Some of the world's biggest news organisations, such as the Guardian and Al-Jazeera, have been the targets of illicit URL twinning to make fake news sites look like legitimate media outlets. These bogus sites were discovered to be operated by a group of Russians aiming to propagate wrong information.
Fake news articles appearing in websites seemingly looking like genuine news organisations is the new avenue to spread misinformation. The doppelganger sites use domain names that are almost similar to the Guardian, Al-Jazeera, the Atlantic and Belgian publication Le Soir.
New avenue for fake news
Earlier in the week, a website, whose domain name is similar to www.theguardian.com with a Turkish i, quoted MI6's former head Sir John Scarlett accusing the British and US intelligence departments to have started the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia to destabilise Russia. The article was widely shared on Facebook, which was later taken down by the social media alongside links associated with it.
A fake news expert is alarmed by this new means to spread disinformation after a massive social media sharing of the article, which was then picked up by Russia's local websites. Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council digital forensic research lab, says local news organisations are picking up false information from these websites, contributing all the more to the spread of disinformation.
Fake news targets
Fake stories still bear value for many even if they had been debunked, says Nimmo. He notes that Russians are suspected to be manning the operation of these sites that started to publish just this year targeting native speakers, so erroneous use of English grammar is of minimal concern.
Although it may be hard to pin down the people working behind the malicious publication of fake news articles, Nimmo believes Kremlin supporters are the foundation of these websites.
"It makes the fake obvious to native speakers, but maybe English language speakers are not the primary targets", Nimmo tells the Guardian. "It is being used much more and shared much more in the Russian language, which makes me think the target is a Russian one".
"With any fake all it takes is for one genuine outlet to broadcast and you have laundered the narrative", says Nimmo. "Once it's out there it's hard to convince people it's a fake".