Tag Archives: fake stories

Putin fan fiction

I’ve written in the past about how many viral news sites like to appropriate Putin in order to make him speak out in favor of whatever cause they happen to support. These are typically related to issues like vaccines or GMOs. Now, dear readers, this bizarre practice seems to have reached a new level of insanity.

Check out this story from a serial offender called Yournewswire.com. It claims that Putin recently survive an assassination attempt at the hands of the “New World Order.” Apparently the NWO is getting lazy these days because the best plan they could come up with was to ram the president’s apparently un-escorted car head on with another car. Not a car laden with explosives, mind you, but just a car. This was the plan to kill someone who would almost certainly be riding in the back seat…

Alright, yeah I know it’s stupid to even begin “debunking” a story that is so obviously bullshit. Had anything close to this actually happened, Moscow would probably be on lockdown and I would be packing my bags so as to escape before the the whole country goes completely bonkers. Still, it’s hard not to dissect this story. What I find fascinating about this story is how it has developed the bizarre practice of Putin appropriation.

In the past, you just pretend he represents whatever wacky political ideology you support. You’re a right wing Christian fundamentalist? So is Putin! You believe in absolute gun rights? So does Putin! You hate it when people slurp their coffee? Putin actually executed a guy for doing exactly that! This, folks, is not that. This is something different.

We have reached a point where Western Putin fanboys are now basically writing fan-fiction about their hero. I’m actually quite surprised that the author of this story didn’t include a scene where Putin, emerging from his totaled Mercedes, stands looking up at the sky and with fists clenched screams, “Is that the best you can do?! It’ll take more than that, New World Order!” If Russia is known for wacky alternative history novels, America might soon supplant it with alternative present news stories.

Some are naturally going to speculate that Yournewswire.com is some kind of Kremlin-linked Russian outlet. Personally I’m not so sure. The author with a blurry photo of himself in St. Petersburg is supposedly named Baxter Dmitry. It’s written as though Dmitry is his surname. My experience says that Russian paid trolls won’t use any Russian-sounding name or first name when they engage in their shenanigans. More importantly, I’ve never seen confirmed Russian propaganda outright fabricating Putin quotes or in this case, inventing scenarios for the president out of thin air. I suspect that such activity would be seen as potentially disloyal or harmful by the people who run such operations.

If you follow Russia news you might find Yournewswire.com “stories” popping up in your Facebook feed as related articles. Who knows what adventures they’ll cook up for the Russian president in the future? Let’s just hope they don’t take a dark turn into erotic fiction.

 

 

 

THIS IS WHAT THEY ACTUALLY BELIEVE

Well here’s a big shock- Russia’s most prestigious Sunday news program just ran a completely fabricated story, using hilariously bad fake documents as “proof.” In this case, phony leaked “CIA” documents are supposed to show a conversation between businessman Bill Browder and Alexei Navalny, wherein in the former personally asks the latter to organize some kind of color revolution and undermine the Russian government.

As the reader has no doubt guessed, the English text, supposedly written by CIA employees, contains numerous mistakes in grammar and syntax, leading some to suggest that it was most likely done with Google translate and then checked by a non-native speaker of English. In my cursory examination I found stylistic features consistent with the writing of a Russian native speaker, which are all easy to spot when you spend years proofreading all manner of Russian-to-English translations. And as you might have guessed, Navalny hasn’t been arrested for treason.

But do I really need to point any of that out? Do I really need to debunk any of this story? If you were reading the autobiography of a man claiming to be a trained ninja who got 300 confirmed kills in Afghanistan and saved earth from an ancient demon that had been awakened by an evil sorcerer, would you feel the need to pick out all the inconsistencies in the man’s story or would you just dismiss it off hand? Sure, sometimes it can be fun to point out errors in fake news stories just as it can be fun to do so with a really awful film. Then again, sometimes it isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s work. Therefore when I saw this story, I figured there was another angle I should cover. I want to tell you the real reason they did this story- it’s their answer to the Panama Papers leak.

“Now wait just a darn minute,” you say, talking like a character in a 1940’s anti-Communist propaganda film. “How can you compare this nonsensical made up story to the Panama Papers, a massive leak of documents that took dozens of journalists from many different countries over a year to investigate?” Well dear reader, look at the timing. It’s Kiselyov’s first Sunday program since the leak. It’s about a leak as well.

“Well alright but hold on one minute there,” you say, still in your 1940’s voice. “You may be right about the timing and the subjects are similar, but as I said before, the Panama Papers were part of a major international investigation and this story seems like they just pulled it out of their ass!” Ah but that’s just it, dear reader. To them there is no difference.

Obviously there are people working throughout the Russian state media and the state itself who are fully aware that they produce bullshit. Same goes for the audience. But in all those groups you have people who actually believe in this “information war” idiocy, and to them there’s no difference between the Panama Papers and their made-up, bullshit story about Browder and Navalny. Let me make something clear- it’s not that these people believe that their story is real. They know it’s bullshit. The thing is that they think the Panama Papers are also bullshit that someone just pulled out of their ass, and this justifies them making up their own stories.

