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PropOrNot

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We will consider revealing our names when Russia reveals the names of those running its propaganda operations in the West 😂
—PropOrNot (Nov 26th 2016)[1]

PropOrNot is a site providing lists of websites that purportedly spread and expose Russian propaganda, and is (according to The Daily Beast) a "sorry piece of trash".[2] Some justified, some not. It was also accused of McCarthyism.[3]

Methodology[edit]

Zerohedge.com referrer network

PropOrNot’s methodology consists of 7 checks.

  • Check 1: Citing obvious Russian propaganda sites such as RT, Fort-Russ etc.
  • Check 2: History of reusing text from obvious Russian propaganda.
  • Check 3: History of generally echoing the Russian propaganda "line".
  • Check 4: History of echoing the Russian line in strange ways.
  • Check 5: Lacks the hallmarks of good actual journalism (well-cited, balanced, bias-free).
  • Check 6: Called out by other credible fact-checkers, journalists, and debunkers.
  • Check 7: Steadfastly avoids coherently proposing constructive solutions to anything.

If it passes in all of the above, it is claimed to be safe to classify the site as Russian propaganda.

The list[edit]

On November 30 2016, PropOrNot published a list of 202 websites that they classify as Russian propaganda based on "a combination of manual and automated analysis, including analysis of content, timing, technical indicators, and other reporting", which the anonymous group suggests are "consistently, uncritically, and one-sidedly echoing, repeating, being used by, and redirecting their audiences to Russian official and semi-official state media".

Questionable inclusions[edit]

  • CounterPunch was included in one of the earlier versions of the list. After a brief exchange of emails, they agreed to remove them from the list.[4] As Joshua Frank writes:

For the record, neither Jeffrey or I have ever appeared on RT or Sputnik, we've both turned down dozens of requests, in part because we are opposed to state-run media. In fact, both of us have been highly critical of Putin and Russia over the years and we don't plan on curbing our critiques anytime soon. Additionally, we have gladly published a variety of Russian writers, such as Boris Kagarlitsky, many of whom are harsh critics of the regime. Even so, we don't believe any American journalists who have appeared on these Russian-sponsored outlets should apologize for anything, and it certainly doesn’t mean those who have are Russian propagandists.

  • Truthdig, which is a fairly normal news site that is rated with high-factual reporting from MBFC,[5] is still present on the list. While they are very critical of the US government, they pass none of the 7 criteria to be classified as propaganda.
  • Survivopedia, which is also fairly normal news site focused on, well, survival, is also purported Russian propaganda.
  • Naked Capitalism, which literally has capitalism in its name, is supposedly Russian propaganda. It also has a high-factual reporting rate from MBFC.[6] It is a widely respected left-wing site run by Wall Street critic Yves Smith. That site was named by Time magazine as one of the 25 Best Financial Blogs in 2011 and by Wired magazine as a crucial site to follow for finance, and Smith has been featured as a guest on programs such as PBS's Bill Moyers Show.

Reception[edit]

The site gained traction from an article in The Washington Post by Craig Timberg on November 24th, 2016, nearly a month after its inception.[7] The site was further endorsed by Business Insider,[8] The Wrap,[9] and the Associated Press.[10]

The Washington Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the previous 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website on the Friday after it was published.[11]

Criticism[edit]

While the threat of Russian manipulation of information is certainly very real,[12][13][14][15][16][17] the fact that Russian trolls are being paid to spread misinformation,[18][19][20][21][22][23][24] hackers are being hired to push propaganda,[25][26][27] and many of the sites present on the list have been known to spread it, it seems that the PropOrNot team isn’t very good at actually identifying them. As BuzzFeed's Sheera Frenkel noted, "a lot of reporters passed on this story." Its flaws are self-evident.[28]

  • After a mere two days of The Washington Post article, Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept called them out for "disgracefully"” promoting the site written by "very shady" anonymous authors for which "the credentials of this supposed group of experts are impossible to verify",[29] leading The Washington Post to put a disclaimer on their original article about it which read:

Editor’s Note: The Washington Post on Nov. 24 published a story on the work of four sets of researchers who have examined what they say are Russian propaganda efforts to undermine American democracy and interests. One of them was PropOrNot, a group that insists on public anonymity, which issued a report identifying more than 200 websites that, in its view, wittingly or unwittingly published or echoed Russian propaganda. A number of those sites have objected to being included on PropOrNot's list, and some of the sites, as well as others not on the list, have publicly challenged the group's methodology and conclusions. The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot's findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so. Since publication of The Post's story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list.

