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Published 28 May 2024

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With European parliamentary elections coming in June, Moscow has jumped into action

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Russian Disinformation in Europe Sounds an Alarm for U.S. Elections  (Lee Hockstader, Washington Post)
In 2022, European monitors who track Russian disinformation spotted an ambitious online influence operation they called Doppelganger. The Moscow-run effort cloned the websites of legitimate newspapers, magazines and news services, including Britain’s Guardian and Germany’s Bild, posted replicas under similar domain names and filled them with Kremlin propaganda.
The campaign was not shocking, given Russia’s kitchen-sink efforts to manipulate Western public opinion. More surprising is that, at least two years after they were detected, Doppelganger’s phony sites continue popping up around the internet like mushrooms after a cloudburst, despite ongoing efforts to close them down.
The sites’ persistence reflects the flood of Russian interference — and the near-impossibility of monitoring it, let alone stopping it — ahead of elections next month for the European Parliament. They’re also a foretaste of what Americans can expect in the fall’s presidential contest, in which Moscow will try to amplify the venomous clamor of U.S. politics.
Social media has made the distribution of disinformation and propaganda almost free. Now generative AI has slashed the cost of producing it in the run-up to the E.U. parliamentary voting between June 6 and 9, when more than 200 million voters across the bloc’s 27 member states are expected at the polls.
The European ballot will not yield ironclad evidence that Russian scheming has tilted the vote against mainstream parties, or strengthened ones sympathetic to Moscow and opposed to further Western backing for Ukraine. Polls forecast those blocs, especially on the populist right, will make gains, but it will be impossible to say how far Moscow’s mischief moved the needle.
But as a trial run for the U.S. elections this fall, and a test of democratic accountability, the E.U. elections are already raising red flags. Specifically, they are laying bare the barriers facing governments, academics and civic groups in discovering what Russia is up to.