A vast network of Indian fake news websites in dozens of countries have been created to promote Indian diplomatic interests, especially New Delhi’s criticism of Pakistan, a European news watchdog says in a report.
The Brussels-based EU DisinfoLab, an NGO, has discovered 265 bogus media outlets in 65 countries that are managed by what it calls an ‘Indian influence network’, which has in recent months tried to whitewash India’s annexation of disputed Kashmir territory.
But Alexandre Alaphilippe, DisinfoLab’s executive director, told TRT World that they have no evidence to establish a link between the websites and the Indian government.
Many of the websites, which are also linked to obscure human rights groups, share each other’s content, layering stories in ways that make it difficult for readers to find the source of the information.
A cursory look at some of these websites shows that they disproportionately report on the treatment of minorities in Pakistan including the problems in insurgency-hit Balochistan province.
Under the garb of names such as The American Weekly, Times of Bulgaria and Times of Cyprus, this network tries to give itself a cover of legitimacy, according to the DisInfo Lab’s database.
Many of them have social media accounts.
The network of fake news websites, two of which have been traced to Pakistan, were used to target policymakers in the United States and the European Union.
This is the first time DisinfoLab has come across a disinformation network of this scale, said Alaphilippe.
Caught in the act
This Indian disinformation network was uncovered in October when DisInfo Lab looked into a complaint that eptoday.com, a self-proclaimed magazine of the European Parliament, was recycling stories from Russia Today and Voice of America.
“Among this syndicated content, we unexpectedly found a large number of articles and op-eds related to minorities in Pakistan as well as other India-related matters.”
DisInfo Lab linked Eptoday to a controversial India-based Srivastava Group, an umbrella organisation with a host of think tanks and NGOs under its name.
Srivastava recently came under scrutiny after Indian journalists found that it’s behind the little-known think tank the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, which organised a visit of European rightwing parliamentarians to disputed Kashmir late last month.
The watchdog’s investigation revealed another news outlet - timesofgeneva.com.
“Strangely enough, Times of Geneva publishes the same type of content as EP Today and produces videos covering events and demonstrations criticising Pakistan’s role in the Kashmir conflict.”
The news organisations also share the same server as so-called NGOs the European Organisation for Pakistani Minorities and Pakistani Women’s Human Rights Organisation, which are critical of Islamabad.
“Specifically, the websites of these NGOs and think tanks are hosted on the same servers and/or staff have worked for one of these previous organisations while publishing articles for EP Today.”
Ultimately, the investigation led to the unearthing of more than 265 media outlets, many of which are named after extinct local newspapers and republish anti-Pakistan content from the websites such as EP Today and Times of Geneva.
“We found the same infrastructure - servers, IPs or emails - (of these websites) linked to the servers used by the Srivastava group,” said Alaphilippe.
Some of the content on the websites has been pulled down since DisinfoLab’s report came out on Wednesday.