Russian ‘disinformation’ campaign on US immigration woes find way into American voter platforms

Russian ‘disinformation’ campaign on US immigration woes find way into American voter platforms
An American holds a sign during a "Take Our Border Back" rally on Feb. 3, 2024, in Quemado, Texas. Online actors tied to the Kremlin have begun pushing misleading and incendiary claims about US immigration in an apparent bid to target American voters ahead of the 2024 election. (AP)
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Updated 02 March 2024

Russian ‘disinformation’ campaign on US immigration woes find way into American voter platforms

Russian ‘disinformation’ campaign on US immigration woes find way into American voter platforms
  • Disinformation is worse on X and TikTok, given their lack of controls, says Logically, a tech company that tracks disinformation campaigns
  • Russia and other disinformation spreaders also use encrypted messaging sites or websites that masquerade as legitimate news outlets

WASHINGTON: For Vladimir Putin, victory in Ukraine may run through Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
In recent weeks, Russian state media and online accounts tied to the Kremlin have spread and amplified misleading and incendiary content about US immigration and border security. The campaign seems crafted to stoke outrage and polarization before the 2024 election for the White House, and experts who study Russian disinformation say Americans can expect more to come as Putin looks to weaken support for Ukraine and cut off a vital supply of aid.
In social media posts, online videos and stories on websites, these accounts misstate the impact of immigration, highlight stories about crimes committed by immigrants, and warn of dire consequences if the US doesn’t crack down at its border with Mexico. Many are misleading, filled with cherry-picked data or debunked rumors.
The pivot toward the United States comes after two years in which Russia’s vast disinformation apparatus was busy pushing propaganda and disinformation about its invasion of Ukraine. Experts who study how authoritarian states use the Internet to spread disinformation say eroding support for Ukraine remains Russia’s top priority — and that the Kremlin is just finding new ways to do it.
“Things have shifted, even in the last few days,” said Kyle Walter, head of research at Logically, a tech company that tracks disinformation campaigns. While experts and government officials have long warned of Russia’s intentions, Walter said the content spotted so far this year “is the first indication that I’ve seen that Russia is actually going to focus on US elections.”
This month Logically identified dozens of pro-Russian accounts posting about immigration in the US, with a particular interest in promoting recent anti-immigration rallies in Texas. A recent Logically assessment concluded that after two years spent largely dedicated to the war in Ukraine, Russia’s disinformation apparatus has “started 2024 with a focus on the US”
Many posts highlight crimes allegedly committed by recent immigrants or suggest migrants are a burden on local communities. Some claims were posted by accounts with tiny audiences; others were made by state media sites with millions of followers.
This week the accounts seized on the recent death of a Georgia nursing student and the arrest of a Venezuelan man who had entered the US illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case. The killing quickly became a rallying cry for former President Donald Trump and other Republicans who suggest that migrants commit crimes more often than do US citizens. The evidence does not support those claims.
The content, crafted in English, has quickly found its way to websites and platforms popular with American voters. Footage of a recent anti-immigration protest broadcast by Russian outlet RT, for example, was racking up thousands of views this week on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and prompting angry replies from other users.
The Russian outlet Sputnik ran a story this week about growing calls to build a US-Mexico border wall, a priority for Trump, who failed to complete the job as president. An analysis of other sites that later linked to the Sputnik piece shows more than half were in the US, according to data from the online analytics firm Overall, Americans make up the English-language Sputnik’s largest audience.
US officials have warned that Russia could seek to meddle in the elections of dozens of countries in 2024, when more than 50 nations accounting for half of the world’s population are scheduled to hold national votes. While Russia has a strategic interest in the outcome of many of them — the European Parliament, for one — few offer the opportunity and the prize that America does.
For Russia’s bid to conquer Ukraine, this year’s US election stakes couldn’t be higher. President Joe Biden has pledged to fully back Ukraine. Republicans have been far less supportive. Trump has openly praised Putin and the former president has suggested he would encourage Russia to attack America’s NATO allies if they don’t pay their fair share for the military alliance.
More than half of Republicans believe the US is spending too much on Ukraine, according to a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that found Democrats to be much more supportive of additional aid.
Soon after the war started, Russia mounted a disinformation campaign designed to cut into support for Ukraine. Claims included wild stories about secret US germ warfare labs or Nazi conspiracies or that Ukrainian refugees were committing crimes and taking jobs from people who had welcomed them.
That effort continues, but Russia also has shifted its attention to issues with no obvious tie to Moscow that are more likely to create cracks in the unity of its adversaries — for example immigration, or inflation, high-profile topics in the US and Europe.
“They’re very savvy and understand the right buttons to push,” said Bret Schafer, senior fellow and head of the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit. “If your ultimate objective is to reduce support for Ukraine, your inroad might be talking about how bad things are on the southern border. Their path to win this thing is to get the US and the E.U. to stop sending weapons and aid to Ukraine.”
A message left with the Russian Embassy in Washington wasn’t immediately returned.
America’s election may also be a tempting target for other authoritarian nations such as China and Iran that, like Russia, have shown a willingness to use online propaganda and disinformation to further their objectives.
The online landscape has dramatically shifted since Russia sought to meddle in America’s 2016 presidential race won by Trump. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have banned many Russian state accounts and built new safeguards aimed at preventing anyone from exploiting their sites. In one recent example, Meta, the owner of Facebook, announced last fall that it had identified and stopped a network of thousands of fake accounts created in China in an apparent effort to fool American voters.
Other platforms, including X, have taken a different approach, rolling back or even eliminating content moderation and rules designed to stop disinformation. Then there is TikTok, whose ties to China and popularity with young people have set off alarms in several state capitals and Washington.
Artificial intelligence is another concern. The technology now makes it easier than ever to create audio or video that is lifelike enough to fool voters.
Social media is no longer the only battleground either. Increasingly, Russia and other disinformation spreaders use encrypted messaging sites or websites that masquerade as legitimate news outlets.
“A lot of their activity has moved off the major platforms to places where they can operate more freely,” said John Hultquist, chief analyst at Mandiant Intelligence, a cybersecurity firm monitoring Russian disinformation.
Walter, Logically’s research director, said he is most concerned about disinformation on X and TikTok this year, given their lack of controls and their popularity, especially with young voters. TikTok’s ties to China have raised national security concerns.
He said that while election years tend to highlight the dangers of disinformation, the most effective information operations are launched years in advance. America’s adversaries have spent a long time studying its politics, building online networks and cultivating domestic divisions.
Now comes the payoff.
“They don’t need to put a ton of effort into causing disinformation,” Walter said. “They’ve already laid the groundwork leading up to 2024.”

