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, Jan 27 2015, Institute of World Politics

Until very recently no public research connected the dots as extensively as this article:

Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy
by Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts and JM Berger, Nov 6 2016, War on the Rocks

These previously separate threads of public discussion about “fake news” and about Russian propaganda are now, finally, being connected. In our view, this is long overdue. We at ProPornoT are proud to be contributing to that discussion.

notes

[1]https://www.buzzfeed.com/tag/fake_news