Three thousand fake tanks: How a network of conspiracy sites spread a fake story about U.S. military reinforcements in Europe

Digital Forensic Research Lab reports: On January 4, a little-known news site based in Donetsk, Ukraine published an article claiming that the United States was sending 3,600 tanks to Europe as part of “the NATO war preparation against Russia”.

Like much fake news, this story started with a grain of truth: the US was about to reinforce its armored units in Europe. However, the article converted literally thousands of other vehicles — including hundreds of Humvees and trailers  — into tanks, building the US force into something 20 times more powerful than it actually was.

The story caught on online. Within three days it had been repeated by a dozen websites in the United States, Canada and Europe, and shared some 40,000 times. It was translated into Norwegian; quoted, unchallenged, by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti; and spread among Russian-language websites.

It was also an obvious fake, as any Google news search would have revealed. Yet despite its evident falsehood, it spread widely, and not just in directly Kremlin-run media. Tracking the spread of this fake therefore shines a light on the wider question of how fake stories are dispersed. [Continue reading…]

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