Nigel Farage grilled on UK TV following comments denounced as Islamophobic

Nigel Farage grilled on UK TV following comments denounced as Islamophobic
Updated 28 May 2024

Nigel Farage grilled on UK TV following comments denounced as Islamophobic

Nigel Farage grilled on UK TV following comments denounced as Islamophobic
  • Good Morning Britain presenter Richard Madeley challenges former leader of right-wing parties UKIP and Reform UK over controversial comments about Muslims
  • Farage said on Sunday that the growing number of Muslims in Britain do not subscribe to country’s traditional values

LONDON: Good Morning Britain presenter Richard Madeley clashed with Nigel Farage during a live TV interview with the former politician about comments he made on Sunday that prompted allegations of Islamophobia.

The former leader of the right-wing UK Independence Party and Reform UK, and honorary president of the latter, sparked controversy when he said there is a “growing number of young people in this country who do not subscribe to British values” and “loathe much of what we stand for.” He specifically referenced the Muslim community.

Madeley challenged Farage by citing a 2018 survey conducted by IPSOS Mori and said: “They found, absolutely conclusively, that Muslims in the UK attach more importance on being British than the general population.

“Eighty-five percent feel they truly belong to Britain, 55 percent feel that their national identity as British is very important to them, and that compares to 44 percent of the general population. So I’m bound to ask, what on earth were you talking about there?”

Farage responded by citing another survey, and argued that his comments on Sunday, during an interview with Sky News, were taken out of context. He claimed 23 percent of 18-to-24-year-old Muslims in Britain believe jihad is a good thing.

