The Interpreter

The Interpreter The Interpreter is a daily-updated online journal dedicated to analyzing and translating media from the Russian press and blogosphere into English.
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The Interpreter is a special project of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Founded in May 2013, this online journal set out with the modest goal of translating articles from the Russian press, the better to lower the language barrier that separates journalists, analysts, policymakers, diplomats and interested laymen in the English-speaking world from events taking place inside the Russian Federation. Little did we realize then that The Interpreter would devote as much energy to covering what the Russian Federation got up to outside of its own borders. We have grown into a leading real-time chronicle and analysis resource on all aspects of the crisis in Ukraine. Every day since violence first erupted in Kiev’s Independence Square, The Interpreter’s Ukraine live-blog has documented a revolution that became a war on European soil, often breaking news stories about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its maskirovka insurgency in the Donbass, its cross-border shelling of Ukraine, the downing of MH17, and the Minsk II “cease-fire.” Our work has been cited in news outlets all over the world, by presidents and ambassadors. Under the generous patronage of the Institute of Modern Russia (IMR), the magazine was allowed to evolve organically into a more journalistic enterprise, while still adhering to its core remit of being an “Inopressa in reverse.” We owe everything to the incredibly supportive team at IMR, and particularly to Pavel Khodorkovsky, who saw the potential and urgency of this project two and a half years ago. The Interpreter translated into English two major reports on the alleged corruption behind the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014; the first co-written by the Leonid Martinyuk and Boris Nemtsov, the latter of whom was brutally assassinated in Moscow a year later; the second by Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. We also published two internationally discussed stand-alone studies, “The Menace of Unreality,” a look at contemporary Kremlin disinformation and propaganda, and “An Invasion by Any Other Name,” a near-comprehensive history of the Kremlin’s “dirty war” in Ukraine that relied heavily on what Russian investigators and activists had uncovered about their own government’s deception. Then, in October 2015, Russia intervened in Syria. Under the pretense of going to war against ISIS, Vladimir Putin has tried to prop up a flailing ally in the regime of Bashar al-Assad, targeting mostly non-ISIS targets and killing scores of civilians. So The Interpreter launched another news channel dedicated to covering yet another ambiguous Russian war, in three different languages. Given the magazine’s trajectory, a partnership with RFE/RL makes perfect sense. A longtime “surrogate” for a free press where such is denied or underdeveloped, RFE/RL has produced some of the finest reporting and commentary on Russia, from the latest corruption scandals in Moscow and the legal persecution (or worse) of the Bolotnaya protest movement to the prevalence of North Caucasian jihadists joining the ranks of ISIS. Given the dire state of independent Russia media, portals such as RFE/RL are more necessary now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. And given our overlapping interest, we could not be more excited to serve as an outpost of such a venerable news organization.

Another KGB manual translated in our ongoing project.How the KGB Compensated for Perestroikahttps://www.4freerussia.org/...
01/23/2020
How the KGB Compensated for Perestroika

Another KGB manual translated in our ongoing project.

How the KGB Compensated for Perestroika

https://www.4freerussia.org/how-the-kgb-compensated-for-perestroika/?fbclid=IwAR1ukNdrzz_ut4fhqjkYRVN9-gXKjukqwclcrMA4jXyC3jWp-S6lW4BlsCE

By Andrei Soldatov In the third year of Perestroika, in 1988, the intelligence branch of the KGB was deep in a crisis – the headquarters in Yasenevo woods a few miles southwest of Moscow found the officers at KGB rezidenturas in Western countries increasingly reluctant to approach foreigners...

Free Russia Foundation
01/16/2020
Free Russia Foundation

Free Russia Foundation

The Kremlin is proposing a new “social contract” to the Russian people that will replace the “Crimean consensus” – new and restored social benefits in exchange for cementing within the Constitution the monopoly of the current ruling class over the country's governance.

Please read an opinion by political analyst Ivan Preobrazhensky on constitutional reform declared by Vladimir Putin

01/08/2020
The Conflict in Eastern Ukraine - A RECAP

The Conflict in Eastern Ukraine - A RECAP

Everyone Agrees with Putin - that Russia send military forces into Eastern Ukraine. This video is a look back at the salient points indicating Russia's sent ...

01/07/2020
Coda Story

Coda Story

Coming this week: Generation Gulag, how history is being rewritten.

