And the Hits Keep Coming

It looks like the fallout from The Washington Post’s horrible fake news story isn’t over yet. Adrian Chen, who’s done some real journalism when it comes to Russian trolling, wrote an excellent piece on the moral panic over Russian propaganda in The New Yorker. If you prefer a bit more edge, Matt Taibbi jumped in the ring to whack WaPo over the head with a folding chair. Sic semper bad journalism.

And it’s really good that this is happening too. Basically what WaPo did by citing PropOrNot as a legitimate source is akin to what Russian propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik do all the time, although they at least tend to give you their sources’ names. But unlike RT and Sputnik, there’s actually diversity in the Western media, and so there’s been a backlash. While it still has many problems, free media is somewhat self-correcting, and it’s certainly been correcting WaPo lately.

The biggest failure in the story, of course, revolved around the shadowy group called “PropOrNot.” One thing even critics of the story seem to be unwilling to doubt is the idea that this is some kind of group, as the anonymous source himself claims. I highly doubt this. I am almost certain this is one guy, at most maybe him and a friend.

The idea that he must maintain anonymity for fear of Russian hackers is absolute bullshit. While I admittedly use a different surname, my face has been on TV, Youtube, and in publications which have published my work. Alexei “Noodle Remover” Kovalev makes no attempt at anonymity and he’s actually given public lectures in Moscow. The people behind StopFake don’t hide in the shadows. Bellingcat’s people have faced actual state-sponsored hacking attempts (this is based on notifications from Google about the attempts), but they are still using their own names and photos.

Put simply, PropOrNot has something to hide. Most likely it is the fact that it is one guy and not a group of 30 or so volunteers or whatever his ridiculous claim is. Once someone finds out it’s just one guy, they might quickly notice that he is utterly unqualified to speak about Russian propaganda or Russia in general. Then again, they might also find out that he’s actually a pro-Russian blogger deliberately attempting to embarrass the Western media. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve run ops involving ostensibly anti-Kremlin groups or individuals.

Whatever the case, the guy’s Twitter behavior should have been a major red flag for WaPo author Craig Timberg. To be fair, I write some rather over the top stuff on Twitter too, but if you check my profile it specifically says “humorist” in it. I’m also not claiming to be a group of 30-40 volunteers who scientifically analyze Russian propaganda. To sum up this point, PropOrNot is utter bullshit, and I’m sure writing that will get me added to the list in spite of the fact that this blog clearly does not fit his own stated criteria. I’ve heard he already added the Intersection Project, if that tells you anything.

So how bad is Russian propaganda, exactly? Should you be worried about it? Well I’ve designed a special test you can take to determine if you should be seriously worried about Russian propaganda. Here it goes:

STEP 1: Determine your location

Are you in Ukraine?

If the answer is “yes,” you have a good reason to be concerned about Russian propaganda.

If the answer is “no,” you probably don’t have a good reason to be overly concerned with Russian propaganda. You probably have plenty of dipshits spreading fake news in your country who have no connection with Russia whatsoever.

STEP 2: There are no other steps. You’re done.

At the end of the day, all this hysteria over Russian propaganda is essentially projection, and as others have pointed out this is very Putinist. Hillary and her supporters in the establishment expected her to win, and now that they lost they’re looking for anything and anyone they can blame. The white working class. Vote suppression (there’s some truth to this but it could have been overcome). Millennials. Putin. This is precisely what the Kremlin regime does. It tells Russians they live in a great country with strong traditional mores, but then when it becomes clear that this isn’t the case, the inconvenient phenomena or trends are blamed on the West.

It does not matter one whit that those who push these narratives claim to oppose Putin and regimes like his. If you spread the same kind of thinking, in the end you end up with more net authoritarianism, binary thinking, paranoia, distrust, cynicism, corruption, and so forth. Just look at Poland’s current government to see how “anti-Putin” and democratic are by no means synonymous.

The only way to do something about the spread of authoritarianism and “post-truth” is to turn inward and address the roots of the problem. The fault, dear readers, is not in Putin but in ourselves, that we are besieged by morons posting fake news.

9 thoughts on “And the Hits Keep Coming

  1. AndyT

    Meanwhile, a lot of people on Twitter are celebrating Dr. Van der Bellen’s (re)election in Austria as “the defeat of alt-right” – any single public consultation has been turned into an epic, Armageddon-like confrontation between the “godly Status Quo” and the “Evil pro-Putin gang”.