One has to realize that none of the people who work in the Russian media have ever really lived under a free press. The Tsarist press was controlled and censored. We all know the Soviet press was. The 90’s Russian press was largely controlled by various oligarchs and there were no journalistic standards. As such, much of the Russian media, including foreign language outlets like RT, is now run by favored bureaucrats who don’t understand anything about journalism. They look at the rest of the world’s media and try to emulate what they think it is. The problem is that they also tell themselves that it’s really the same as their own media, and they’re waging information warfare against Russia- ergo their own media must answer back in kind.

I remember one writer used the term “cargo cult” to refer to RT and the rest of the Russian state media. This is very apt. Like a real cargo cult, they watch something they don’t understand (free press in other countries), and then emulate them without actually understand what they’re doing. The original cargo cults believed that the US and Japanese military personnel they observed were engaged in strange and elaborate rituals which brought favors from flying gods. When it comes to the Russian media it seems at times they literally believe that some Western journalists can just get together and cook up a story about Putin’s friends and offshore accounts with no actual investigation or evidence, and their bosses will sign off on the story with no questions. Either that, or they think CIA agents order these journalists, many of whom work for private corporations, to publish mean things about the Dear Leader. They do this, and nothing happens and nobody comes out and exposes it.

So the next time there’s a major story that’s got the Russian media in hysterics, keep it in mind. If you see a really hilarious or outlandish fake story in the major Russian media shortly thereafter, it’s probably their “answer.” In their mind, the other story was made up, so they can make up their own story. They tell themselves this and dissent is apparently not tolerated, otherwise we should have seen an improvement in their propaganda techniques over the past two years instead of a very noticeable decline. In 2014 they said Russia had weaponized information, but that weapon is starting to look really rusty now.

The Neverending story

Two points. First, if you’re about the same age as me, you are now hearing the theme to The Neverending Story playing in your head. Second, I’m going to be a bit busy today so I’m going to keep the post short today.

A while back there was a fake story circulating through the Russian source carousel about how lustful Muslim migrants tried to molest some women in a club and got severely beaten by local men with the help of the police. I did a two-part piece on the story (PART I, PART II). The “lesson” of the story was that unlike limp-wristed Europeans with their “multiculturalism” and “tolerance,” Russian men are real men who won’t stand idly by and watch their Russian women be sexually abused. Well, except from the 3 million Russian women in prostitution, and all those Russian women who have been trafficked abroad for the purpose of sexual exploitation and slavery since 1991. From my experience they don’t give a shit about any of those women, but that’s another story. The point the story was trying to make is that Europe = Gayslamic Pedostan, and Russia = Manly Man Land.

Stories like these can have a long life, circulating all over the internet. Their appeal isn’t limited to Putin fanboys either; a lot of conservative-minded people in the US, for example, have a grudging admiration for Putin and the society they think he presides over. More importantly than any of that, the story confirms their prejudices about people from the Middle East. But one thing about urban legends on the internet is that they evolve…

OH HEY WHAT’S THIS? Turns out that Russia isn’t the only country that doesn’t go in for European “tolerance!” Seems that same bunch of migrants that got kicked out of Norway for “bad behavior” and into Russia managed to get back into Norway…after being kicked out of Russia for bad behavior! It’s Sex Offender Ping-Pong! Yes, this must be the same group of molesting refugees because this story seems to borrow the same exact phrasing as the Russian version. For those of you keeping score- they get kicked out of Norway and their first idea is to go sexually harass Russian women in a club. This starts a riot after which a number of them are hospitalized and the rest are jailed. Then they get deported back to Norway and try the same thing, only to get beaten by neo-Nazis. Won’t they ever learn?!

Nice try, Nazi morons. Should have stuck to writing sagas. Hell, I think I’ll do that right now!

Saga of the Ragnar and the Battle with the Migraelings from the Lands of the East

Here begins my tale. There is one I know, who is hight Ragnar, son of Snori, grandson of Sigurd! Ragnar did live in a small village in the realm of Midgard. One night Ragnar sought a bride, and he did journey to a mead hall in the next village over so that he might meet a fair maiden and demand her hand in marriage. 

But lo! When Ragnar entered the mead hall his eyes met a frightening scene. The maidens were shrieking for aid as they were chased about the hall by a strange race of elves. These were the elves hight known as the Migraelings, who normally well in the East of Midgard, where snow falls not, nor do the rivers freeze…

Ragnar, being of the North and not like the submissive, woman-like Teuton tribes to the South whose patience for such things is as boundless as Father Odin’s sight, decided he would answer the lamentations of the maidens fair. 

Ragnar took in hand his shield and drew his sword, whose blade was the height of a man and whose broadness was that of a man’s two palms held together. 

“In the name of the Allfather Odin, his ravens, and Tyr, God of War,” he shouted with a voice so thunderous that it shook the timbers of the hall. “I bid thy favor in battle! Give me the power of the Aesir! The strength of the frost giant who built the Bifrost bridge into Asgard! May every honorable warrior hear my cry and come to my aid in this grave hour, that we may all sate our blades with blood!”