Disinformation MattersBy Mariam KiparoidzeThe study of psychology fascinates me.I enjoy reading and watching almost ever...
12/09/2019

Disinformation Matters
By Mariam Kiparoidze

The study of psychology fascinates me.

I enjoy reading and watching almost everything related to psychology, from landmark discoveries to goofy tests revealing which cake flavor I am — hot fudge double chocolate brownie, by the way.

This week, I came across something altogether more serious: New research about misinformation and how we make our moral judgement.

A new study published in the journal Psychological Science revealed that being repeatedly exposed to false news might make us feel less unethical about spreading it ourselves — and here’s the scary part — even if we know it is false.

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797619887896?utm_source=Disinformation+Matters&utm_campaign=3185b2bd28-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_12_08_05_32&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_610841f0e2-3185b2bd28-191402233&

The study was conducted in a series of experiments over the last two years.

Researchers Daniel A. Effron, a London Business School associate professor, and Medha Raj, a PhD student at the University of Southern California, presented 12 actual fake news headlines about American politics to more than 2,500 participants.

The experiments revealed that people thought it less unethical to share what they knew were false headlines, compared with sharing those they hadn’t encountered before.

Numerous studies have confirmed that previously encountered information feels more familiar and therefore accurate.

Psychologists refer to it as the illusory truth effect. But Effron and Raj in their research say what they have found “represents the first evidence that misinformation receives less moral condemnation when it has been repeated.”

Therefore, people are more prone to promote it themselves on social media platforms, for example.

Why is this important?

“Efforts to curb misinformation typically aim to help people distinguish fact from fiction,” write the authors.

“We suspect that these efforts will be insufficient as long as people find it more morally permissible to share previously encountered (vs.new) information they know is false.”

As online platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter face increased levels of scrutiny, they have introduced some measures to help consumers detect false news or contextualize individual facts found online.

Some of these initiatives include Facebook’s fact checkers (although some of them are leaving), Google’s media literacy projects and other tools which assess truthfulness.

But it seems that distinguishing fact from fiction isn’t enough to curb disinformation.

We often discuss how false news is spread, but our conversations lack depth in uncovering the “when” and the “why” of the subject.

Raj and Effron’s findings are a first step towards understanding people’s decision to share lies even when they don’t completely believe them.


“Coordinated inauthentic behavior” beyond social media

One organization which has done some work on why investigations about disinformation need to broaden their focus beyond how social media is used for propaganda is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

ASPI is an independent, non-partisan think tank based in Canberra, Australia, which attempted to demonstrate our vulnerability to disinformation.

Elise Thomas, a researcher at ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre, showcased the online life cycle of a bogus press release about a purported plan by China to assassinate President Trump, his family and some members of Congress.

While the story sounds ludicrous — that China is planning to use poison-filled dragonfly drones to assassinate a world leader — Thomas wanted to demonstrate the fallibility of digital advertisers and digital distribution services that disseminate content across platforms.

Thomas observed that this made up story was spread by one of the distribution services and appeared on dozens of “junk news” sites.

More importantly, it also ended up on some legitimate local news outlets, like the Denver News Journal and ABC 8, posing as a real news piece.

“In the context of an organised campaign, sowing disinformation across junk news and second-tier news sites would be an effective first step for laundering false facts and narratives into social media and then mainstream media, without the investment or hassle of setting up a new fake news website,” writes Thomas.
You might think that a simple Google search could clarify such falsehoods. At the very least, it would verify if other newsrooms reported the story.

But since multiple newsrooms published the release, for most readers, the credibility of the bogus story increased.

If you’d like to read more about why people spread falsehoods online, read Eduard Saakashvilii’s article about a book which examines the real life impact of online behavior.

https://codastory.com/authoritarian-tech/book-memes-internet-xiaomina/?utm_source=Disinformation+Matters&utm_campaign=3185b2bd28-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_12_08_05_32&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_610841f0e2-3185b2bd28-191402233

The book, “Memes to Movements: How the World’s Most Viral Media is Changing Social Protest and Power” is written by An Xiao Mina. “It’s tempting,” she writes, “to think of fake news as a series of falsehoods.” She goes on to argue that fact-checking does nothing to address the fundamental reasons people decide to share lies.

n case you missed it:
Twitter influencers in Pakistan are using coordinated online campaigns to manipulate public opinion, according to an investigation on how nationalist groups can successfully weaponize Twitter’s “trending” topics section. (Dawn)

In the runup to the UK elections next week, political campaigners are using “parody” sites to grab voters’ attention and counteract opposition party criticism. (First Draft)

A new investigation reveals how a pro-government information operation in the Philippines attacked media covering the Southeast Asian Games last month. (Rappler)

I’ll be happy to hear your feedback at [email protected]. Or if you want to share which cake flavor you are, I’m here for that, too.