  • Consortium News described it as a movement of “McCarthyistic smears”.[30]
  • After a few days, many other news sites that were falsely classified as Russian propaganda picked up on the story to rant about it. One of them was CounterPunch. Renee Parsons of CounterPunch went as far as linking PropOrNot to Obama's presidency.[31] CounterPunch also stated the link between NATO and being anti-Trump to PropOrNot, citing a page from a conspiratorial site which cries about internet censorship.[32] On the same day, Joshua Frank reported that after a brief exchange of emails, PropOrNot agreed to remove CounterPunch from its list.[4] but that did not exactly stop them from making a million more articles about them.[33]

Media Bias/Fact Check[edit]

MBFC has rated PropOrNot as a 'Conspiracy/Pseudoscience' source with strong conspiracy level and mixed factual reporting.[34] The following note is displayed on their page:

PropOrNot claims to be “a resource for people who want to understand Russian influence operations targeted at US audiences, distinguish between propaganda and commercial "clickbait", and help identify propaganda and push back. They have published a rather large list of media outlets that are either directly working for the Russian's[sic] or unknowingly spreading Russian propaganda. This source also does not give details about who they are as they fear retaliation from the Russians. Seriously, they said this. Some of the sources listed as Russian Propagandist are simply ridiculous as they have zero to do with politics. For now, we are placing this site on our conspiracy list as there is very little evidence to support their claims. If this changes we will move this site to a different category. (11/28/2017) Updated (D. Van Zandt 6/19/2017)

Current state[edit]

The website has gone majorly underground, the last post on their website was on March 24, 2017. Their Twitter account is still active, but has stopped posting childish tweets and now just reposts tweets from other famous people that support its movement.

Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard[edit]

Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard, a successor to Hamilton 68,[35] is something like a resurrection of the resourcefulness of the PropOrNot. The Alliance for Securing Democracy, an initiative housed at The German Marshall Fund of the United States have been publishing since 2017, and have undoubtedly observed PropOrNot’s spectacular failure, while developing the “Hamilton 68 Dashboard".

According to The German Marshall Fund, the “dashboard” is designed to “shed light on Russian propaganda efforts on Twitter in near-real time.” The “Hamilton 68” website offers a dozen automatically-updated columns tracking “trending hashtags,” “trending topics,” “top domains,” “top URLs,” and so on.

“Our analysis is based on 600 Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence activities online,” Laura Rosenberger (a senior fellow at the alliance) and J.M. Berger (a non-resident fellow) wrote in a blog post on August 2.

The dashboard was endorsed by many other famous people on Twitter (but to a relatively less extent than PropOrNot).[36][37][38]

Differences[edit]

After the spectacular failure of the PropOrNot list, it seems self-evident that one might stay away from certain aspects of their methodology that led to their demise. Some of the more major ones include:

  • Hamilton 68's propaganda list is a secret. Unlike PropOrNot, Hamilton 68 does not disclose the identities of the 600 Twitter accounts. The German Marshall Fund says it refuses to reveal the specific accounts in its dataset because it “prefers to focus on the behavior of the overall network rather than get dragged into hundreds of individual debates over which troll fits which role.”
  • The lack of methodological clarity (for the sake of avoiding “debates”) has already led to some misleading coverage in the media, with outlets like Business Insider reporting that “Hamilton 68 is now working to expose those trolls — as well as automated bots and human accounts — whose main use for Twitter appears to be an amplification of pro-Russia themes,” despite the fact that the website doesn’t actually reveal the names of any Twitter accounts. J.M. Berger stated that his team could have expanded the dashboard to “6,000 almost as easily, but the analysis would be less close to real-time.” Berger also emphasized that the 600 selected accounts were identified with a "98-percent confidence rate."