And forsooth, the Aesir did favor Ragnar, and warriors from many lands suddenly entered the mead hall and formed a wall of shields behind Ragnar, their leader in battle. And lo, they did look as if they were on the cover of a metal album, with axes broad as a man’s chest, and swords that had like, lightning crackling about their blades.

And the warriors did charge the dark elves and many did they hew down until every warrior waded in blood up to his knees.  The Migraelings were defeated and not a single einherjar had entered Vahalla. Ragnar raised a horn of mead that had been mixed with the blood of the defeated gave thanks to Allfather Odin. And the Gods were pleased with Ragnar.

 

Fake refugee beating story part II: After Action Report

Yesterday provided us a perfect example of how the Russian propaganda machine creates and disseminates fake stories. In this case it was a chain-email type story about heroic Russian men defending the honor of their womenfolk against somewhere around 50 “Middle Eastern migrants.” Details in each story varied, but in each case one pro-Russian source cited another, none of them contained any names or quotes from eyewitnesses, victims, or authorities, and all variations seemed to revolve around a certain core story. Virtually every version of the story made some kind of jab at Europe, “tolerance,” and in particular the Germans for their mishandling of the Cologne New Year’s sex assaults.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s post, this story was just too fishy on a number of points. Due to some confusion between versions of the story, I found that there is indeed an establishment called “Gandvik,” where the fight supposedly began. However, the place is described as a “beer bar” and not a discotheque or night club.  This means it wouldn’t have, as I mentioned in the previous post, “face control,” and it probably wouldn’t have much security apart from maybe a single guy. However, it is located in the same building as a hotel, which boasts a good number of positive reviews from what I can see. One mentions a night club on the first floor, but I don’t know if that refers to Gandvik or if the bar is simply in the same building. Either way, the reviews I’ve seen suggest that this is a quality establishment, one which would necessarily have good security and especially CCTV.

Every version of the story I’ve found so far always claims to be based on “material from social media” without ever explaining what social media that is, i.e. Twitter, VK, Facebook, Odnoklassniki, etc. None of them contain a date or anything that could indicate a date for the alleged incident, and all of them acknowledge in one way or another that there have been no official statements on the matter from the authorities, though some make lame excuses for this. In an earlier version of the story, only five migrants were involved.

Alexei Kovalev managed to find another hallmark of the Russian propaganda machine, which involves making spurious claims that the story is popular in the West. Incidentally this tends to happen when the people disseminating the fake story translate it into foreign languages and then pass it around to their buddies in other countries or post it on English language sites like Russia Insider and Fort-Russ, as in this case. Naturally if this happens enough times it will get picked up by someone in the West, and indeed this story was.

The offending article in this case comes from a Russian site called ridus.ru, and like virtually every article of this type it has a misleading headline, which tells us that the West was captivated by the story of immigrants being beaten in Russia. As is typically the case, the article begins by talking about the reaction of “the Western media,” and social network users. In the latter case- who gives a shit? Social media users, assuming they aren’t paid trolls, often comment on all kinds of fake stories or viral bullshit. But who is “the Western media” in this case? CNN? BBC? Reuters? Nope. As I pointed out in the last article, the “Western media” apparently consists solely of The Daily Caller, a right wing tabloid with a reputation for concocting their own fake stories. Granted, it’s better than some random blog nobody reads, but it’s hardly “the Western media.” Oh well, at least even this article admits that there have been no official statements or mentions of this incident from local authorities. It’s almost as if…this never happened! As a rather amusing side note, the photo in The Daily Caller story, which appears in the ridus.ru article, actually depicts pro-Russian activists in the Crimea beating a pro-Ukrainian protester. At least that’s what the caption says.

 

One last bit before we go on to our summary of this case study in bullshit. This story has been passed around plenty of times in English. Some versions claim that the police allegedly didn’t want to say anything about it so as not to provide “the West” with more “fodder” for their “wild Russia”(in spite of the fact that some of these Russian sites included demeaning pictures of stereotypical Russian men). And yet one wonders where the real Western media is in this story? According to ridus.ru it’s a big hit in the West, and we know the evil Western mainstream media is constantly waging information war against poor, innocent Russia, so then why didn’t they seize on this opportunity to concoct their own narrative of bloodthirsty Russian skinheads, possibly back on rotation from Ukraine, assaulting and beating these poor helpless refugees who were minding their own business? After all, the Western media certainly didn’t miss real race riots in Russia.

Summary: What did we learn, class?

This post is the sequel to yesterday’s piece, which was inspired by Russia Insider, the site that exhorts us to become “media skeptics” and helps train us in this endeavor by providing laughably fake or otherwise highly distorted stories on a daily basis. Indeed, at times it seems the only difference between Russia Insider and the parody site Russia in Your Face is that the latter doesn’t link to sites with sections on Holocaust denial. Thanks to Russia Insider, we were able to construct a perfect exercise in shooting down a BS story that went viral. So what practical lessons can we extract from the exercise, now that it is over?

