There is nothing more embarrassing for a news agency than having to recall a story which has already been published.
Last Thursday, this happened to Interfax when the agency was forced to publish this message:
Please cancel message with keywords US – TRUMP – RUSSIA PARALYMPICS and headline “Trump condemns decision not to admit Russia to Paralympic Games in Rio”, appearing on the wire at 18:50:40 Moscow time as released by mistake. We apologize to subscribers.
The journey of disinformation
By the time Interfax published the cancellation, however, the story had been picked up by almost all major Russian media. Alexey Kovalev, author of the Noodleremover blog that investigates disinformation stories, has looked into the question how this fake story found its way to Interfax’s wire. Kovalev discovered that the story came from a marginal website, oppps.ru.
He also found that many of Russia’s leading media had not removed the news story after Interfax’s cancellation. Among those were the state media Vesti.ru whose website, a week later, still features the story on Trump’s supposed support of the Russian athletes. Also the Russian government’s online outlet RG.ru still runs the news, however, with an updated headline: “Trump’s criticism of Paralympic Committee could be fantasy”.
The “clickbait” race paves the way for misinformation
The fact that media still keep the cancelled story alive underlines the tie that exists between the propaganda value in spreading disinformation stories and the media’s own interest in “clickbait”.
A story that mixes a controversial US presidential candidate with wounded Russian national pride and the sensitive topic of Paralympic athletes, is bound to attract the clicks that online media live off.
Interestingly, Interfax was also criticized this week for two questionable news stories from Syria.
On Monday, the US special envoy for Syria, Michael Ratney, said in a statement that “there is no truth to the Interfax reports about a Russia-US agreement to target fighters in Aleppo or to evacuate fighters from the city”. On Wednesday, an Interfax report claiming that Russian forces had killed IS leader Adnani in an air strike was called into question, again by the US State Department (see the full story on BBC).
In both cases, Interfax supported the Russian government’s narrative that the country’s efforts in Syria are successful and that this success is internationally acknowledged, even by the super power whose failed foreign policy, according to the Russian narrative, is responsible for the war in Syria.