- Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a new law that heavily fines those who spread those who spread what the state decides is fake news.
- Russia is one of the world’s largest sources of fake news, and it hosts campaigns that aim to spread misinformation around the world.
- With this new law, Russia can ban information that it decides is false within its own borders while spreading objective falsehoods around the globe.
- The US and the EU accuse Russia of spreading misinformation, and Facebook has said many of the accounts spreading disinformation on its network come from Russia.
Russia has passed a law banning the spread of fake news – even though the country has been linked to spreading more fake news abroad than anywhere else.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law on Monday that introduces fines for people who spread what the what deems to be inaccurate information, if the information leads to a “mass violation of public order.”
These fines can be up to 400,000 rubles ($US6,100), and the state can also block websites that don’t take down information that it says is false.
The law highlights the discrepancy between Putin’s domestic policies and an ongoing, well-documented effort from Russia to spread fake news around the world.
Social media companies have detected Russia-based efforts to spread misinformation, while other governments and rights groups have accused the state itself of being behind these kinds of campaigns.
US intelligence officials believe Russia used the spread of false information as a tactic to support Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign 2016, though the Russian government denies it.
The European Union has launched a “war against disinformation” originating in Russia, while Sky News reported that the UK is investigating a possible cyber attack by the Russian military on a British institute dedicated to countering Russian disinformation.
Andrus Ansip, the vice-president of the European Commission, said in December 2018 that there is “strong evidence pointing to Russia as the primary source of disinformation in Europe.”
“Disinformation is part of Russian military doctrine and its strategy to divide and weaken the west. Russia spends €1.1bn a year on pro-Kremlin media,” he said.
And a Buzzfeed News investigation found that the Russian government secretly funded a group news websites that appeared to be independent but instead wrote stories dictated by the Kremlin.
The network, called BALTNEWS, provided heavily-slanted coverage of the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – which experts say was designed to turn opinion in those countries to Russia’s favour.
A leading communications expert in Estonia said the sites constitute “systemic information-related activities on foreign territory. In other words – information warfare.”
The websites covered stories like a US Navy warship sailing in the Black Sea, sanctions against Russia, and tensions in the EU and the US.
Facebook has been removing Russia-based accounts for spreading disinformation, and said that it suspects some have ties to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA).
In January 2019 alone, Facebook removed more than 500 pages, accounts, and ads across Facebook and its sister network Instagram that were connected to Russia and involved in “inauthentic” behaviour.
It found that employees of Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik created pages that appeared to be independent news sites and general interest pages, without disclosing their links to the Kremlin.
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