“Now that of course is not a British value in any way at all and it’s a very disturbing trend that’s particularly prevalent among the young,” he said, adding that it was “undoubtedly true” that there is an increasing number of young people in Britain who “not only don’t subscribe to our values, they openly support Hamas.”

Madeley and co-presenter Charlotte Hawkins pointed out that the poll Farage referenced was heavily criticized because of its methodology.

“You also said in the interview that you could take someone to a particular street in Oldham and there would be nobody there who speaks English,” Madeley said.

“Well again, that’s just not true; the Office of National Statistics say that only 0.7 percent of people in Oldham don’t speak English. That’s less than one in a hundred.”

Several MPs have condemned Farage’s comments. The minister of state for Northern Ireland, Steve Baker, described the remarks as “ignorant and offensive.”

Meanwhile, BBC News presenter Geeta Guru-Murthy issued an on-air apology on Tuesday after saying earlier in the day that Farage was using his “customary inflammatory language.”

Guru-Murthy, who was speaking after the broadcast of a clip of Farage speaking at a Reform UK event in Dover, said she acknowledged that her comment “didn’t meet the BBC’s editorial standards on impartiality.”

RedBird boss describes failed Telegraph takeover as ‘a shame’ in first comments since deal collapsed

RedBird boss describes failed Telegraph takeover as ‘a shame’ in first comments since deal collapsed
Updated 28 May 2024

RedBird boss describes failed Telegraph takeover as ‘a shame’ in first comments since deal collapsed

RedBird boss describes failed Telegraph takeover as ‘a shame’ in first comments since deal collapsed
  • Rani Raad says failure of bid, blocked by UK legislation banning foreign governments from owning national newspapers, would weaken the publication’s brand
  • His Abu-Dhabi-backed investment group is now focusing on selling the titles at a premium and looking at other opportunities

DUBAI: Rani Raad, the CEO of RedBird International Media Investments, described the collapse of the Abu Dhabi-backed company’s takeover bid for British newspaper The Telegraph as “a shame” and said it will ultimately weaken the publication’s brand.

In first public remarks since the deal floundered in April, he told Al Arabiya’s Hadley Gamble, during a conversation at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai on Tuesday, that RedBird had effectively taken charge of The Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator magazine in December after repaying a $753 million debt owed by owners the Barclay family to Lloyds Bank.

However, finalization of the deal collapsed as a result of UK legislation prohibiting foreign governments from owning British national newspapers.

“In an ideal world I would be sitting in front of you all saying, ‘We own The Telegraph,’” Raad said. “Not only would that be good for us and our portfolio but also good for the people working in paper.

“My fear is what happened in The Telegraph ultimately is something that would cost the paper and its employees more, and the UK government more, than any of us over here.”

Raad said that while it was not his place to comment on UK politics, policymakers had changed the rules when the deal was almost complete, with negative effects on the promotion of inward investments.

“Last year alone, the UK lost 1,200 journalists,” Raad said. “For whatever reason, whether xenophobia or party politics, it was a shame the way it played out.”

He added that the group is now focusing on the sale of The Telegraph and The Spectator for a premium, and he remains optimistic about a successful outcome.

“We will make our money back, and then some, and move on to other markets and focus on other opportunities,” Raad said. “Our only regret, in hindsight, is the timing could have been better crafted.”

He also shared his views on the decline of CNN, and the wider American network television industry, which recently hit a 30-year low in primetime ratings. He spent 25 years at CNN International Commercial, including serving as its president, and believes the news brand should not be counted out just yet.

“RedBird IMI was established in partnership with former CNN CEO Jeff Zucker, alongside partners in Abu Dhabi and Gerry Cardinale in New York. We wanted to focus on news and a new transition,” Raad said.

“What they (CNN) are dealing with is just a situation whereby the sector is going through drastic transformation. They are learning how to serve a new audience and demographic. There is potential for reinvention and growth.

“CNN is a very, very powerful news brand globally. Ultimately, if they find a way to make that transition, to talk to a broader demographic, it’ll be here for a long, long time.”

