Briefs

Lithuania: 5-11 December 2016

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The misleading title of an article in the mainstream Lithuanian media advances the false Kremlin narrative that the United States is about to collapse.


Event: On 11 December, the U.S. edition of The Guardian, a British newspaper, published an article by David Klion—“The Republicans are delivering America into Putin’s hands”—in which he argues that the United States could be brought down not by invading armies but by the weaknesses of its political system. On 14 December, the most popular mainstream Lithuanian news website, delfi.lt, published Klion’s article in Lithuanian under a different title, “Russia’s craving for Lincoln’s prophesy comes true: The U.S. might destroy itself.” Also on 14 December, the pro-Kremlin Lithuanian website ekspertai.eu printed a comment on The Guardian article under the title “The United States of America: On the brink of collapse,” linking to the article in delfi.lt.


The false facts and narratives: After translation and publication in different websites the original title of the article has been changed and communicates a false message to the Lithuanian reader. The title did not correspond to the content of the article, which warned that “America’s political system is broken” and questions its “ability to govern itself without outside interference.” The pro-Kremlin website ekspertai.eu in Lithuanian referred to delfi.lt and stated that the Unites States are to collapse and made reference to the mainstream media as a reliable source of information. It claims that President-elect Donald Trump and his party will help the Kremlin subordinate the United States to its influence.


Reality on the ground: The Guardian story did not conclude that the U.S. is about to destroy itself or collapse. Rather, it analyzes Russia’s influence on the 2016 elections and the reaction of Republican politicians and U.S. intelligence services. It suggests that Republicans put their party’s interest in electing Trump and cutting the welfare state ahead of national interests. The website of Lithuania’s national broadcaster lrt.lt was the first to publish the article and translated the title “What the U.S. can learn from the history of the Republic of Two Nations (Lithuania and Poland).”


Techniques: Misleading title; sowing doubts; presenting opinion as facts.


Target audience: Lithuanian public.


Impact and analysis: By reprinting the article but changing its title, delfi.lt misled readers with the idea that the U.S. might destroy itself. The new title may have been intended to intrigue readers and generate clicks without critically assessing the title’s negative impact on public debate over the issue. The case shows how pro-Kremlin media uses misleading titles to support an anti-American narrative. It also demonstrates how eagerness to generate clicks unintentionally helps spread false narratives.