When speaking about the Kremlin’s propaganda portals Sputnik and Baltnews, it often comes across that they are marginal channels with a low readership. Because of their low readership, the portals are not considered much of a threat to Estonia. The number of readers reflects that they are not click magnets. At the same time, they do have a readership, with a couple of hundred thousand visitors per month visiting both sites, ranking them the fifth most read with local Russian language portals.
However, in Propastop’s estimate the modest effect of these channels is strongly underestimated. The thing is that, their goal is not to attract many readers. They are actually collection sites, whose main role is to gather up news that displays Estonia in a bad light and then feed these stories on to the Russian media channels. The goal is to create topics and accusations that can be spread to the media at favourable moments when the opportunity arises. For the Kremlin media machine, these portals are like an infectious disease, which can be used to start an epidemic in the future. To illustrate the impact of these local propaganda channels, we outlined five cases in the past year, in which news in the media was initiated from Sputnik or Baltnews, which received wide readership and caused harm to Estonia – a lot more than just the numbers of readers should be assumed of their effectiveness.
5. place: The Great Baltic Wall myth
The Social media postings distributed by Baltnews, inciting the myth that the Baltic nations were building a wall at the Russian border. The myth, which began to take place, has gone through several subsequent propaganda attacks.
4. place: Boorish British soldier’s incident
This false story began with social media postings and spread to the Russian media via Baltnews. The incident is in our rankings because it was also reflected in the Western media. Fortunately, the British TV channels did not take it as being truthful.
3. place: the case of the dismissed pregnant woman
The story began when a woman who had just lost her job turned to Sputnik, who immediately morphed the incident into a propaganda incident and sent the biased news on to the TV channel Life.ru.
2. place: The Kiviõli boulder incident
Although the incident spread to the Russian media from the Russian language Delfi website, the news was first reported by Baltnews. The Russian Foreign ministry and their embassy in Estonia referred to the propaganda portal portrait of the promotion of fascism. It spreading greatly to the media and the speeches from our eastern neighbour’s government officials is the reason the incident is ranked so high.
1. place: blaming Mihkel Raud’s book as Russo phobia
The Baltnews initiated allegations quickly spread to Russian portals, becoming in the Russian media, an example how Estonians have published a textbook on how to insult Russians. Many portals covered it and Ren TV produced a video story, RIA Novosti also recently wrote about the topic. The incident gets the top ranking due to the large coverage in the Russian media, which is mainly because of the international reputation of the author, which in turn has a great potential of spreading in the Western media
The ranking chart highlights how unexpected news from collection sites can „ take off “ in the media. Similar high value stories are reported on our site on a daily basis and it is impossible to predict which of these will launch a propaganda attack. It almost appears as if the strategy of the portals is to produce as many different types of news stories as possible, to make them difficult to respond to. It is worth mentioning about the Kremlin machine’s next level, distributor sites, eadaily.ru as an example. The role of such websites is to collect the best material from collection sites and to forward it to Russian media channels. News stories initiated by Baltnews or Sputnik appear on eadaily.com site every couple of days; they all have the potential beginnings of growing into propaganda accusations.
Propastop believes that similar collection sites like Baltnews and Sputnik should not be allowed to indiscriminately operate without intervention. The closure of such hostile portals would be contrary to the values of Western society but we could freely subjugate them to some sort of media surveillance authority control. This would allow us to demand portals reject obvious falsehoods. As was initiated in the USA, portals could be named in similar foreign agent lists, as well as having them labeled with a propaganda mark. All of these solutions are better than letting propaganda channels operate freely without intervention and then having to fight against the attack after the fact.
Graphics and photomontage: Propastop