the Portland Bible burnings appear to be one of the first viral Russian disinformation hits of the 2020 presidential campaign.
How does Russian disinformation work?
The Russian technique is a kind of information laundering, akin to money laundering. Stories originate with Russian-backed news sites, some of them directly connected to Moscow’s spy agencies, officials and experts said. They are then picked up by Americans on social media or in domestic news outlets, and their origins quickly become obscured. Often, by the time a story reaches most of its American audience, there is little to indicate that it was created to fuel grievances and deepen political divisions.
Some of the news outlets used by Russia are well known, like RT, the Kremlin-financed operation whose video news agency, Ruptly, put out the video of the Bible burning. Others are more obscure, including some directly connected to Russia’s spy agencies, and are used to actively test themes and stories to see which ones play best.
Some stories are tailored to appeal to conservatives, others to an audience that might be best described as the alt-left.
Could this sort of propaganda tip the 2020 election? Probably not. But clearly some Russians see advantage is echoing Trump’s campaign themes. And Trump’s media allies see advantage in disseminating Russian memes.
Are those Russians connected with the Putin presidency and Russian intelligence services? Surely.