Mariam Kiparoidze is an associate producer at Coda Story. She worked previously as Coda Story's Production Assistant.

Disinformation MattersBy Burhan WazirGreetings from Coda’s London branch, where I am Managing Editor. In this week’s Dis...
11/18/2019

Disinformation Matters

By Burhan Wazir

Greetings from Coda’s London branch, where I am Managing Editor. In this week’s Disinfo Matters: elections and fears of disinformation in Brexit Britain.

Here in Britain, there is no escaping politics these days. On Saturday morning, I joined a large group of north Londoners for a weekly parkrun.

After reaching the finish line, we bumped into a well-known TV pundit who was out for a walk. He was surrounded by a group of men and women asking him to predict the result of next month’s elections.

It goes without saying that TV pundits don’t always make for accurate clairvoyants.

What looks set to be one of the most important elections in post war history — it will probably determine how the United Kingdom leaves the European Union — is also proving to be fertile territory for allegations of disinformation.

One dominant story is the recent refusal of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office to publish a report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which examined allegations of Russian activity aimed at the UK.

The ISC’s remit included Russian interference in the 2016 referendum on EU membership, when Johnson was a leading Leave campaigner.

The 50-page report has been cleared for release by Britain’s security services. However, it has yet to be approved for publication by Johnson’s office, meaning it will likely not be out before the election on December 12.

The government’s failure to publish has attracted harsh criticism at home and abroad. Hillary Clinton criticized the decision, saying it was “incredibly surprising and unacceptable that in your country there is a government report sitting there about Russian influence and your current government isn’t releasing it.”

Johnson is trying to brush off the looming scandal by insisting there is “no evidence” of Russian interference.

Moscow too denies the charge, just like they did when the U.S. intelligence agencies accused the Kremlin of interfering in the 2016 election.

My favorite Coda pieces this week:

Morgan Meaker reported about how social media users are being criminalized in countries around the world. Her primary example was the case of an exasperated Croatian journalist who took to Twitter to draw attention to a local environmental problem. His satirical tweet did not go viral, but that didn’t stop him from being arrested

https://codastory.com/authoritarian-tech/croatia-press-freedom/?utm_source=Disinformation+Matters&utm_campaign=a9f9c9b1e1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_16_03_20&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_610841f0e2-a9f9c9b1e1-191402233

From Lebanon, where protests have rolled through the country for nearly one month, Emily Lewis reported how WhatsApp is being used to feed disinformation to a public which distrusts politicians and has little faith in local media. A key thing to remember here is that Lebanon is not the only current “October Revolution” that has been marred by disinformation.

https://codastory.com/disinformation/whatsapp-lebanon-protest/?utm_source=Disinformation+Matters&utm_campaign=a9f9c9b1e1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_16_03_20&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_610841f0e2-a9f9c9b1e1-191402233

Elsewhere:

We recently published this piece about Russia’s pivot towards Africa. With that in mind, I would recommend this investigation into Russian involvement in elections in Madagascar. The reporting has it all and seems ready for a big screen adaptation: disinformation, bags stuffed with cash and even an apocalyptic cult leader. (New York Times)

https://codastory.com/disinformation/russia-africa-summit-sochi/?utm_source=Disinformation+Matters&utm_campaign=a9f9c9b1e1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_16_03_20&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_610841f0e2-a9f9c9b1e1-191402233

In a stark assessment of Putin’s grip on Russian society, the Ukrainian dissident Oleg Sentsov gave a revealing interview where he said the offspring of Russian oligarchs learn about freedom in the UK but return to Moscow only to maintain the status quo because it works to their interest. Sentsov was jailed for five years by Russia in 2014 and was released in a prisoner swap in September. (Guardian)
Some viewing: Here’s an excellent talk by Renee DiResta about the dark side of reality construction, and how actors can shape popular consensus for political gain. (Ribbonfarm)

A request for pitches: We are always seeking story ideas and tips on a range of subjects, including disinformation, authoritarian technology and worldwide anti-science movements. Send your ideas and tips to [email protected]

Owners of a Russian YouTube channel for children face prison for featuring an interview with a gay manhttps://codastory....
11/14/2019
Owners of a Russian YouTube channel for children face prison for featuring an interview with a gay man - Coda Story

Owners of a Russian YouTube channel for children face prison for featuring an interview with a gay man

https://codastory.com/news/prison-russia-youtube-children-interview-gay/

The owners of a Russian YouTube channel for children are facing up to 20 years in prison on felony charges for “sexual violence against minors” after they published a video interview with a gay man.

