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Mon Jun 17, 2024, 09:52 AM Jun 17

Operation Overload: how pro-Russian actors flood newsrooms with fake content and seek to divert their efforts [View all]


Roooskies flood the news keys to create divisions between societies. Divide and conquer.

“Please Check”. More than 800 organisations, among which many media outlets have been flooded with emails and social media mentions urging them to verify dubious claims undermining Ukraine, France and Germany for the most part. The issue is that these solicitations are part of a massive pro-Russian operation, still ongoing at the time of writing.

The graffitis, videos or screenshots sent to newsrooms are fake and were fabricated for the purpose of diverting journalist’s ressources, or even try to have their narratives amplified by getting fact-checkers to publish debunks. Operation Overload, as we dubbed the action, is detailed in our latest report, led with the support of Reset.Tech and 20+ fact-checking entities, which shared content they had received.

This operation is remarkable for its scale, the elaborate tactics it employs and the quality of the fake content produced. We uncovered and traced coordinated action on Telegram and X to create artificial dissemination of fake content, as well as on a network of websites controlled by the perpetrators. This content amalgamation technique aims at creating a false sense of a wide online presence of fakes. The next step are the coordinated email campaigns, pointing fact-checkers and journalists at the manipulated images or videos through links to social media and the controlled websites.

This investigation was triggered by the publication of AFP and Antibot4Navalny’s coverage of the operation Martryoshka, reporting about a part of this campaign that unfolded on X. Matryoshka ended up to be only the tip of the iceberg. As Amaury L., CTO of CheckFirst, puts it: “Overload is ‘Matryoshka’ on steroids”. Indeed, the numbers are staggering. Our research shows that more than 800 organisations have been targeted by nearly 2400 tweets. 200+ targeted emails were sent to newsrooms across Europe and beyond. The undertaking achieved its goals in its first months, since we found 250+ articles of fact-checks or debunks mentioning the fake assets created for Operation Overload.

Links and report available at the site.
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