-First, realize that fake stories aren’t unique to Russian media. Cracked.com busts bullshit viral media stories all the time, and Snopes.com doesn’t seem to be going out of business any time soon. For those who claim that this is different because Russia is “weaponizing” this kind of disinformation, you’re still missing the mark. This kind of organized disinformation has been used in the US, particularly by the Republican party, for years now. The tactics, such as carousel citations where one conservative blog cites a conservative pundit, who cites another blog or conservative news outlet and so on, are not unique to Russia at all. This means that if you familiarize yourself with those tactics you can better understand those of Russia’s propagandists. This is especially helpful for those who don’t speak Russian.

-You can often tell if a story is bullshit by looking for what is present versus what is absent. First there’s the narrative, which as I said in yesterday’s post reads like one of those conservative chain emails. Here there’s a valuable lesson to be learned- Europe is full of limp-wristed weaklings who “tolerate” barbaric migrants even as they grope and harass their women in public, but Russians are masculine, real men who don’t tolerate this insolence. While they use violence to get their point across, they are still somehow more civilized than the degenerate West. The article even ends with an obviously editorial line, reminding refugees that Russians don’t take kindly to “guests” who misbehave. Is that something you usually see in a normal news story?

That “lesson” shines through several times throughout the story, but what is curiously missing? As it turns out, virtually all the hallmarks of a news story are absent. No date or anything that hints at a date (i.e. Friday evening, Saturday, etc.) can be found. There are no quotes or names for anyone involved in the story. There are actual admissions that the local authorities did not mention or comment on the story. Two versions of the story tacked on an excuse as to why authorities did not comment, but a small difference in the translation drastically changed the meaning.

-In spite of the way this story clearly fits the Kremlin’s narrative on migrants, the major state-run outlets don’t seem to have paid much, if any attention to this story. Could that be because TV viewers would expect to see staff, residents, and police officials being interviewed on the subject?

-Each version of the story had either misleading or unhelpful photos. One article I found shows what is alleged to be the inside of “Gandvik,” but of course this could be any Russian dance club virtually anywhere. The others have photos of dark-skinned migrants, two show rather demeaning photos of what seem to be stereotypical Russian gopniks (possibly played by non-Russians), and of course Russia Insider has a photo of Putin with sunglasses, because that must be their placeholder any time they can’t find a suitable image for a story.

-The actual Western media outlet that picked this story up was a tabloid that already has a reputation for bad journalism if not actual political smear campaigns. As one might expect, The Daily Caller is right-wing but not pro-Putin. I found several stories that counter Russia’s foreign policy claims. Of course this doesn’t mean that conservative readers won’t be entertained by stories about macho Russian guys beating up Muslim refugees, who have already become a new bogeyman in the US despite their minuscule numbers.

Even some of the most Putin-hating American conservatives hold on to a self-loathing idea that America has become weak and that Russia is strong because it is supposedly unencumbered by left-wing ideas like feminism or LGBT rights. This combines with a sort of “noble Russian savage” mentality whereby they see the Russian as backward and inferior but in some ways stronger, more disciplined, and destined to defeat more civilized populations should the latter fail to turn away from the path of cultural and spiritual degeneration. If that sounds like something that Nazis believed, it’s because they kinda did. The point I’m making here though, is that some of these “tough, politically incorrect Russians” memes actually originated in America, in some cases long before things like RT, Sputnik, Fort-Russ, and so on. Sometimes they got picked up by Russians and reworked, only to be spit back again in different forms.

-Numerous things in this story make no logical sense. As I pointed out in my last post, the police supposedly tried to prevent a lynching while “secretly” assisting in the beating. How anyone would know this with no statements or comments from authorities, victims, residents, medical staff, or bar staff is a mystery. Why a group of refugees who’d been kicked out of Norway back into Russia would decide to go to a drinking establishment in a hotel and start harassing women is also hard to imagine. Remember that we’re told a group of about 50 people of Middle Eastern descent came into this bar or nightclub. Wouldn’t people immediately notice that and take photos, videos, or at least try to talk to them? I once sat down at a bar in Volgograd by myself and a woman came up and asked me to dance, sensing I was a foreigner even though I’d lived in Russia for over a year at that point. I don’t look Middle Eastern by any stretch of the imagination. Well, at least I didn’t back then.

So why is it in a country where nearly everyone has a camera phone, where nearly every driver has a dash cam, and where establishments have CCTV, we get no video clips or photos of this incident? None. Nothing. Again, it’s almost as if this story didn’t happen!

-The story is obviously aimed at triggering certain emotions and teaching a particular lesson. In those American chain emails, Marine Todd knocks out an atheist professor for mocking god. He does so right in the university auditorium, the liberals’ home turf. Anyone familiar with American conservative politics knows that colleges and universities are portrayed as fortresses of left-wing theory and indoctrination camps for the youth. In fact, some Christians even made a movie about that very subject, though sadly we never see Marine Todd show up in the film, or any marines for that matter.

