Briefs

Estonia 16-23 May 2016

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Object of manipulation: Stolitsa.ee, the website of a Russian-language weekly newspaper distributed free of charge in Estonia.

Date: 21 May 2016

Title: “In Kiev, a mulatto girl was not allowed to participate in an embroidery demonstration because of her skin color” (Девочку-мулатку отказались допустить к показу вышиванок в Киеве из-за цвета кожи)

Source of manipulation: Lenta.ru, a Russian online newspaper.

Date: 20 May 2016

Title: In Kiev, a mulatto girl was not allowed to participate in an embroidery demonstration because of her skin color” (Девочку-мулатку отказались допустить к показу вышиванок в Киеве из-за цвета кожи)

The false fact or narrative: As its title says, the article claims that a Ukrainian girl was prevented from taking part in a show because of her skin color.

The truth: There is no proof either that the girl was not allowed to join in the embroidery show, or that it was because of the color of her skin.

Technique: No proof is given that this happened, nor is evidence offered that suggests racial discrimination.

Audience: No information is available about traffic to the stolitsa.ee website. The newspaper Stolitsa and its Estonian-language version, Pealin, print about 140,000 copies weekly. In 2012, Stolitsa was the most popular newspaper among Estonia’s Russian-speaking audience, according to the online encyclopedia Estonica.

Analysis: On 19 May, Ukrainian TV presenter Karolina Ashion posted on her Facebook page that a Ukrainian girl was prevented from taking part in a Ukrainian national embroidery show because of her skin color. Ashion based her claim on a post made by the girl’s mother, but that post said nothing about such discrimination. Ashion assured her Facebook subscribers that she had talked to the girl’s mother, who confirmed that discrimination indeed took place—though she offered no details about what, where and how anything happened. Ashion claimed that she had to protect the girl’s privacy, even though the girl’s photo and identity had already been made public. Several Russian media channels picked up Ashion’s Facebook post, even though there was no evidence to prove that discrimination had taken place.

According to Ben Nimmo’s “Identifying Disinformation,” if an article fails to show a reasonable degree of fact verification or statements to ensure its accuracy, then such an article’s likely intends to mislead its readers. 

Therefore, it can be said that Lenta.ru spread disinformation by publishing this article without proof that any discrimination actually took place. It did so probably to support the Kremlin’s narrative that Ukraine is a racist country. Stolitsa.ee spread disinformation by publishing it without questioning the source’s credibility or doing any fact-checking—even though the Facebook posts of both Carolina Ashion and the girl’s mother’s are publicly accessible.

Description of sources: Stolitsa.ee (Столица, or “capital” in Russian) is a Russian-language web page published for free by the city government of Tallinn, Estonia. The site often expresses the views of the left-wing Estonian Center Party. In 2010, the Estonian Internal Security Service named Edgar Savisaar—the party’s leader and the mayor of Tallinn—an “agent of influence” for Russia and a “security threat.” In 2014, Stolitsa’s editor expressed support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea. 

Lenta.ru is a Russian-language online newspaper owned by Rambler Media Group, which in turn belongs to Prof-Media. With more than 600,000 visitors daily, it ranks as one of the most popular Russian-language online sites. In 2014, Lenta.ru’s owner, Alexander Mamut, fired his editor-in-chief, Galina Timchenko, and replaced her with Alexey Goreslavsky. In all, 39 of 84 employees lost their jobs, including Yuliya Minder, the director-general. Lenta.ru employees issued a statement claiming that the purpose of the mass firing was to install a new editor-in-chief directly controlled by the Kremlin and turn the website into a Russian propaganda tool.