As many as 265 fake local news websites in more that 65 countries, including the US, Canada, Brussels and Geneva, are managed by Indian influence networks with an aim to influence international institutions along with elected representatives and sway public perception on Pakistan, a study by NGO EU DisinfoLab has found.
Most of these websites, the study found, were named after an extinct local newspaper or spoof real media outlets and republish content from several news agencies such as KCNA, Voice of America and Interfax. Some of these are themirrorofaustralia.com, thetimesofceylon.com, thehoovergazette.com, theseattlestar.com, miamivalleychannel.com, timesofgeneva.com and the dublingazette.com.
Additionally, these sites provided coverage of the same Indian-related demonstrations and events and republications of anti-Pakistan content from the Indian influence network.
To influence public perception on Pakistan
Pointing out that most these websites have a Twitter account as well, EU DisinfoLab found that these fake media outlets were formed to “influence international institutions and elected representatives with coverage of specific events and demonstrations; provide NGOs with useful press material to reinforce their credibility and thus be impactful as well as influence public perceptions on Pakistan by multiplying iterations of the same content available on search engines.”
Further, it said that with several layers of media outlets that quote and republish one another, it was harder for the reader to trace the manipulation, and in turn (sometimes) offered a “mirage” of international support.
The EU DisinfoLab said that in October, European External Action Service’s East StratCom — the EU Disinformation Task Force, had found that ‘eptoday.com’ – website of a self-proclaimed magazine for the European Parliament in Brussels, had been re-publishing a large amount of news directly from Russia Today and Voice of America. “Among this syndicated content, we unexpectedly found a large number of articles and op-eds related to minorities in Pakistan as well as other India-related matters.”
It was then discovered that EP Today was managed by Indian stakeholders with ties to a large network of think tanks, NGOs, and companies from the Srivastava Group. “We also found that the IP address of the Srivastava Group is also home to the obscure online media ‘New Delhi Times’ and the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS), which are all based at the same address in New Delhi, India.”
A few weeks later, 27 Members of the European Parliament were invited by IINS to visit Kashmir and to meet with Prime Minister Modi.
On further investigation, the EU DisinfoLab found that timesofgeneva.com – an online “newspaper” that is “approaching 35 years in business”, has the same content as EP Today and produces videos covering events and demonstrations criticising Pakistan’s role in the Kashmir conflict.