In this case the message for Russian domestic audiences is that Russia is civilized and doesn’t tolerate Muslims gone wild like they do in liberal “Gayropa.” On the domestic front Russian media is constantly harping on similar themes- the West is degenerate, crumbling, and dying. There, as is the case everywhere outside of Russia, there is “chaos.” In Russia however, there is a superior civilization. Russia is not tolerant of degeneracy. In Russia there is stability, and this is all thanks to Putin. Naturally this same message will often be punctuated by graphic stories of heinous crimes in Russia and news that dozens of shops were demolished overnight, but of course we all know who is responsible for all that.

For Western audiences the emotional hooks have more or less been described above. Reactionary Westerners who have been duped by their own politicians and pundits into believing their country is tumbling into the abyss tend to get a thrill out of these “politically incorrect Russia” tales. As they see their national leaders and media outlets clash with Putin’s Russia, one can make a logical leap that this difference in political values is part of the conflict. Right wing Westerners get the idea that there is hope, there is a country to emulate. They can live vicariously through these non-existent Russian heroes. Telling them about the problems of Russia, or how Muslims in Russia actually wield quite a bit of influence, more so than in the West, is a waste of time. Even if they’ve actually visited Russia, they know their own countries problems far better than those of Russia, so the grass will appear to be greener.

-Real stories have sources. If you pitch a story to an editor and they ask where you heard about this from, saying it was based on “material found on social media” isn’t going to cut it. In real media outlets you’d better have an awesome follow up to that statement, otherwise you’ll probably be canned. Sure, sometimes you find out about a story because it’s buzzing on social media. Twitter is often the place where a story originates. But if you go on Twitter and watch how those stories develop, you’ll often notice journalists qualifying tweets, asking for confirmation, confirming stories, and so on. Suppose a video of the event had been taken and posted on social media like VK. Then we might have something, and we might want to watch the comments on that video to see if other residents, cops, witnesses, etc. commented or provided more information. But even then, there would have to be statements, confirmation, etc.

-If a story flat out admits that officials didn’t comment on a story or make any statements whatsoever, that’s a pretty good sign it’s bullshit. Nowhere did I see that the police actually refused to give a comment, which would imply that they were actually contacted for one. The articles just say they didn’t make any report or comment. Then the author(s) go on to speculate as to why that is with no basis for doing so. Also, given the popularity of the sentiments expressed in the article, don’t you think that the police would have wanted to brag to the nation about how they shut down a riot while still teaching these migrants a valuable lesson?

 

In the end we see that fake viral stories are not unique to Russian propaganda and they often possess the same features and use the same techniques. This blog might be called Russia Without BS, but BS is sadly universal and if our species is to survive we need to learn to strengthen critical thinking while suppressing those emotional instincts that lead us into making huge mistakes. Instincts got us this far, but in order to survive in the modern world, where we possess devastating weapons and technology which can adversely affect the planet, reason must prevail.

This bullshit story was just a small drop in an ocean of Russian propaganda, but it bears a lot of concrete features that make it a perfect case study not only for fake stories coming from Russia, but anywhere, including your elderly uncle who can’t help forwarding every chain email he receives.

 

 

 

How to be a “media skeptic” (or not)

For those of you who don’t know, Russia Insider is basically the place where anyone who can string together paragraphs about the “neocon warmongers,” “Turkish jihadists,” and “Ukrainian junta Nazis” can get their work published. Oddly enough, the site has an ad on the right that says “BECOME A MEDIA SKEPTIC.” Judging by their coverage, it would seem that they intend to help you do so by publishing fake or otherwise idiotically flawed articles in order to help train the reader’s skeptic skills. If that’s the case, good for them.

Today’s training material popped up in my Facebook news feed, which of course means that someone’s about to get all their messages hidden. I actually feel I have to avoid seeing Russia Insider articles and even headlines lest this blog end up turning into a never-ending exercise in tearing down low-hanging fruit and smashing it on the ground. The article in question is a story about some “Middle Eastern” refugees who allegedly harassed some Russian women at a night club in the Murmansk region and then got severely beaten by an ad-hoc vigilante group of local men. And though this story has absolutely nothing to do with Vladimir Putin, the article features a photo of him because…Russia Insider.

Since Russia Insider wants me, you, and all of us to become good media skeptics, I decided this was a perfect training exercise. After all, having lived in Russia for almost ten years, and the better part of one of those years in a town smaller than Murmansk, this story sounded extremely fishy to me. The theme of Russian men being politically incorrect, chivalrous tough guys is a fantasy not only in Russia but also among many Westerners and even Americans. In short, to the experienced eye the story reads like one of those “Marine Todd” chain emails your elderly aunts and uncles forward. But before getting to that let’s talk about sources.

One of the first things I noticed is that the source cited by the RI article is The Daily Caller, which is an American conservative tabloid. One that has been seriously dinged at least once for fabricating a story. This struck me as odd, because after a little browsing on the Caller’s site I determined that they were in fact…THE MAINSTREAM WESTERN MEDIA! Yes, look at these filthy lies they posted about Russia! In this story they had the nerve to contradict the words of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov himself! Not only that, but they even quote the devil incarnate, Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, and implicitly refer to him as an “expert!” In another obvious concoction of lies, this MSM source claims that Russia is sponsoring terrorism! Obviously this makes The Daily Caller totally untrustworthy and as a good media skeptic we must dismiss it out of hand as “mainstream media.” Hence I looked for another source in the article, and that’s where I began to tumble down the rabbit hole.