‘Path to peace is clear but accord is still distant, media must fix its narrative,’ Yemeni PM tells Arab Media Forum

‘Path to peace is clear but accord is still distant, media must fix its narrative,’ Yemeni PM tells Arab Media Forum
Updated 28 May 2024

‘Path to peace is clear but accord is still distant, media must fix its narrative,’ Yemeni PM tells Arab Media Forum

‘Path to peace is clear but accord is still distant, media must fix its narrative,’ Yemeni PM tells Arab Media Forum
  • Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak says that years of war have had catastrophic effect on ordinary citizens
  • Media should spread awareness and start dialogue about Yemen’s situation, PM urges

DUBAI: Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak has said that while the peace process with the Houthis is “clear,” a formal accord remains out of reach, as he emphasized the crucial role the media must play in shaping the narrative.

Speaking on the sidelines of the three-day Arab Media Forum in Dubai, the prime minister addressed the ongoing challenges faced by his country and the importance of accurate media representation about unfolding events.

In an interview with Syrian news anchor Zeina Yazigi, Mubarak highlighted the daily hardships faced by both himself and ordinary Yemeni citizens due to the ongoing conflict.

“What we are going through is the accumulation of the years of war Yemen has gone through,” Mubarak said.

“We continue to face a dire humanitarian disaster brought upon by the lack of security, by natural disasters, and by the tense situation in the Red Sea. The standard of living remains lacking. If we build a school today, a rocket might destroy it the following morning.”

The prime minister said the main priority for the country was to find a lasting solution and to provide essential services to uplift citizens’ standard of living.

He said: “Our oil refineries stopped operating in October 2022 and that has stripped the government of over 70 percent of its resources. You therefore have a hard time to even provide electricity to citizens.

“The road map to peace is clear. Many negotiations and initiatives have been brought forth by our brothers in Saudi Arabia and Oman. Long negotiations have also taken place in Stockholm and Kuwait but in order for a full ceasefire to happen, you need two willing partners and the Houthis are not yet willing.”

Yemen has been engaged in a bloody civil war between the internationally recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthi group since 2014.

Mubarak, who was kidnapped by the Houthis in 2015 and has publicly shared his experience of fearing for his life, described the war as “ideological,” but expressed hope for peace and stability.

He said: “Yemen is at an important strategic geographical location, with 34 million citizens and very rich natural resources.

“To neglect it is to neglect (a good chunk) of the world’s resources. We are at war, an ideological battle with the Houthis. What morals does a party have when it bombs schoolchildren? When it strips its country of its resources?”

Mubarak stressed the media’s vital role in remedying false narratives.

He added: “The Houthis’ actions in the Red Sea predate the events of Oct. 7. The two are not directly related and it is important that the media is able to distinguish this fact, to spread awareness and start a dialogue.

“It was also previously thought that the Houthis had nothing to do with Iran, and that was simply untrue, proven in time by correct media coverage and analysis. Having the full picture is important.”

In a meeting with Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, second deputy ruler of Dubai and chairman of the Dubai Media Council, Mubarak discussed the need for a “unified Arab voice.”

Both sides stressed the important and influential role of the media in supporting stability and enhancing opportunities for peace, promising to work together to develop a framework for preparing a new generation of media professionals.

Mubarak said: “I am proud of my country; it is the cradle of civilization. Despite the hardships, it deserves our sacrifices for a better future.

“We have a strong backbone behind us, the Emiratis, the Saudis and the rest of our brothers. We have a just cause and are keen to maintain our Arab identity and hope for a better future.”

‘Do not expect change in US foreign policy even with new administration,’ experts tell Arab Media Forum

‘Do not expect change in US foreign policy even with new administration,’ experts tell Arab Media Forum
Updated 28 May 2024

‘Do not expect change in US foreign policy even with new administration,’ experts tell Arab Media Forum

‘Do not expect change in US foreign policy even with new administration,’ experts tell Arab Media Forum
  • American regional policy was discussed along with Gaza conflict

DUBAI: American foreign policy remains consistent regardless of the sitting president, and no major strategic shifts should be expected with a new administration, political experts told attendees at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai on Tuesday.

While American elections every four years bring new faces to the forefront, this cycle features familiar candidates, with current Democratic President Joe Biden running for re-election against former Republican President Donald J. Trump.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Rumaihi, a political science professor at Kuwait University, emphasized that America’s actions are driven by its own interests, regardless of the president’s party affiliation.

