One Year, 100 Myths: NewsGuard Has Identified More than 100 False Narratives About the War in Ukraine
Approaching the anniversary of the first year of the war, NewsGuard analysts have uncovered 105 disinformation narratives spread by 358 websites, much of it unknowingly supported by Western advertisers
(February 16, 2023 — New York) Since the Russia-Ukraine war began one year ago, NewsGuard’s team of journalists have debunked 105 false narratives related to the war, and identified 358 news and information websites spreading those false narratives. Advertising for top Western brands are unintentionally supporting many of these websites through computer-placed advertising, showing a continuing failure of the programmatic advertising industry.
A selection of the 105 myths and their debunks is available on NewsGuard’s Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center, which NewsGuard has maintained in English, Italian, French and German since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. The pace of discovering disinformation on these websites is increasing: In the past four months alone, NewsGuard has debunked 36 myths and identified 94 new websites spreading false narratives surrounding the war.
The Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center will continue to record and debunk the top myths related to the Russia-Ukraine war. Governments in the West, including Ukraine through its Center for Countering Disinformation under the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, and the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, have licensed full access to the false narratives and the malign actors NewsGuard analysts have uncovered that spread them.
105 false narratives, 358 sites spreading disinformation—and counting
Most false narratives on NewsGuard’s tracker either disavow Russia’s alleged atrocities and other abuses in Ukraine or demonize Ukrainians. In recent weeks, NewsGuard has identified myths seeking to exaggerate Russia’s military success in Ukraine; to assert that NATO troops are fighting in Ukraine; and to suggest that the UK government no longer welcomes Ukrainian refugees.
Each of the 358 sites in NewsGuard’s Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center has spread at least one of the 105 myths about the war listed in the tracker. This number far exceeds the handful of sites that digital platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok sanctioned at the start of the invasion, as required by European regulations. These digital platforms announced temporary measures in some countries against the few well-known Russian propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik News, only after the European Union prohibited distribution or advertising support for these Kremlin-funded and operated propaganda sites.
Top Western Brands Unintentionally Funding the Russian Disinformation War Machine
Almost one-third of the websites that NewsGuard has identified as spreading disinformation about the war—112—continue to earn programmatic advertising revenue, many placed on behalf of blue-chip brands without their knowledge or intention. Of these 112 websites, 41 sites carry programmatic advertising placed by software provided by Google, which operates the largest demand-side platform delivering display advertising for the world’s largest brands. The opaque system of programmatic advertising means that brands have no idea that their ads are being placed on disinformation websites.
For example, Google continues to deliver ads to Pravda, a pro-Kremlin website that operates in multiple languages and is owned by a political ally of Vladimir Putin. Among the top false narratives NewsGuard analysts have identified Pravda spreading are that the U.S. is developing bioweapons to be used against ethnic Russians, that Ukrainian officials have purchased multi-million dollar properties in Switzerland and that the Ukrainian military sold French-made artillery systems to Russia.
This is a sampling of brands whose ads NewsGuard analysts have identified appearing on Pravda in the past eight months, financially supporting its disinformation: Hertz, Sotheby’s, Petco, Lending Tree, Cars.com, AAA, Norton, Toshiba and Google. Many more brands have appeared on the other 111 sites advancing disinformation about the war NewsGuard has identified that benefit from programmatic advertising. In all, hundreds of Western brands are unintentionally supporting Russian disinformation through their advertising.
This advertising support for spreaders of Russian disinformation 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 that are persistent publishers of Russian disinformation, such as the ones NewsGuard has identified on its Russia-Ukraine Disinformation Tracking Center. Signatories to the code include the digital platforms, several ad-tech companies and NewsGuard.
“One year after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Kremlin continues to try to confuse and convince audiences around the world through its relentless disinformation campaign. Striking features of the campaign have been the sheer volume of the false claims and the sources spreading them, and the recurring themes of the false narratives,” 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.”
“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,” said Gordon Crovitz, Co-CEO of NewsGuard. “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.”
Digital platforms, advertisers, ad agencies, ad-tech companies, researchers or 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., U.K., Canada, Germany, France, and Italy. In August 2022, NewsGuard also launched in Austria. NewsGuard products include NewsGuard, BrandGuard, which helps marketers concerned about their brand safety, and the Misinformation Fingerprints catalog of top hoaxes.
In 2022, NewsGuard began rating television news and information programs and networks using criteria similar to those used to score websites but adapted for the video medium. NewsGuard’s TV ratings are the first to go beyond its initial ratings of websites. Ratings for news and information podcasts will also be available for licensing in 2023.
NewsGuard’s ratings are conducted by trained journalists using apolitical criteria of journalistic practice.
NewsGuard’s ratings and Nutrition Labels are licensed by browsers, news aggregators, education companies, and social media and search platforms to make NewsGuard’s information about news websites available to their users. Consumers can also access NewsGuard’s website 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.