The second source mentioned is an article in Italian. I thought it was interesting that the Italians would know more about this than the Russians. Interestingly this Italian link didn’t have a photo of Putin in it, which tells me these might be liberal neocons plotting to fund a color revolution in Russia. The photo they did use, however, was a rather unflattering photo of what I suppose are supposed to be stereotypical Russian men. Rather insulting, in fact. The end of the article contained an interesting disclaimer, and as my wife’s not around to translate, I apologize in advance for using Google:

“Translator’s Note: Since the German mayor yet another recommends the girls to stay away from the “refugees, ** we see a more gallant vision on the part of our Russian friends and acquaintances, and we are pushed to publish this story, even though it may not be officially documented. : Lol:”  

Hmmm… “Not officially documented.” That’s odd, especially when we’re talking about refugees supposedly kicked out of Norway. You need a visa to be in Russia. If you’re involved in inciting a mini-riot, something’s going to get officially documented. In fact, if you’re a group of Middle Eastern migrants who engage in behavior that just happens to fit perfectly into the narrative of the state-run press, your story would end up on the national news. I wonder why it didn’t.

At the end of the article the source cited is “Fort-Russ,” a site which I have busted for posting a fabricated story once in the past. As a side note, this article also used the demeaning stereotypical Russian guy photo. But more to the point, here we have a perfect example of how the Russian propaganda machine works when it comes to stories like these. There’s usually some overarching narrative often set by the Kremlin or its state-run media. Dressing off of what happened in Cologne during New Year’s, the Russian media fabricated its own story about Liza, a 13-year-old girl allegedly kidnapped and gang-raped for 30 hours by Middle Eastern migrants (these people have sick but vivid imaginations). Next what they need is a morality tale that tells people “Russia doesn’t tolerate this sort of nonsense,” and that’s exactly what this reads like. Now what you get is a kind of source carousel, where one pro-Russian source cites another and its difficult to pin down where the story originally came from.

Returning to our media skeptic training course, I was already wondering why it was so hard to find a Russian-language original source on this. Thankfully the Fort-Russ article actually had a link to a Russian-language article, but it was not some local Murmansk site. In fact, it’s called newsli.ru and contains very little information in its “about” page, where it is described not as a media outlet but a “project.” I went and typed “newsli” into Stopfake.org’s search engine and wouldn’t you know it- there were hits. Not a good sign when it comes to credibility.

The original Russian article doesn’t seem to contain anything very different from the translations in English or Italian, therefore we can now skip to the part where I explain why this story is bullshit.

-First of all, if you live in Russia and know the culture, you’ll understand why the idea of Russian males being chivalrous defenders of their women’s virtue is simply laughable. I’m not saying they’re better or worse than other nationalities in this respect, it’s just that they aren’t that.

-Clubs in Russia have this thing called “face control.” This is where the bouncers don’t let you in if you look disheveled, intoxicated, or whatever. True, not all clubs have face control, and Murmansk probably doesn’t house Russia’s most fashionable night clubs, but they will have security and they would be very unlikely to permit the entrance of around 50 Middle Eastern, non-Russian speaking men.

-These are supposedly refugees who were kicked out of Norway. When you’re a refugee who made it from Syria, Iraq, or wherever, all the way to Norway, and then you get kicked out for “bad behavior,” I’m guessing that you probably aren’t too well off financially. If you’re somehow returned to Russia, where you must have a visa simply to be on Russian territory, you’re probably going to be preoccupied with how you’re going to survive and where you’re going to go next. After all, what little money you had has got to be dwindling pretty low by now, and you’re trapped in nation where you don’t speak the language and have no right to work. You’ve no doubt had uncomfortable run-ins with the Russian police already. Now one of your fellow refugees suggest you and 48 other guys go clubbin’ and sexually harass some local women. What do you reply? Yeah. Exactly.

-In Russia people record stuff. Lots of stuff. Hell, the Russian military, apparently lacking a word for OPSEC, couldn’t even keep its war in Ukraine secret due to its soldiers snapping selfies and posting them on social media. I guarantee you that if you have a running battle that starts in a night club and ends somewhere else in the city, involving 50 migrants and what we can only assume to be an equal or larger quantity of Russian muzhiki, somebody’s going to catch that on their iPhone. There are dozens of videos of eye-grabbing activity from places in Russia far more provincial than Murmansk on Russian social media networks. In fact, VK.com has entire groups dedicated to videos of that sort.

