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the unknown side budrigannews.com published an article in mid-April about Pope Francis’ criticism of European countries for the situation of Ukrainian refugees. The same content, word for word, published on the same day could be read on Russia Today (RT), the Kremlin-funded media outlet that the European Union has banned since invading the former Soviet country. noweg.comwhich is advertised as a breaking news page about Equatorial Guinea, or atb.com.bofrom Bolivia, showed the same pictures and texts.

Up to 112 websites are doing the same thing: replicating the content of the Russian propaganda channel, which is banned in Europe. But sometimes you don’t have to go that far to get information about RT: just enter a web address that is slightly different from the original one, change the position on your Twitter profile or even return to an official RT website. Page back that seemed to have disappeared. RT’s top dozen new web addresses saw more than five million visits between May and June alone.

The tricks of the Russian international broadcaster are detailed in a report pushing EL PAÍS, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based research center focused on divisive debates and disinformation techniques. Several previous analyzes (e.g BBC East either this one from the Disinformation Situation Center) had analyzed how RT continues to flood social networks, but the ISD is focused on websites. Since it would be impossible to cover the entire internet, some of their work was manual and therefore limited: they probably only reveal a small part of all the tactics out there, but enough to underline how fragile the EU-imposed veto is.

Pages registered in Moscow

In theory, if the access ban on RT and Sputnik, the Kremlin’s other major advertising channel, is put in place, a barrier will be erected in Europe preventing access to its content. The first thing the ISD researchers did was consult the original RT website using a VPN connection (which allows you to hide where you are accessing the internet from). To narrow the field of their research, they decided to analyze only stories about Ukrainian migrants in Europe. They selected from hundreds of articles on the original website and searched them on ‘this side’ of the barrier, ie with European links. They put them into Google and the search engine returned results for more than 800 articles that were exactly the same as RT’s, hosted on websites that disseminated or replicated the same content.

A large proportion of these articles are hosted on twelve websites whose address was not RT’s original one, but whose content was the same and, most importantly, the IP address to which they connected was the same as that of RT (which makes IP Instruction a website and is unique). Tests to avoid restrictions appeared on two other dependent sites: one of the domain names used was “against censorship”. All pages are registered with a Russian service provider in Moscow and were mostly created in the six weeks after the invasion of Ukraine.

Until the invasion of Ukraine those who most clicks two specific domains were accumulated: news.rt.com Y de.rt.com. As of April 1st, the links that were easiest to find and generated the most visits became news-rt.com (with a hyphen instead of a period) and from June too esrt.press.

news-rt.com In the month of May alone, it received 1.2 million visits and 88% of its users were from Spain, according to data from SimilarWeb.com. RT in Spanish In fact, in recent years it has been the most visited service of this channel on social networks, with more than double the number of followers on Facebook than the English version.

A wall too porous

Social networks have also applied the European veto to Russian accounts, but bypassing it is very easy. Instagram can be easily accessed from Spain using a data rate and not a Wi-Fi network. latest spanol, who broadcasts unrestricted RT messages to his nearly 20,000 followers. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, often flags Kremlin-controlled media posts to warn its users about the unreliability of the content.

On Twitter, a small change, available to any user, allows you to see RT’s tweets: by manually changing your location to an area outside the European Union, you can now see news, photos and videos published by the chain be sent. “It seems that Twitter uses the self-declaration where we should decide whether to show RT content instead of the actual position: this implies that the RT ban for this network can be circumvented EU-wide very easily,” say ISD -researcher . A Twitter spokesman points out that the company is focused on complying with EU sanctions and has been restricting the visibility of RT’s tweets for years (for example, they do not appear as recommended).

The video platform YouTube has also banned RT, but another recent review has identified about fifty channels that publish the content produced by the Russian chain in Spanish.

More complex forms, like the 112 pages of copy-paste RT content, seem less directly connected to the original brand. However, there is evidence that they are often part of the same network: this is the case, among others, of MainStreamMedia Limited (based in the United Arab Emirates), which has registered seven sites replicating RT content, three from Bahrain and four from the UK. Another 46 sites act as news aggregators: they provide the headline, subtitle and first paragraph of the RT news and then link directly to the original website.

THE COUNTRY

It is relevant that the researchers reached the list of websites simply by searching for words in Google, the most used search engine in Europe. “During another investigation, we found that although the official RT addresses were not offered in the results, alternative sites appeared in the searches… and many did,” explains Francesca Arcostanzo, one of the authors of the analysis.

What is most surprising about the research, however, is how porous the wall that has been erected in the European Union is. Russia Today often does not need tricks: as verified by this newspaper, the original pages of RT in Spanish are at a click. “The researchers worked from different countries (UK, Belgium, Italy) and we saw how the implementation of the veto works differently in each country.” A more “consistent” approach between authorities of different countries, but also between technology giants like Google or Twitter to veto is therefore one of the recommendations according to their study. “If they can be linked to the Kremlin, sites replicating that content should be banned, just like the original RT,” the authors conclude.

Despite the shortcomings, the veto has another goal. As Nika Aleksejeva, researcher at the think tank American Atlantic Council: “The fact that a media company is banned is primarily news. Label this medium as something bad, and unclear readers will try to avoid this source. The ad itself reduces your visibility and audience, and encourages users not to share or consume that content.” With an ongoing war, RT is flagged as a source of war propaganda, at least for now, Aleksejeva adds.

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Source elpais.com

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