    Likewise, pundits are anxiously looking at the Italian referendum – turnout has been relatively high so far (57%) and with some hours still left, everything might happen…

  2. Jae-hyeon

    I hadn’t realized just how hot of a topic this was:

    “Fake news, real violence: ‘Pizzagate’ and the consequences of an Internet echo chamber”

    Also, two questions:

    1) When pro-Putinists say that Ukraine’s collapse is inevitable (if not imminent), what exactly are they talking about?

    2) When the same people say that America has “lost” Russia for several generations, what are they basing that claim on?

  3. Ivan Sorensen

    Unrelated, but did you ever write an article about what might happen when Putin kicks the bucket?

    If not, any considerations? I don’t mean in a technical “the law says this is what happens” but more practically. Governments run by crooks don’t tend to produce stable transitions.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I don’t think I’ve ever written an article dedicated solely to that topic, but I’ve alluded to it often. I’ve also discussed some of my theories with Mark Galeotti and I’d say they basically coincide.

      Mark says that you’ll inevitably have a kind of caretaker government of top level people. I believe this too, but I suspect it will eventually break down because the system as it is has made Putin a kind of anchor. If you’re on his side, you’re good. If you want to justify something, show how you’re just doing what Putin would want. They’ve made him into this sort of measuring stick and the center of the universe. And of course in return for loyalty, you’re rewarded with presents and a license to steal so long as you continue to deliver results to the regime (and sometimes not).

      What happens when you take Putin out of that? Who’s to say who’s loyal, and loyal to whom? Without Putin the anchor portioning out influence and revenue, everything will technically be up for grabs. Just get some connections in the security services and have your rival indicted on trumped up charges so you can take his property. There is no honor among thieves.

      I think there’s also an accelerator here, which is the rapidity of Putin’s departure. Suppose he is terminally ill. Obviously the system will try to hide it as long as possible (when the public finds out a dictator is dying there’s often a coup or revolution), but in the meantime they can prepare a succession, possibly with Putin’s input. That might give them a measure of stability.

      Now on the other hand, say Putin falls down the stairs and breaks his neck, or is strangled to death during an….eh…”workout accident” with prime minister Medvedev. That is going to cause panic. Many Russian politicians are basically cronies with no real expertise in anything and no expectation to actually rule anything. At least in the USSR you could pick from the Central Committee and that person could more or less lead. The USSR at least had more collective leadership in the form of the Politburo and the Central Committee.

      Also whatever happens of course will be happening against a background of general economic decline. This means the thieves will be even more ravenous to grab what they can. It will be even worse if things go south in Ukraine or Syria, especially under a new president (“See! The new president is WEAK!”). Then you’ve got Trump talking about drilling for even more oil and fracking for gas.

      These will be interesting times indeed.

      1. Jae-hyeon

        Some say the President is smart, brilliant, etc.; others say that he’s mediocre, even uneducated; and still others are somewhere in between. How would you rate his intelligence overall? How much of his words and actions are really his own?

      2. Ivan Sorensen

        Appreciate the thorough breakdown.

        Any chance of major social upheaval if the stealing and looting gets too brazen or has that basically become a factor of life?

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I don’t see any mass unrest until you’ve actually got a lot of people going without food, starving/freezing to death, or lots of sudden casualties in Ukraine or Syria.

        The power in this country is in Moscow and Muscovites have it good. But of course if family members start dying off in droves, that might change their tune.

        Already wage arrears have become a massive problem all over Russia. But thus far the government has managed to go around putting out the fire by working out deals with local officials and employers.

  4. A.I.Schmelzer

    As far as ProPornot goes, my own guess is that it is a frustrated American/British wannabe Sexpat in Kiev, who has failed to get any actual Sex and thinks that this may work.

    I would not discount the SVR doing some trolling (they like to troll for certain) but dont explain with the SVR what you can explain with incompetent frustrated Sexpats.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Since the only confirmed person is known to be in the US, that theory doesn’t hold water.

      Even if it is a pro-Russian op, I don’t think it has anything to do with the intelligence agencies. It’s probably just an unpaid useful idiot.


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