NewsGuard Analysts Have Now Identified 250 Websites Spreading Russia-Ukraine Disinformation
Number of disinformation sites has more than doubled since the Russian invasion in February
(August 9 —New York City) NewsGuard announced today that its analysts have now identified 250 websites publishing Russia-Ukraine related disinformation, as well as 54 myths about the war that are spreading online.
Since March 3, 2022, NewsGuard has produced a Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center that tracks the number of sites that NewsGuard has found publishing false claims related to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, along with the specific false claims these sites are sharing. In March, there were 116 sites publishing disinformation about the war, meaning that the number of these sites has more than doubled to 250. In the past four months alone, NewsGuard analysts have identified 78 more sites that publish Russia-Ukraine related disinformation, and 32 new myths about the war.
NewsGuard identified some sites from research conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in July 2022, which found that content from Russia Today (RT), despite being banned by the European Union in March 2022, appeared on many websites, including variations of RT domain names, sites that are identical to official RT websites but that are published under a different URL, and sites that copy and paste entire RT articles.
The Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center, which is publicly available here, will continue to record and debunk the top myths related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict that the Kremlin has been spreading. As new myths appear and evolve, NewsGuard will update the list of myths accordingly.
250 Websites carrying propaganda—and counting
Each of the 250 sites in NewsGuard’s Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center has spread at least one of the top 54 myths about the conflict listed in the tracker. Even before the Russian invasion, NewsGuard had rated the overwhelming majority of these disinformation sites Red, for being generally untrustworthy. This number far exceeds the handful of sites identified for sanctioning by digital platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok for at the start of the invasion. All of these sites have published falsehoods also peddled by the Kremlin.
These digital platforms have announced temporary measures in some countries against well-known Russian propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik News, after the European Commission prohibited distribution or advertising support for these Kremlin-funded and operated propaganda sites. However, the large number of other sites identified by NewsGuard continue to spread myths freely on the internet. The platforms continue their practice of failing to label these sites as purveyors of disinformation or to give their users access to ratings from independent services so that readers can know who is feeding them the news on these platforms.
NewsGuard analysts have found that many of these 250 disinformation websites fail to disclose their ownership and control. Some claim to be the sites of independent think tanks or other types of independent non-profits, but there is no evidence to support this independence.
An example of a lesser-known website promoting Russia’s myths about Ukraine is TheRussophile.org, which NewsGuard rated Red for regularly publishing falsehoods supporting Russian disinformation and for failing to disclose its ownership or control. It describes itself as “an aggregator of news about Russia from alternative sources,” and indeed does aggregate top propaganda hoaxes. This includes false claims that the U.S. operates labs in Ukraine to develop bioweapons; that Russian troops were not responsible for the massacre of civilians in Bucha in March; and that Russian did not attack the railway station in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine.
In the case of 71 of the websites that NewsGuard has identified promoting Russian disinformation, these sites continue to earn programmatic advertising revenue—placed on behalf of blue-chip brands without their knowledge or intention and funding Russian disinformation. Many of these programmatic ads are placed by software provided by Google, which operates the largest demand-side platform delivering display advertising for the world’s largest brands.
This advertising support for Russian disinformation sources continues in violation of the European Commission’s Code of Practice on Disinformation, which was revised in June. It calls on advertisers and ad-tech companies to remove advertising from websites such as the ones NewsGuard has identified that are persistent publishers of Russian disinformation.
“While international media coverage of the war has dropped significantly in the past few weeks, Russia continues its relentless disinformation campaign. In addition to falsehoods that try to justify Russia’s invasion, NewsGuard has identified myths that seek to discredit Ukraine’s ally Poland and international organizations working in Ukraine, and that attempt to portray Ukrainian refugees as criminals,” said Steven Brill, Co-CEO of NewsGuard. “The Putin government relies on a mix of official state media sources, anonymous websites and accounts, and other methods to distribute myths designed to advance Russian interests and undermine its adversaries. We will continue to track the top myths as they are launched and will continue to identify and rate websites publishing propaganda falsehoods.”
“RT content is still finding audiences through more than 100 websites, despite the European Union effort to ban the Kremlin-operated disinformation site,” said Gordon Crovitz, Co-CEO of NewsGuard. “The Putin government took full advantage of the failure of Silicon Valley’s leading digital platforms to take responsibility for the ‘news’ brands they promote in their products. Beyond misleading readers, advertisers are understandably shocked to learn that Google and other ad-tech providers are delivering their ads on sites supporting Putin’s disinformation, endangering their brand safety while subsidizing Russian propaganda efforts.”
NewsGuard’s mission is to counter misinformation on behalf of readers, brands and democracies. Microsoft through its Edge browser and the Neeva search engine provide users with NewsGuard ratings and Nutrition Labels so that they know the nature of the sources of news they see on digital platforms. An increasing number of advertisers, agencies and ad-tech companies now use NewsGuard’s brand-safety tools to ensure the programmatic ads no longer support misinformation sites such as those publishing Russian myths justifying its war against Ukraine. NewsGuard provides its catalog of top myths across multiple categories to the U.S. Department of State, the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, and other government and defense entities. In 2020, the U.S. Department of State’s Global Engagement Center, citing NewsGuard’s reporting and data, outlined key components of these efforts in its report, “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem.”
Researchers, platforms, advertisers, government agencies, or other institutions interested in accessing the full list of domains supporting the disinformation of the Putin government can contact us here.
Launched in March 2018 by media entrepreneur and award-winning journalist Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard provides credibility ratings and detailed “Nutrition Labels” for thousands of news and information websites. NewsGuard rates all the news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement across the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, France, and Italy. NewsGuard products include NewsGuard, BrandGuard, which helps marketers concerned about their brand safety, and the Misinformation Fingerprints catalog of top hoaxes.
NewsGuard rates each site based on nine apolitical criteria of journalistic practice, including whether a site repeatedly publishes false content, whether it regularly corrects or clarifies errors, and whether it avoids deceptive headlines. It awards weighted points for each criterion and sums them up; a score of less than 60 earns a “Red” rating, while 60 and above earns a “Green” rating, which indicates it is generally reliable.
NewsGuard’s ratings and Nutrition Labels can be licensed by internet service providers, browsers, news aggregators, education companies, and social media and search platforms in order to make NewsGuard’s information about news websites available to their users.
Consumers can access these ratings by purchasing a subscription to NewsGuard, which costs $4.95/month, €4.95/month or £4.95/month, and includes access to NewsGuard’s browser extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox and its mobile app for iOS and Android. The extension is available for free on Microsoft’s Edge browser through a license agreement with Microsoft. Hundreds of public libraries globally receive free access to use NewsGuard’s browser extension on their public-access computers to give their patrons more context for the news they encounter online. For more information, including to download the browser extension and review the ratings process, visit newsguardtech.com.
Correction: In an earlier version of this press release, NewsGuard misstated the date of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in a headline. Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, not March.