References[edit]

  1. We will consider revealing our names when Russia reveals the names of those running its propaganda operations in the West 😂 —PropOrNot (Nov 26th 2016) Archived Tweet, before they deleted it...
  2. https://www.thedailybeast.com/washington-post-on-the-fake-news-hot-seat
  3. WPost's anon source: this isn't McCarthyism! We just want FBI to investigate US news orgs for pro-Russia espionage by Glenn Greenwald (7:57 AM · Nov 25, 2016) Twitter (archived from January 6, 2021).
  4. 4.0 4.1 https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/counterpunch-as-russian-propagandists-the-washington-posts-shallow-smear/ CounterPunch as Russian propagandists: the Washington Posts’ shallow smear] by Joshua Frank (Dec 2 2016) CounterPunch
  5. Truthdig — MBFC
  6. Naked Capitalism — MBFC
  7. Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say The Washington Post, by Craig Timberg (Nov 24th, 2016)
  8. REPORT: Hundreds of popular websites deliver Russian propaganda to 15 million Americans Alex Lockie (Nov 28 2016, 21:42 IST)
  9. Researchers Identify 200 Websites That ‘Reliably Echo Russian Propaganda’ to Millions of Americans by Greg Gilman (Nov 25 2016 1:48 PM)
  10. Russian propaganda effort likely behind flood of fake news that preceded election by AP via PBS (Nov 25 2016 2:45 PM EDT)
  11. Why isn't this the biggest story in the world right now? Twitter
  12. How Vladimir Putin is revolutionizing information warfare by Peter Pomerantsev (September 9 2014) The Atlantic.
  13. A guide for Russian propaganda. Part 1: Propaganda prepares Russia for war by EuroMaidanPR (5 May 2016)
  14. Have you been watching Russian government propaganda? by Patrick Hilsman (May 6, 2015) Seattle Globalist
  15. Welcome to Cold War 2.0, the risk of the Kremlin rolling the dice against NATO is real by John R. Schindler (02/15/2016) The Observer
  16. The U.S. Should Do More to Counter Putin’s Propaganda by James J. Coyle (6/23/2015) Newsweek
  17. Inside the Kremlin’s hall of mirrors by Peter Pomerantsev (9 April 2015) The Guardian
  18. The Agency by Adrian Chen (June 2 2015) New York Times
  19. The Trolls Who Came In From The Cold by Viktor Rezunkov (March 16, 2015) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
  20. Salutin' Putin: inside a Russian troll house by Shaun Walker (2 April 2015) St Petersburg, The Guardian
  21. My life as a pro-Putin propagandist in Russia’s secret 'troll factory'by Tom Parfitt (24 Jun 2015) St Petersburg, The Telegraph
  22. Woman who sued pro-Putin Russian 'troll factory' gets one rouble in damages by Agence France-Presse (18 August 2015) St Petersburg
  23. Unmasking the Men Behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street's Renegade Blog by Tracy Alloway and Luke Kawa (April 29 2016) Bloomberg
  24. The Empire Trolls Back: How the U.S. Can Respond to Russian Propaganda by Sean Keeley (26 April 2016) Center on Global Interests
  25. Whodunnit? Russia and Coercion Through Cyberspace by Robert Morgus (19 Oct 2016)
  26. Even a Fake Clinton Foundation Hack Can Do Serious Damage by Lily Hay Newman (10 Jul 2016) Wired
  27. Guccifer 2.0 posts DCCC docs, says they’re from Clinton Foundation by Sean Gallagher (10 May 2016) Ars Technica
  28. craigtimberg fwiw, a lot of reporters passed on this story. by @sheeraf (11:20 AM - 25 Nov 2016) Twitter (archived from September 21, 2020).
  29. Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes A McCarthyite Blacklist From A New, Hidden, And Very Shady Group by Ben Norton & Glenn Greenwald (26 Nov 2016) The Intercept.
  30. Washington Post's 'Fake News' Guilt by Robert Parry (Nov 27 2016) Consortium News.
  31. Obama and PropOrNot by Renee Parsons (Dec 2 2016) CounterPunch.
  32. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/11/23/russiagate-mccarthyism-led-to-internet-censorship-of-the-anti-war-and-social-justice-movement/
  33. search for PropOrNot CounterPunch
  34. PropOrNot—MBFC
  35. Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard Alliance for Securing Democracy.
  36. To my friends in the press, look here for real-time updates on Russian propaganda efforts: http://bit.ly/2tX2iDT
  37. [https://twitter.com/juliaioffe/status/892778139939688448 A very cool tool for identifying in real time what stories the Russian govt is pushing. Thanks, @selectedwisdom @http://dashboard.securingdemocracy.org] Julia Ioffe (Aug 2, 2017) Twitter
  38. #MAGA is currently the most common hashtag promoted by Russian Twitter trolls according to the Hamilton68 dashboard. http://dashboard.securingdemocracy.org Evan McMullin (Aug 3, 2017) Twitter