With the permission of Urve Eslas, Propastop published her article on the news, fake news and Russia’s ties to small Western media portals. Urve Eslas is an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, specialising in Russian information warfare in Estonia. Eslas is also an opinion editor of the Estonian daily Postimees, a radio host, and a newspaper columnist.
Propastop will provide a short overview of the article in English. The main problem of this article was, why she is not willing to financially contribute to local media portal objektiiv.ee. This portal is one of the main places, where local Catholic Cristian conservatives publish news and articles important to them. The problem is that they also publish stories from English media, sourced from Breitbart News, InfoWars, ZeroHedge and Trunews, which are not considered as trustworthy news outlets. From these web pages objektiiv.ee has brought stories to Estonian readers like Hillary Clinton is using secret sign language of paedophiles, Barack Obama escaped from US government harassment to international waters, California legalised child prostitution, Syrian chemical-weapons attack might have been staged and many others alike.
Given that objektiiv.ee is one of the few channels for Estonian national-conservative, it can be assumed that the false information has not left unaffected this communities world perception. This, in turn, means that the national-conservatives are lacking quality information, which lessens their chance to participate in the public debate equally. This will enhance their chance of getting ridiculed more than they should be.
There is a variety of alternative news channels. Some of them are political, and others use the idea of alternative just for the business model: the crazier the fiction, the more visitors and advertisement money they get.
In general, there is nothing wrong in being critical towards the West and being sympathetic towards Russia’s positions. Such views should be part of public debate. The problem arises when arguments for justifying their views are based on false information or conspiracy theories.
Breitbart News and InfoWars are along with Russia’s state media RT and Sputnik under investigation in the United States. Before, during and after the US presidential elections, they deliberately disseminated false information. The question is not about their political favouring, but rather that they are guiding political processes by using false information. Fake news and information get big attention on social media and give lots of results on search engines.
A US website PropOrNot, which investigates Russia’s organised influence activities to the West, published a report in November, which charts the Russian propaganda network. The study was based on main formal and informal Russian information channels: rt.com, sputniknews.com, pravda.ru, tass.ru, russia-insider.com, etc. They used software that helped them to find same or similar news. The report found that the Western websites, including ZeroHedge, belong to a network, which contributes to spread false information or unverified information from Russia, and through that shapes the public opinion. Through this symbiotic cooperation with Russian and Western media channels, one can notice a so-called narrative laundering, which misinforms the reader of its information source.
Narrative laundering is happening, because it is mutually beneficial. When Western small and medium-sized Websites refer to Russian media, it will increase the number of visitors and ad profit. The Russian side, in turn, gains a channel which allows them to reach the Western readers. Western channels are also used to corroborate their positions. ZeroHedge’i, Breitbart News and InfoWarsi are used a lot for this reason. RT’s, Sputnik’s, or Russia Insider’s search engines give dozens and dozens of results referencing their stories. This, in turn, will increase the credibility of the Russian channel: not only Russian channels write about those things, but Western media also confirms these stories.
References to ZeroHedge, Breitbart, InfoWars and Trunewsi radio program do not give the reader of objektiiv.ee reasons to believe that the mediated information or its tonality can come from any other sources than the United States.
Urve Eslas concludes that there is a need in Estonia for a quality national-conservative news channel and this channel would amend overall public discussions. Although she does not share the national-conservative worldview, she would still be willing to donate to this channel. But until objektiiv.ee does not stop using the so-called alternative channels like Breitbart, InfoWars, Trunews and ZeroHedge.
News channels that do not give background information for their stories (authors, editors, publishers contacts, original sources) are not credible. Google, Facebook, Twitter can draw readers’ attention to the anonymity requests of those channels. It gives the reader the opportunity to choose whether he or she reads the news received from an anonymous source, or from a source behind what one can see the authors face and name.