-I searched in vain for a night club or discotheque by the name of “Gandvik” in the city of Murmansk. No results whatsoever. Searching for the name itself on Yandex did lead to a sponsored link to a striptease club in Moscow though.  Way to stand up for women’s rights! In any case, it would have been easy to do a search like I did and find an actual night club in Murmansk, but then again, that would mean anyone could look the place up, give them a call, and torpedo this story within minutes. (UPDATE: I’ve been reading some versions of the story, which place Gandvik not in Murmansk but the Murmansk oblast, in a town called Polyarnye Zori. Indeed, there is a dance club by that name in this small town. I was able to find a number and I’ll try to check it as soon as possible.)

-The Russian story has very specific details about the condition of the beaten migrants, yet no names are given for anyone involved in the story. No eyewitnesses, no police, no night club staff, no female victims, no beaten migrants, no local officials commenting on the issue of migration- nobody. The Russian article claims it was based on sources from social media. You know, that same social media where Russians are always posting photos and videos of crazy shit happening in their towns? Not this though. Nobody in Murmansk cared about recording this mini-riot involving what must have been around 100 people, not counting policemen.

-After looking at different versions of the article, there are some interesting inconsistencies. In the Fort-Russ article we see this line: “Still and all, judging by the identical reactions, the agents of law enforcement did not differ in tolerance level and while exhorting not to resort to lynching, secretly assisted in the educational process, news.li reported.” This translation is crap, but the underlined part appears in the newsli article relatively intact. In this case the “educational process” refers to the beating of the migrants. This raises numerous questions. The article states that the “squadrons of police” saved the migrants, so how did they both deter the crowd from vigilante justice (a more faithful translation of the newsli term in my opinion) while at the same time “secretly” assisting in it? If they were secretly assisting, who says so? The migrants? The attackers? Other policemen? This makes no sense.

-In the Fort-Russ article the pathetic excuse for the lack of any statement from law enforcement officials was: “Official confirmation by law enforcement authorities is not forthcoming, as they have no desire to feed the West with any more fodder for the “Wild Russia” line.” But in the newsli version this is different in a way that is slight, but important- it suggests that “perhaps” the authorities didn’t want to provide that “fodder” as they call it. Fort-Russ makes it seem like they intentionally withheld any statement, implying that something did in fact happen but they are refusing to comment on it for this idiotic reason. Newsli.ru presents it as speculation, which implies that it is their own. If the law enforcement officials in this small town were so afraid of feeding the “Wild Russia line,” one wonders why Fort-Russ published this story. Ditto for every other version of the story which makes that sad excuse for a lack of official confirmation. This entire story is presented as Russians and Russian police doing what is right, compared to those “tolerant,” pansy German police. If these Russian news sources saw fit to publish the account, why would the police be so shy? After all, they saved the migrants while somehow simultaneously and secretly taking part in the “educational” beating.

-The Fort-Russ article ends with a quote: “Welcome to Russia. We’re delighted to have visitors, but you mustn’t forget, you are guests here.” At first I was dumbstruck as the quote has no attribution. Then I checked the Newsli.ru version yet again and found that it has the same line, only it’s not a quote, it’s just there. This kind of thing is very strange for a news article. It’s obviously intended to make some kind of moral point, one which inflates the ego of vatniks and fulfills the fantasy of disenfranchised Westerners who decry “political correctness.” Why was this here? If it was a quote, who said it? If this story is based on “material from social media,” great- what social media? Where? Screenshots? Tweets? Anybody?

So what’s the verdict? Organic fertilizer, dear readers. All in all, however, I must say that this was a great training exercise in media skepticism and I really owe a great deal of gratitude to Russia Insider for coming up with it. With their help, I’m sure I’ll earn my media skeptic stars in no time!

 

journo

In fact, I might even be able to buy this special Russia Insider journalist starter kit so I too can become a diligent, muckraking, fact-checking reporter myself!

 

 

 

Venturing out of the Shire

In the past we’ve often seen what happens when pro-Kremlin figures, be they politicians or pundits, attempt to promote their government’s line abroad, outside of the space that they control via the state and its monopoly on force. In case you haven’t seen what I’m referring to, microwave a bag of popcorn and watch this video sometime. If you don’t have time to do that now or in the new future I’ll tell you what you’re missing- a verbal bloodbath.

You see, inside Russia’s borders, power and force are used to marginalize and suppress facts or ideas the system doesn’t like. Echo chambers are constructed in which horribly bad ideas like Eurasian geopolitics are allowed to incubate unchallenged. Then someone with these ideas steps outside into a world in which people don’t necessarily assume that Russia is a great power with the right to invade sovereign nations and folks who don’t accept the idea that the misdeeds of the West give a free pass to Moscow. When they can’t even get their most basic premises past the gauntlet, the train wreck ensues.

There is, however, another reason why Russian narratives don’t work out so well outside of the space the Kremlin can control with force. We’ve seen time and time again that making up phony stories or transmitting fabricated stories without any attempt to confirm the claims is no grounds for dismissal in the Russian state media. In response to the crucified boy story, to use one of the best examples, critics were told that it was their responsibility to prove it didn’t happen, a complete reversal of the burden of proof. As it turns out, however, making up fake stories happens to have consequences outside of Russia. Criminal consequences, as it turns out.

