EU NGO exposes Indian ‘fake news’ network
A network of 265 websites operating in 65 countries has been promoting Indian interests, claims the EU Disinfo Lab, an NGO in Brussels.
An Indian company, Srivastava Group, was behind the sites that were responsible for anti-Pakistani events across Europe.
The network’s opinion pieces have criticised Pakistan’s foreign policy as “jihadi” and called for the secession of the unstable Pakistani region of Balochistan.
“More than the fake media outlets alone, it is their combination with the fake NGOs that’s really worrying because it provides a mirage of online and grassroots support to a cause. That’s exactly where the disinformation lies,” said Alexandre Alaphilippe of EU Disinfo Lab, which is funded by the European Union.
Suspicions were first aroused by EP Today, a website describing itself as an online magazine for the European Parliament.
EP Today shares an office address at Square de Meeûs with the Srivastava Group.
The EU said in October that EP Today’s servers were traced back to the Srivastava Group, a Delhi-based firm that lists the New Delhi Times as one of its assets.
Many of the websites had names stolen from newspapers that had folded years earlier. These were called “zombie” sites because the names were resurrected from dead media organisations.
The “about us” tab on the Manchester Times site included text from a Wikipedia entry about the former newspaper with a key line removed saying the paper’s last issue was in 1922.
There was no acknowledgment of links to Indian interests on the Manchester Times site.
Other pages used misleading titles, like “Times of Los Angeles” presumably to be confused with the Los Angeles Times.
The websites carried large amounts of genuine stories from international news agencies but added many anti-Pakistan stories and opinion pieces.
Alaphilippe said the giant network appeared keen to influence institutions and MEPs.
“We think the main goal was to be able to reach policymakers in Brussels and Geneva, without being able to trace back to those behind the manipulative network. And this worked,” said the EU organisation’s executive director.
“MEPs have engaged directly with this network on a multitude of levels, whether that’s been through writing op-eds for their media, participating in overseas trips and press conferences, or by speaking in the European Parliament on behalf of the cause.”
India is looking to boost its exports and influence within the European Union. Picture credit: Eurasia Times