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How online Russian propaganda makes it through to Italy

News-Front Italy
News-Front, a Crimea-based and Kremlin-operated outlet, has become a major source of Russian disinformation in the EU. An analysis by Corriere della Sera’s Dataroom unveils the operation’s backstage

Channel Russia is still working. The past months have demonstrated that Italy remains susceptible to the Kremlin’s propaganda. Only 56% of Italians blame Russia for the war in Ukraine, the lowest figure in the European Union, reflecting the effectiveness of Moscow’s reach in the country.

  • The Kremlin’s talking points find their way across traditional media, especially national TV channels. Years of efforts on behalf of Russia and its Italian allies created an entente that lingers in the Italian infosphere, even as Mario Draghi firmly positioned Rome at Kyiv’s side.

The online front. Moscow leverages social media to amplify its infowar in Italy. And following the EU banning some of Russia’s biggest State-controlled outlets, such as Sputnik and Russia Today, other disinformation sources have risen to prominence.

  • A recent analysis by Corriere della Sera’s Dataroom division found that News-Front.info has morphed into one of Italy’s biggest spreaders of pro-Russian disinformation.
  • The website presents itself as a multilingual news outlet whose contents come from “volunteers from different countries who share our principles – to enable the viewer / reader to get the information to understand the geopolitical intricacies and draw conclusions about the events by themselves.”

Who’s behind it. News-Front was founded on November 25, 2014, a few months after Russia occupied Crimea. Its founder and current director is Konstantin Knyrik, who leads a Russian hyper-nationalist and pro-Kremlin party, Rodina (“homeland”), which also boasts a Crimean division.

  • The EU, the US and the UK sanctioned Mr Knyrik for operating on behalf of the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB. The website’s co-founder Mikhail Sinelin, its deputy director Yevgeniy Glotov and its financier Yuriy Fedin are also under Western sanctions.
  • Media watchdog NewsGuard labelled News-Front as a propaganda and disinformation website. Only Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have suspended it.

By the numbers. From February to May 2022, News-Front amassed 26.5 million pageviews. The largest group of readers is the 25-34 age group (21%). 60,4% of readers are male, and 39,6% are female.

  • News-Front’s reach is international. The websites that mention it the most and redirect traffic back to it are 35.5% in German; 20.2% in Russian; 13% in Spanish; 9.3% in Slovak; 7.8% in English; 4.6% in Dutch; 3.2% in Bulgarian; 1.7% in Portuguese; 1.3% in French and 2.4% in other languages.

The Italian reach. Even though News-Front does not offer Italian content, there are at least 34 Italian “alternative information” blogs that translate and publish its contents. Dataroom’s analysis tallied their pageviews, March through May: over 18 million. And that’s without considering their social media reach.

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