Moscow’s ‘smart city’ program is going global. Russian activists say it targets political opponents.https://codastory.co...
10/21/2019
Moscow’s 'smart city' program is going global. Russian activists say it targets political opponents - Coda Story

Moscow’s ‘smart city’ program is going global. Russian activists say it targets political opponents.

https://codastory.com/authoritarian-tech/moscows-smart-city-russian-activists-surveillance/?utm_source=Disinformation+Matters&utm_campaign=455df3d3e3-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_20_06_51&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_610841f0e2-455df3d3e3-191402233

A four-day tech conference in Yerevan featured star speakers, including Kim Kardashian West and the founder of Reddit. It also raised questions about Moscow’s growing use of surveillance technology

Disinformation and vaccine hesitancy grips UkraineInfectious diseases like measles are making a global comeback. Hardest...
10/21/2019
Disinformation and vaccine hesitancy grips Ukraine - Coda Story

Disinformation and vaccine hesitancy grips Ukraine
Infectious diseases like measles are making a global comeback. Hardest hit is Ukraine, which has seen the fastest recent rise in measles in the world.

https://codastory.com/disinformation/disinformation-vaccines-ukraine/?utm_source=Disinformation+Matters&utm_campaign=455df3d3e3-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_20_06_51&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_610841f0e2-455df3d3e3-191402233

Infectious diseases like measles are making a global comeback. Hardest hit is Ukraine, which has seen the fastest recent rise in measles in the world.

Ukraine’s war: inside a frontline town torn by five years of conflict. Fighting and disinformation have sown division at...
10/21/2019
Ukraine's war: inside a frontline town torn by five years of conflict - Coda Story

Ukraine’s war: inside a frontline town torn by five years of conflict. Fighting and disinformation have sown division at the center of a proposed peace deal.

https://codastory.com/disinformation/armed-conflict/ukraine-war-town-conflict/?utm_source=Disinformation+Matters&utm_campaign=455df3d3e3-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_20_06_51&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_610841f0e2-455df3d3e3-191402233

Fighting and disinformation have sown division at the center of a proposed peace deal

Disinformation MattersBy Chaewon ChungIn today’s digital information age, people worry that ageing populations could be ...
10/21/2019

Disinformation Matters
By Chaewon Chung

In today’s digital information age, people worry that ageing populations could be left behind by new forms of technology.

But that’s not the case in South Korea, where a different problem is at play. While a recent study found that Korean people with liberal views are becoming more wary of fake news and disinformation, Korean news media outlets and researchers suspect that older conservatives over 60s are consuming far-right YouTube channels for news related content and exposing themselves to fake news and disinformation.

Tactics played by far-right Korean influencers are similar to that in the United States. In an attempt to win people’s trust, far-right channels set themselves up as if they are working for newsrooms, with a commentator pontificating or with experts discussing hot political topics. At first glance, what’s being shown looks like a typical newsroom. Men in suits with serious expressions sitting around a table and sharing their opinions. But once you start to pay attention, you realize what they say is beyond absurd. It’s like what we’ve seen it with Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist, and his infamous Infowars.

Disinformation that Korean far-right YouTube channels spread includes President Moon Jae-in murdered last year a Korean socialist politician, and that Moon has stolen 200 tons of gold bars hidden by the Empire of Japan during the 1900s. The claims are laughable. But it clearly has impacts on voters in how they perceive Moon’s administration.

Let’s also take a look at what happened with a former Justice Minister of Korea, Cho-Guk, and how far-right channels targeted him to degrade his political image with absurd claims. Allegations that Cho’s daughter may have gained unfair advantage in her admission to medical school led to far-right YouTube channels calling Cho a "commie" and a “socialist” while he was the prospective candidate for Justice Minister. The comment section of Sin-ui Hansu was flooded with angry conservative voters clamoring that the people of Korea do not want socialist as their Justice Minister and that both president Moon Jae-in and Cho-Guk should be sent to North Korea. Moon appointed Cho-Guk as Justice Minister but the anger did not subside; hundreds of thousands of elderly conservative hit the streets of Gwanghwamun to call for Cho’s ouster. Cho stepped down last week after only 35 days as a result of these unrelenting attacks from the right.

