Researchers at Europe's Disinfo Lab have uncovered a network of 265 online news sites in 65 countries, including Pakistan, using the names and brands of defunct newspapers from the 20th century to push anti-Pakistan media coverage inside the regular news cycle. Two of these sites are located in Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore, according to Disinfo Lab's report. They are linked to social media accounts. These two sites were spewing disinformation on Pakistan using the names of the long defunct Socialist Weekly (Karachi) and Khalsa Akhbar (Lahore), according to Pakistani researchers. The real Karachi-based Urdu language Socialist Weekly and Lahore-based Punjabi language Khalsa Akhbar ceased publishing decades ago, long before the advent of online publishing.
Two of 265 Anti-Pakistan Websites in Pakistan. Source: EU Disinfo Lab
The fake news sites were aimed at reinforcing the legitimacy of anti-Pakistan NGOs by providing linkable press materials to reinforce an anti-Pakistan agenda. Two of these anti-Pakistan NGOs named by Disinfo Lab are European Organization for Pakistani Minorities (EOPM), and Pakistani Women’s Human Rights Organization.
Anti-Pakistan Fake News Network Managed By Indians
EU DisinfoLab found that this anti-Pakistan campaign is managed by Indian stakeholders, with ties to a large network of think tanks, NGOs, and companies from the Srivastava Group. they also discovered that the IP address of the Srivastava Group is also home to the obscure online media “New Delhi Times” and the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS), which are all based at the same address in New Delhi, India.
Here are some of EU Disinfo Lab findings from these anti-Pakistan websites:
1. Most of them are named after an extinct local newspaper or spoof real media outlets.
2. They republish content from several news agencies (KCNA, Voice of America, Interfax).
3. Coverage of the same Indian-related demonstrations and events;
4. Republications of anti-Pakistan content from the described Indian network (including EP Today, 4NewsAgency, Times Of Geneva, New Delhi Times).
5. Most websites have a Twitter account as well.
But why have they created these fake media outlets? Disinfo Lab's analysis of the content and how it is shared found several ostensible reason for it:
1. Influence international institutions and elected representatives with coverage of specific events and demonstrations.
2. Provide NGOs with useful press material to reinforce their credibility and thus be impactful.
3. Add several layers of media outlets that quote and republish one another, making it harder for the reader to trace the manipulation, and in turn (sometimes) offer a “mirage” of international support.
4. Influence public perceptions on Pakistan by multiplying iterations of the same content available on search engines.
EU Dininfo Lab has shown that India's disinformation campaign goes well beyond planted stories in Indian media; it extends across 65 countries, including Pakistan, with a network of 265 online news sites. It appears that Indian intelligence agencies have stepped up their 5th generation warfare against Pakistan.