“EPToday” busted for being Russian propaganda

unsplash-logoMichael Parulava

The organization “EU vs Disinfo”, working to fight disinformation from external actors such as the Kremlin, has busted “EPToday” for being Russian propaganda.

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The organization “EU vs Disinfo”, which forms part of the European External Action Service (EEAS), service handled by the well-known Federica Mogherini, has announced having “busted” a supposed “news outlet” that shared Russian propaganda while claiming to serve European interests. According to the information provided by the organization, which is specialized in fighting disinformation coming mostly from Russia’s government, “EPToday” would repost dozens of articles from other websites, with a large share of these articles coming from the well-known media outlet “Russia Today” (now “RT”). While this in itself isn’t an issue, as dozens of websites repost content from other pages, “EPToday” would hide the real origin of these articles, and marketed itself as being a “monthly news magazine for the European Parliament”, which could push both EP members and those interested in European politics to regularly consult this “publication”.

The report continues by explaining how “EPToday” sources most of their content from other websites allowing their content to be reused/republished, such as “Voice of America” and “RT”. Many websites reuse content to appear more active than they really are, or to fill gaps in content they are unable to cover. Websites whose content is reused benefit from this by being able to reach a public they might not have initially reached, or have their name put out there. At the same time, some websites allowing the reuse of their content will ask to be explicitly credited and linked to, which is very important in terms of search engine optimization: the more a website is linked to, the more trustworthy Google believes it is, ranking it higher in the search results.

By appearing more active, “EPToday” could more easily convince MPs to actually interact with their website, making them believe they would have a platform to express themselves, which in turn would reinforce this idea that this “media” is an actual, trustworthy source worth reading, before eventually serving Russian articles to European politicians.

Another interesting point raised by the report is how the European Parliament contacted this website last month, in September, concerning the usage of the institution’s name and how they were essentially misleading the public by appearing to be associated with the Parliament. Of course, this is one of the end goals of the team behind this website, regardless of what the owners of “EPToday” claim.

It is quite ironic how people didn’t realize earlier that this is a fake or illegitimate website, seeing the number of mistakes and hints left all over the place. If anything, this shows two things:

  • The people the Kremlin employs to spread disinformation are quite stupid and incompetent, which, by extension, shows how stupid and incompetent the people running the Kremlin’s disinformation department are and
  • The public of this website has a pretty low intellectual level overall, which should raise questions about the MPs who submitted articles to “EPToday”.

For example, this website looks pretty terrible from the outside, with the formatting/design being a real mess, as one can see from the following screenshot. We are aware some of these issues might be due to them having been caught, but some of the original design is still present, such as the navigation menu, logo or the poor formatting of the address of their offices:

Furthermore, and as we’ve previously mentioned, for some unknown reason, whoever set up this website must have been an idiot, using a “.com” domain instead of an “.eu” domain. A quick look at WHOIS also shows the domain registrant has been hidden, which is quite unusual for a supposedly Brussels-based media outlet which proudly displays their address on their website. After all, couldn’t they have used this address to register an “.eu” domain and appear as its owner on public records? We are keeping a full copy of the WHOIS record here.

Finally, it appears the website is not optimized for smartphones, as it is completely unreadable. Whoever at the Kremlin hired these useless people to run this page should be fired, as making these kind of mistakes in 2019 should be considered a crime against humanity. We’ve had to cut the screenshot in two, due to how horrible this is:

We understand that not everybody is up to date with the latest technologies, but, currently, roughly 50% of the website traffic worldwide comes from mobile devices, with, for example, DRSC Media getting around 48% of its visitors from smartphone devices (running Android/iOS). European Parliament members and other visitors not realizing something is wrong when visiting this website should most likely start questioning themselves (and their sanity as well, as the navigation is beyond painful).

Of course, the reason the design of this website is so terrible and the lack of effort to make it seem as a decent website likely comes from the fact that it is managed by a team of Indians. This is also mentioned in the report of “EU vs Disinfo”, which points out that the Facebook page is managed by 4 different people located in India… 4 people who have likely never heard of VPNs. While some might take offense with the way this is worded, it has become quite common for English-speaking websites to be managed from India or by a group of Indians, mostly due to the language compatibility and, obviously, the difference in salary: while somebody in Belgium would have to be paid at least 1 550€/month (Belgian minimum wage), in India, one is looking at between 50 to 250€/month, depending on the region (and using 21 work-days a month as reference).

It would also seem the Kremlin’s efforts were kind of useless, with the site having an Alexa rank of 650-700K, jumping to 435K after the articles talking about it were published. Full screenshot here.

If we compare this rank to popular websites covering EU news in general, such as Politico.eu, Euractiv.com, Euobserver.com or Euronews.com, these are currently sitting at 23.5K, 65.6K, 360K and 2K. Ironically, Sputniknews.com is doing better than any of these sites, at rank 733, and rt.com sitting at an amazing 341.

Funnily enough, “EPToday” issued a press statement yesterday, addressing the situation and some of the claims, stating they are an “independent media outlet” and not affiliated with any other media company. The statement also addresses the European Parliament recommendations, although this is, once again, hypocrite, as they knew full-well what they were doing. After all, their intention all along was to appear as related to the Parliament. They also mention how they intend to come back in “early 2020” with “enhanced content and features”. While we hope they never come back, if they do, we hope they’ll at least bother updating the terrible design of their website, and make sure this one works properly on smartphones.

Sadly for them, this statement might as well be considered trash, mostly due to the website being managed by a group of people who are not physically located on our continent and a domain name ending on “.com” which makes it hard to believe they have any intentions on focussing “on the activities of the European Parliament and other European institutions”:

For those interested, here’s the report from “EU vs Disinfo” on the matter.

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