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Network of fake, pro-China “news” websites unveiled in Italy

An investigation by Il Foglio uncovered a family of near-identical Italian-language websites, posing as respectable “well-known news outlets” and spewing pro-Beijing propaganda. It’s one of the prongs of the CCP’s foreign influence operations

The Chinese content factory. That’s the definition encompassing Beijing’s overseas influence operation, centred on disinformation and news manipulation to broadcast stories that jibe with the Chinese Communist Party’s worldview. As Il Foglio’s Giulia Pompili recalled, it works by buying pages on foreign news media and promoting Chinese state media abroad. On top of that, “there is a constellation of sites and pages linked to Chinese propaganda that confuses, creates background noise and is ready to be used when needed. Even in Italy.”

Enter the fake websites, some of which have been uncovered by Il Foglio’s investigation. Websites such as “Venezia Post” (dot com) pitch themselves as “a well-known news website in Italy, reporting important news on politics, economics, technology, business and life for you.” The same goes for “Roma Journal” (dot org), “Torino Human” (dot com), “Napoli Money,” “Italia Finanziarie” and “Milano Moda Weekly.”

  • These six websites are virtually identical but constructed as if they were not, notes Il Foglio, sporting different graphics and articles and focussing on buzzwords such as money, fashion and finance to look legitimate.

The devil is in the details. None of these websites is legally registered, as is required of newspapers in Italy. And these websites (plus three more, in Spanish) also share the same IP address, meaning they’re hosted on the same server. The IP address points to Frankfurt, Germany. But the provider is located at “Tencent Building, Kejizhongyi Avenue,” i.e. the Shenzhen headquarters of the Chinese giant, which is linked to the Chinese Ministry of Security.

What about the content? Although they dabble in national stories, these Italy-focussed websites seem to focus on many international events. Most recently, the “Venezia Post” ran stories on Russia’s aid to Gaza, “the bombed hospital that sets the Middle East ablaze” and “the thesis that could condemn Gaza to catastrophe”. And the agreement between Rexel UK and Chinese giant Haier topped the recommended stories about renewable energy.

  • Furthermore, noted il Foglio, most of the articles published by “Venezia Post” are copied from an Italian newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, which is among the most pro-China national outlets. In most cases, the source is not referenced at the bottom of the article. Other articles come from CGTN (controlled by China Media Group, the CCP’s propaganda section).
  • All the other websites work along the same lines.

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