Meet Ivan Blagoy, an adept in the ways of Russian “journalism” and a Berlin-based correspondent for Channel One. Yes, that’s the same channel that brought us such classics as the crucified boy of Slovyansk and the “foreign satellite photos” of a Ukrainian plane shooting down a stock photo of a Boeing 777 that was passed off as MH17. Ivan’s in hot water now because of a story he published which alleged that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl was gang-raped by migrants for 30 hours, after which the German police forced her to claim the sex was consensual so as to cover up the case. As the reader can most likely guess without even reading the link, the story turned out to be false. The German police found that the girl was neither kidnapped nor raped, and she returned home on her own (New information on this, see UPDATE below).

A fabricated story such as this one would normally be dismissed as par for the course in Russia, but as it turns out, Germany doesn’t tolerate this kind of nonsense. In Germany there are laws against inciting hatred against certain groups of people (in this case migrants), and unlike Russia such laws are actually applied with at least some measure of consistency.

No stranger to lying, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov doubled down on the allegation at his press conference today. Basically implying once again that Russian “investigations” of crimes outside of Russian territory are somehow superior to those of local law enforcement, Lavrov told conference attendees: “It’s apparent that this girl absolutely did not voluntarily disappear for 30 hours.” Of course in the real world, children and adults go missing, sometimes for even longer periods of time, without being kidnapped or assaulted at all, but it’s Lavrov, so what did you expect?

Now as soon as you talk about a case like this, a few poor counter-arguments from the Putin fan club immediately come to mind. I write “immediately” because these people are so ridiculously predictable. So let’s begin!

“What about free speech?!” Bullshit, Putinoid. Your Dear Leader’s state locks people up for poems, questioning the Crimean annexation, standing alone with a sign, and other rather innocuous actions that would be protected speech in virtually any liberal democracy. In Russia, laws against “extremism” and “inciting ethnic hatred” are selectively tailored to fit policy. Ergo one can rail against “degenerate Europeans,” Ukrainians, and Turk to one’s heart’s content without fear of getting dinged for extremism. Similarly, neo-Nazi or fascist politics are more or less tolerated if not directly or indirectly supported by the state so long as the people in question are on the Kremlin’s side of things. So long as a racist neo-Nazi proves himself useful to the Kremlin, particularly by fighting their dirty war in the Donbas in some capacity, he’ll have a “roof” as they say here.

Are there societies which would allow this kind of race baiting and hate-mongering? Sure. There’s actually a country that not only protects this kind of speech, but in fact tolerates it among its most popular presidential candidates. Check it out, Kremlin fans. Perhaps you can move there if you think Germany’s too restrictive on your media’s right to fabricate stories. Oh…Wait…No.

Seriously though, the German’s aren’t prosecuting the guy simply because he lied. In response to the story there have been anti-immigrant protests and ironically enough, Russians have been involved in some of them. In this sense the Germans are treating this matter in a way not unlike the shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre exception in the US, which of course is known for being far more tolerant of what is labeled “hate speech” in European countries. And on that note, the US doesn’t have endless tolerance for this kind of behavior either.

Next one might try to insist, much like Lavrov or some of the Russian immigrants in Germany, that the story is actually true and the police are just covering it up. Well the burden of proof is on the claimant, friends, and the fact is that young people, especially teenagers, go missing all the time for stupid reasons. The idea that police in Berlin are somehow successfully forcing a Russian family to stay silent about such a heinous crime is simply idiotic. Even in Cologne, where police reacted rather incompetently during the New Year’s assaults on women, the story got out and made huge waves not just in Germany, but throughout the world. Thankfully there were plenty of liberal, leftist, and Muslim pundits who immediately condemned the attacks in the press and similarly spoke out against anyone who might downplay what happened in a misguided attempt to oppose racism. To date I have yet to see any such apologetics.

In the end I think the supreme irony here is that in a real media organization, Blagoy would have just been fired for fabricating stories, and I’m not convinced this is his first time. Yet thanks to the Kremlin media’s tolerance for outright bullshit, he’s now getting hit with a criminal charge. Can’t say I really have much sympathy for him. It’s not just the lying, it’s the aim of the lying- demonizing an entire group of people and promoting a mindset whereby Russians in his audience wanted that 13-year-old girl to be raped. They were actually upset at the idea that she wasn’t. This kind of mindset is by no means exclusive to Russians or the Kremlin media’s target audience; it’s actually quite commonplace. It’s also something that the media, and in this case the Western media duly included, deliberately nurture. This time one of the purveyors tried it outside of his safe zone, was caught, and may be held accountable, but there are so many other fish in the sea.

UPDATE: Apparently further investigation suggests that the girl did indeed have what was called consensual sex with two males, though this is statutory rape because she was 13 (age of consent in Germany being 14, which by the way, what the fuck, Germany?!) Take a seat right over there). While nothing was said about the national background of the two males, they are being investigated by the police, thus negating the Russian claim that the girl was kidnapped and gang raped, as well as the claim that the police are deliberately covering it up and obstructing justice.