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Russia Is targeting Europe’s elections

Russia Is targeting Europe’s elections

Less than two weeks before pivotal elections for the European Parliament, a constellation of websites and social media accounts linked to Russia or far-right groups is spreading disinformation, encouraging discord and amplifying distrust in the centrist parties that have governed for decades.
European Union investigators, academics and advocacy groups say the new disinformation efforts share many of the same digital fingerprints or tactics used in previous Russian attacks, including the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Fringe political commentary sites in Italy, for instance, bear the same electronic signatures as pro-Kremlin websites, while a pair of German political groups share servers used by the Russian hackers who attacked the Democratic National Committee.
The activity offers fresh evidence that despite indictments, expulsions and recriminations, Russia remains undeterred in its campaign to widen political divisions and weaken Western institutions. Despite online policing efforts by American technology companies, it remains far easier to spread false information than to stop it.
Russia remains a driving force, but researchers also discovered numerous copycats, particularly on the far right. Those groups often echo Kremlin talking points, making it difficult to discern the lines between Russian propaganda, far-right disinformation and genuine political debate.
Investigators are confident, however, that networks of Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts, WhatsApp groups and websites are spreading false and divisive stories about the European Union, NATO, immigrants and more. Conspiracy theories are peddled freely, including that last month’s Notre-Dame fire was the work of Islamic terrorists, a spy agency, or an elite cabal that secretly runs the world.
Often, these messages come directly from Russian news media and are repeated and amplified elsewhere. Others are more carefully cloaked: Facebook shuttered a pair of pages in Italy last week that were concealing far-right political messaging in what appeared to be lifestyle or sports sites unrelated to politics.
“The goal here is bigger than any one election,” said Daniel Jones, a former F.B.I. analyst and Senate investigator whose nonprofit group, Advance Democracy, recently flagged a number of suspicious websites and social media accounts to law enforcement authorities. “It is to constantly divide, increase distrust and undermine our faith in institutions and democracy itself. They’re working to destroy everything that was built post-World War II.”