Sometimes facts can be disinformation. Taken out of context, a quote, a number, a statement or a picture can be deceiving, while factually correct. Lies work more effectively, when they are supported by something factual; something real, something true.
A picture, published by the pro-Kremlin disinformation outlet Sputnik, is a good example of this. Two smiling young men, in front of the burning Notre Dame. The picture itself has been discussed – doctored or not? Sputnik reassures that it is an authentic picture of two young students at the scene, and states that they “did not attract the attention of our correspondent neither during the photo shoot, nor when the photo was published”.
Funny, did the photographer shoot only one frame? Didn’t Sputnik have any other choice, than to publish this very picture? As Kremlin Propagandiste Extraordinaire Dmitriy Kiselyov would say: “A coincidence? I don’t think so!”
Of course, the reality is that this picture was carefully selected among dozens, even hundreds of frames shot by Sputnik’s photographers. Because this one suited Sputnik’s narrative. And Sputnik didn’t then have to instruct the trolls – they knew how to use the photo.
Half-Truths and Full Lies
The French news agency AFP performed an investigation on the story of the picture. It was picked up by far-right American and French sites and used to “prove” the Muslims’ reaction to the fire. The two young men in the picture described to AFP how they in a few hours became the target of international racism.
Other examples of “fact-based disinformation” this week:
- A story about Sweden canceling a Christmas TV Concert – not to irritate the Muslims. Yes, the broadcast was canceled, but due to a contract issue with the organizers. No Muslims involved.
- De-classified documents from the US Defense Intelligence Agency proving that the United States supports Jihadist groups in Syria. Yes, a batch of DIA documents were released in 2012, but they do not support any of these claims. The documents contain intelligence on weapons shipments from Libya to Syria, but not that the US was transporting them.
- Lithuania and Latvia have issues with low birth rates. That is a fact, but does that mean that the countries will be depopulated in 20 years? Well, no.
Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets are mastering the art of almost not lying. But a half-truth can be just as deceiving as a lie.
News Front Blames the Jews
Of course, there is no shortage of blatant lying as well: pro-Kremlin media continue to repeat fantasies claiming that the illegal Crimean annexation was anything but Moscow land-grabbing; and about Ukraine being controlled by Nazis, supported by French President Macron. The usual stuff.
Lies, half-truths, one-percent-truths – the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine certainly has an impact. US-based cybersecurity firm SafeGuard Cyber estimates, according to Politico.eu, that “half the population of the EU-countries may have been exposed to some form of Russian-backed disinformation campaign”. The focus for the campaign is the large EU countries, like Germany. Russia-based sites in German, like News Front and South Front, are eager to present anti-migration and anti-EU topics, spicing them up with some anti-Semitic material on “The Jewish Soul of the Bolshevik Revolution“. Sputnik Deutschland keeps parroting how voting in the election to the European Parliament is worthless.
Moscow has mobilized a noisy disinformation campaign to target the EU elections in May, juggling full lies, half-truths, facts and pictures taken out of context; spinning stories, only remotely connected to reality.
It’s a twisted version of the oath “The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth”: The oath of the Kremlin disinformation outlets is “The Half-Truth, a Little of the Truth and a Lot of Stuff Besides the Truth”.
The campaign is loud and obnoxious, but there are methods to find the facts, the truth, the real stories. Check out our toolbox for fact-checking and let us, as voters and citizens, keep fighting for clean and fair elections.
EDIT: Removed reference to a draft case that didn’t meet our criteria for disinformation.
This article was originally published by EU vs Disinfo.