An anonymous network of dark web news sites has caught the attention of the United Kingdom for creating fake, catchy and viral content about the UK and spreading populist messages across the world through internet. The incidences have led Downing Street to set up a special task force to handle the matter through intelligence gathering and dark web monitoring.
The threats posed by such anonymous sites have been deemed as worrying. In one of the first parts of a major three phase investigation by the Politico, it is clear how a new breed of hyper-partisan anonymous news sites that are anti-Islam, right-wing, and pro-Brexit have influenced these ideas and have the UK government worried.
According to Tom McTague, a Politico, most of these encrypted news sites are created to propagate fake news to influence specific ideas or decisions and are not hosted in the UK. One of such examples is the ‘PoliticUK’. It has been discovered to have been formally hosted in Arizona in March this year. The site has no known editor nor reporter but has produced most of the popular stories about the UK, many of which are fake.
Since its first publication in late April this year, the site has had more than 3 million interactions and over 5,000 engagements for most of its published stories – figures that are far higher than even the national newspapers. The latest publication is an article on Ukip-backed protest against the UK prime minister’s Brexit deal on Sunday that was wildly misreported.
Despite claims that hundreds of thousands were against the Brexit betrayal, the site was fast to discredit the report. NewsWhip, a social media monitoring specialist on analysis, reported that the story had, by Monday at lunchtime, picked up to six times as many interactions as a similar article in the Daily Mail.
The new pattern of far-ranging and insidious disinformation campaigns, especially in the US and the UK, have been rapidly becoming popular in recent years. Most of the fake news or trolls are said to originate from Russia and are claimed to have an aim to exploit either religious, political, or racial tension and disunity to achieve a given hidden agenda.
In the last two years, the British Government Open Democracy has been investigating secretive interests and dark money behind the Brexit vote and populist politics. The Guardian has reported on an investigation explaining how Tommy Robinson, a far-right activist, is secretly receiving political, moral, and financial support from suspicious non-British groups, including private thinktanks from the US, trolls from Russia, and the rightwing from Australia.
Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, become a far-right activist immediately following his release after imprisonment for contempt of court. His imprisonment early this year led to tension and international debate on Twitter, which saw over 2.2 million tweets posted and shared using the hashtag, #freetommy.
According to an investigation and analysis conducted by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue and reported by Guardian, over 40 percent of the tweets were sent from the US, about 30 percent from the UK, and a significant percentage from the Netherlands and Canada among another nine countries. In a separate study, more than 600 Twitter accounts have been linked to the Russian government, all of which tweeted prolifically in support of Robinson.