“We are talking about America, a dominant power with a system that has not changed much throughout its history. We can disagree with it, but we should not make enemies out of it,” Al-Rumaihi said.

“We foster great economic relations with China and Russia, but our weaponry and defense in the region are American-made.”

Al-Rumaihi echoed Saudi diplomat Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s sentiment that “America’s enemies must fear America, but America’s friends must fear it more,” highlighting the Arab world’s political animosity toward US foreign policy due to perceived double standards.

Dr. Raghida Dergham, columnist and executive chairperson of the Beirut Institute, suggested that Biden’s handling of the Gaza situation could have electoral repercussions.

“Biden’s approach on Gaza will no doubt affect his votes. His double standards are glaring. Both running presidents are aware of this as we see them trying to rally the state of Michigan, which has a large Arab base that can affect the votes. And while Washington has a massive impact on the region, we are now seeing (its) different approach as to how the Gulf reacts to it,” she said.

Dergham underscored Saudi Arabia’s firm stance on Gaza and the future creation of a Palestinian state.

She urged other Gulf countries to follow Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “bold and brave attitude” to pressure US and Israeli diplomatic and security strategies.

“I believe (the) relationship between America and the Gulf will remain stable, however we wish for a president that doesn’t view Arabs solely through the Iranian and Israeli prism.”

Dergham, citing Egyptian journalist Abdel Latif El Menawy, attributed the region’s current tensions to American policies since former President Barack Obama, which left a power vacuum.

“I would still like to say we are not the enemies of the American people; we are in disagreement of their foreign policy however,” she continued.

“We have been brought up with the notion that America’s stance remains unwavering, but that changed when Trump came into power with his character and policies. With what is currently taking place in Gaza, I don’t think Washington can continue to depend on the states it did before.”

The war in Gaza is a major focus of the three-day event in Dubai.

On Tuesday, a panel titled “Palestine through the lens of Arab media” explored the role of media in covering the Palestinian cause amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is also expected to be a central topic in other sessions, including those featuring Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, prime minister of Yemen; Jasem Albudaiwi, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council; and Egyptian comedian and media personality Bassem Youssef, who has been a vocal critic on the international stage since conflict broke out Oct. 7.

Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes

Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes
Updated 27 May 2024

Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes

Vanity Fair France apologizes for removing Palestinian pin from image of Guy Pearce at Cannes
  • Magazine faced backlash on social media for appeared attempt to censor pro-Palestinian solidarity

LONDON: Vanity Fair France was forced to issue an apology for digitally removing a Palestinian pin worn by actor Guy Pearce at the Cannes Film Festival.

On May 21, Vanity Fair published an article featuring several photographs of celebrities attending the festival. Among these was a portrait of Pearce wearing a black Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo.

Social media users quickly noticed that a pin of the Palestinian flag seen on his left lapel in other images had been removed.

Journalist Ahmed Hathout was one of the first to highlight the alteration, tweeting: “So Guy Pearce showed solidarity with Palestine at Cannes by wearing a pin and Vanity Fair decided to photoshop it out. Little did they know the bracelet was also of the Palestinian flag colors.”

The French subsidiary of the American magazine faced significant backlash on social media for what appeared to be an attempt to censor pro-Palestinian solidarity.

One user, @DarkSkyLady, tweeted: “Can we finally admit many of these outlets are propaganda-mouthpieces for colonialism and white supremacy?”

Another user, @Joey_Oey89, commented: “Reminder to unfollow and mute Vanity Fair. They smear celebs who take a stand against genocide and have made their stance clear.”

Responding to the criticism, Vanity Fair France posted an apology under Hathout’s tweet: “Good evening. We mistakenly published a modified version of this photo on the website. The original version was published on Instagram on the same day. We have rectified our error and apologize.”

The article on the magazine’s website now displays the unaltered image.

Pearce was among many celebrities at the prestigious festival who expressed solidarity with Palestine amid Israel’s brutal assault and seige on Gaza.

Other notable figures included actors Cate Blanchett and Pascale Kann, supermodel Bella Hadid, Indian actress Kani Kusrut, French actress Leila Bekhti, and Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El-Moudir.