Putin, Orban and Radev – the superheroes of made-up news

Vladimir Putin: Ukraine is preparing secret bombings of Varna, Sofia and Plovdiv to accuse Russia and cause war!

Viktor Orban: From genderism to Putin’s arrest – the EU has become a sump!

Rumen Radev: If it is in the interest of Bulgaria, I will cooperate with Russia!

What these titles have in common is that they are all made-up statements of political and state leaders, and among the most used names are precisely those of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bulgarian Head of State Rumen Radev and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. This is a common practice of sites that specialize in spreading nonsense or completely made-up messages.

Another common feature of these publications is the ideological orientation. Pro-Russian and anti-Western positions are attributed to Orban and Radev, and Putin is presented in the light of a leader who is trying to stop the war with Ukraine started by the West and the whistleblower of “sad and pathetic Bulgarian politicians”. Completely non-existent events are also reported, for example “Right now in Paris! The NATO headquarters was set on fire! People are furious at the West.” Readers of Factcheck.bg have repeatedly reported this type of completely fabricated materials.

Among the sites that publish such information is “Portal-21”, which describes itself as “one of the oldest health portals in Bulgaria and at the same time it is a very fast developing site”. On March 30, 2023, a person whose name coincides with the name of the manager and sole owner of the capital of the publishing company was presented in the checkered team for editor-in-chief. The same company is listed as the owner of another site that publishes made-up content – “Parallel42”. The editor-in-chief also shares links to his articles on the Novinar 21 site. It also has made-up material published.

The Factcheck.bg verification found other similar sites, including DailyStandart, news6 and informiran.

“Portal – 21” – constant update of the same URL

Among the practices of “Portal-21” is constant updating with a new title and a new made-up news in the same URL. Each old title becomes only a subtitle, but without specifying on which date and at what time the changes were added.

The result is an endless page of made-up messages with no indication of when they were published. Only the date of the last update is visible, i.e. of the last published article. It is usually not indicated that this is a page that is being constantly updated.

The goal is to create the impression that the article is actively shared, liked, and has reached potentially tens of thousands, sometimes even millions of users.

The “Viktor Orban” case

An example of this practice is a text on “Portal-21”, sent by a reader of Factcheck.bg.

At the time of sending the signal to our editorial office, the title of the article in “Portal-21” is: “Orban: Bulgarian politicians have taken a billion euros!”. As of March 30, 2023, there is another headline at the top of the same URL, and the material to which the alert refers can be found further down on the same page.

All previous titles on the same URL can be viewed in the form of table of contents.

In the WayBack Machine digital archive, the oldest version of the Viktor Orban page is from April 8, 2021. Since then, there have been 11 saved versions, all of them with different titles. Most of them cannot be found on the current URL page.

The comment section below the article also proves that it is very old. The first comment is from April 8, 2021 – the date of the first saved version in the digital archive. Data from CrowdTangle also confirms this. The earliest Facebook shares of this URL are from October, November and December 2021.

In almost 2 years that this page has been constantly updated, it has managed to collect over 368 thousand interactions on Facebook and has reached a potential of over 3 million users.

The example with Viktor Orban is just one of the many identical cases in “Portal-21” and other similar websites.

There are such pages with “news” and “quotes” in “Portal-21” dedicated to Vladimir Putin, Lili Ivanova, Neshka Robeva, Rumen Radev, Prof. Ivo Hristov and others.

DailyStandart, or “share the articles so people would know the truth!”

Not all sites specializing in the publication of made-up information use the “endless” URL strategy. DailyStandart publishes its texts on new URL pages. It is rare to find reliable information on such websites.

A check through the CrowdTangle tool shows that all of the DailyStandart articles are shared in the same Facebook group, “Support for Putin vs. USA” (from Bulgarian: Подкрепа за Путин срещу САЩ) with over 53,000 members. Shares in other groups are more random and erratic. New texts on DailyStandart are usually published on new URL pages that have not been used for other articles before.

Such sites often claim extreme credibility and objectivity in covering various topics. DailyStandart’s motto is “News straight from the source!”, and the sub-headline on each of their articles reads:

“The media doesn’t show you the truth! Share these articles everywhere so people would know the truth!”.

The false information that sites of this type publish does not reduce, but even helps their popularity in Facebook groups.

The made-up news that people angry at the West had set fire to the NATO headquarters in Paris garnered more than 700 interactions on the “Support for Putin vs. USA” Facebook group, which is the main distributor of the DailyStandart articles.

Nonstop transferring to new domains

Another practice used by sites that publish fabricated information is to move to a new domain. Such is the example of ifnews.eu, which Factcheck.bg has pointed out in our materials as a distributor of false information, including on health topics and in connection with the earthquake in Turkey and Syria in February 2023.

Access to ifnews is currently limited, but a newly created Facebook page with the name Ifnews.eu shares links from a new site – news6.eu.

And the new site publishes made-up news and statements that are shared in Facebook groups.

A check through the AnalyzeID platform shows a match of news6.eu with the IP addresses of many different sites – a cycling club, a photographer, a school in Vratsa, a gym, plumbing services, a technology company, an educational center, optics, a lawyer’s office and others.

News6 uses a different strategy in shaping its content compared to the previous examples.

At 10 a.m. on March 30, a text was published on the site with the title: “A State Agency for National Security (DANS) agent revealed what was behind the bomb threats!” “We Continue the Change” buys votes and distracts the offices”.

Data from the CrowdTangle tool shows that the piece was posted over 500 times in Facebook groups, had over 27,000 interactions and potentially reached over 1.3 million users.

All shares are from March 2023 but from different dates. The most popular share is in the Facebook group “REFERENDUM AGAINST THE ADOPTION OF THE EURO IN 2024” (from Bulgarian: РЕФЕРЕНДУМ ПРОТИВ ПРИЕМАНЕТО НА ЕВРОТО ПРЕЗ 2024 ГОДИНА) on March 23, 2023. But then the same URL page had a completely different title: “Ukrainian people to the world! Remove Zelensky, he is destroying us! We don’t want war!“.

Some of the titles shared under the same URL.

Unlike the practice of “Portal-21”, where endlessly short texts about a person or event are published on the same URL, for News6 it is a question of deleting the previous content and replacing it with a new one, and this is not mentioned anywhere.

These are just some of the “tricks” that such websites use to promote their content on social media. They take advantage of the tendency of users to react solely to the headline without opening the post itself. Stacking different posts on the same URL is intended to create the illusion that the content is very popular and has reached a huge number of users. These practices are clear signals to users that they should not trust the content easily and it is mandatory to check whether it is published by authoritative and reliable sources.

Translated by Vanessa Nikolova

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The responsibility for the content lies entirely with Factcheck.bg.

Публикацията е създадена с подкрепата на Европейския съюз. Отговорността за съдържанието е изцяло на Factcheck.bg.

Vanessa Nikolova
Vanessa Nikolova
Vanessa Nikolova graduated in journalism from the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski". She has worked as an editor and translator in print and online media. She is interested in topics related to the Western Balkans and the Far East, including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. She is passionate about astronomy and astrophysics, and one of her goals as a journalist is to make science more accessible and interesting for the average reader. Works with English, Spanish, Italian, French, Russian, Serbian and Korean languages.

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