Jeong Dong-hun, Professor of Media Communication at Kwangwoon University, believes there are two main reasons why older conservatives actively engage with far-right YouTube channels. The first is that older citizens are more vulnerable to recommendation algorithms. “They are more passive than younger people on digital platforms, they tend to move from one video to another that YouTube recommends based on their interests,” Jeong told me.

In fact, older conservatives might not be aware that alternative views exist on the platform, and that their initial YouTube encounter becomes a building block for YouTube’s algorithm which then serves the content, and have the viewers fall down a rabbit hole of disinformation. The New York Times story on Caleb Cain, a 25-year-old, is an example of how one could easily be sucked into far-right rabbit hole on YouTube.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/08/technology/youtube-radical.html?utm_source=Disinformation+Matters&utm_campaign=455df3d3e3-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_20_06_51&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_610841f0e2-455df3d3e3-191402233

The second reason, Jeong told me, is that “people like to selectively consume information that have the same views as theirs.” Selective exposure to information is human nature, of course, as a recent study confirmed.

In Korea’s case, researchers like Kim Sunho from the Korea Press Foundation believes that older conservatives began to turn to YouTube for news information when the presidential administration changed in 2017-- when supporters of the president at the time, Park Guen-hye, started to dismiss reports from mainstream news media outlets, after Park was impeached. “Far-right contents make two political groups more polarized. It is already happening online, and will only get worse over time,” said Kim.

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The Interpreter is a non-profit online news site providing translations of Russian and Ukrainian media, news updates and analysis of Russia’s wars at home, in Ukraine, and in Syria. Founded in May 2013, this online journal set out with the modest goal of translating articles from the Russian press, the better to lower the language barrier that separates journalists, analysts, policymakers, diplomats and interested laymen in the English-speaking world from events taking place inside the Russian Federation. Little did we realize then that The Interpreter would devote as much energy to covering what the Russian Federation got up to outside of its own borders. Throughout the first years of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, The Interpreter was among the leading real-time chronicle and analysis resource on all aspects of the crisis in Ukraine. Every day since violence first erupted in Kiev’s Independence Square, The Interpreter’s Ukraine live-blog documented a revolution that became a war on European soil, often breaking news stories about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its maskirovka insurgency in the Donbass, its cross-border shelling of Ukraine, the downing of MH17, and the Minsk II “cease-fire.” Our work has been cited in news outlets all over the world, by presidents and ambassadors, and in academic papers. Under the generous patronage of the Institute of Modern Russia (IMR), the magazine was allowed to evolve organically into a more journalistic enterprise, while still adhering to its core remit of being an “Inopressa in reverse.” We owe everything to the incredibly supportive team at IMR, and particularly to Pavel Khodorkovsky, who saw the potential and urgency of this project two and a half years ago. The Interpreter translated into English two major reports on the alleged corruption behind the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014; the first co-written by the Leonid Martinyuk and Boris Nemtsov, the latter of whom was brutally assassinated in Moscow a year later; the second by Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. We also published two internationally discussed stand-alone studies, “The Menace of Unreality,” a look at contemporary Kremlin disinformation and propaganda, and “An Invasion by Any Other Name,” a near-comprehensive history of the Kremlin’s “dirty war” in Ukraine that relied heavily on what Russian investigators and activists had uncovered about their own government’s deception. Then, in October 2015, Russia intervened in Syria. Under the pretense of going to war against ISIS, Vladimir Putin has tried to prop up a flailing ally in the regime of Bashar al-Assad, targeting mostly non-ISIS targets and killing scores of civilians. So The Interpreter launched another news channel dedicated to covering yet another ambiguous Russian war, in three different languages. The Interpreter was funded by Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe from 2016-2017. We lost our funding with the start of the Trump Administration. Since then, our writers have worked on a volunteer basis, so we appreciate your donations. We have been fortunate to have some media partners who have helped distribute our material; currently we are partnered with CodaStory, a single-issue web platform that puts a team of journalists on one crisis at a time and stays with it, providing unique depth, continuity and understanding to events.

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Bringing the stories out of Russian backwaters...
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