Wednesday Nov 13, 2019
A European NGO tackling disinformation has uncovered a vast network of fake local news sites in over 65 countries serving Indian interests by repeatedly criticising Pakistan.
The websites, more than 265 in number, are designed to influence the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) with the objective of damaging Pakistan, according to EU DisinfoLab, an NGO that researches and tackles disinformation campaigns.
In early October, the European External Action Service's (EEAS) East StratCom Task Force — or the EU Disinformation Task Force — had revealed that eptoday.com, which covers European Parliament (EP) in Brussels, was plagiarising news from Russia Today and Voice of America since a long time.
Most of the plagiarised content included articles and op-eds related to minorities in Pakistan and India-related matters. Surprisingly, it was discovered that the monthly publication was owned by Indians, with links to numerous think tanks, NGOs, and entities from the Srivastava Group.
The group's Internet Protocol (IP) address was home to an obscure online media outlet, New Delhi Times, as well as the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS), both of which were tracked to the same location in the Indian city of New Delhi.
The IINS, a few weeks later, requested 27 members of the European Parliament to join them for a tour to Kashmir and meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was covered by the media and journalists soon linked it to managers and those funding the contentious visit — the IINS and the direct entourage of EP Today.
The EU DisinfoLab using opensource intelligence continued investigating the network, leading it to Geneva, which houses the headquarters of the UN's refugee agency. The EU DisinfoLab discovered a 35-year-old paper, timesofgeneva.com, which publishes online the same content as EP Today and produces material criticising Pakistan’s role in Kashmir.
Hard evidence related to EP today and Times of Geneva was found, linking their strong ties to a network of NGOs and think-tanks, such as the European Organization for Pakistani Minorities (EOPM) and Pakistani Women’s Human Rights Organization. These organisations' website were hosted on the same servers and their staff wrote for EP Today.
Further, links between EP Today and timesofgeneva.com were proved by discovering links between the websites' domain names, emails, and registration addresses.
So far, the analysis shows timesofgeneva.com targeting the UN, while EP Today focuses on the EU. The publications have been active for several years now.
The investigators also found 4newsagency.com, which is a "synergy between 4 news agencies from Switzerland, Belgium, Thailand, and Abu Dhabi (UAE)”, with its teams spreading over a 100 countries. It operates in the same mode as EP Today and timesofgeneva.com.
-Same office addresses
-Substantial reporting of Indian matters
-Majority of the websites are named after defunct local newspapers or imitate working media outlets.
-Plagiarised content from news agencies (VOA, Interfax, etc.)
-Similar coverage of India-related demonstrations and events.
-Republication of anti-Pakistan content from the aforementioned Indian network, including EP Today, 4NewsAgency, timesofgeneva.com, and New Delhi Times.
-To influence international institutions and elected representatives by publishing particular news items.
-Help out NGOs by providing them desired material to enhance their credibility.
-When several media outlets publish the same content, it is hard to trace the manipulation, thus legitimising wrong information.
-Damage Pakistan’s public image by making available similar content on search engines.