NATO-Skeptic Online Personas Target Fringe Media Sites

June 26, 2019 | Media
Five anti-NATO “expert” personas coordinated to amplify their opinion pieces on fringe media outlets

A small group of personas — accounts with unverified operators — from Latvia and Lithuania amplified anti-NATO and anti-establishment opinions about the Baltic states on fringe English-language media outlets beginning in August 2018.

While the subset of accounts was small and achieved little engagement overall, the operation nonetheless demonstrated a multi-platform approach to online content amplification. The outlets on which the personas published claim to present an “alternative” perspective to mainstream outlets, and several have previously been implicated in spreading disinformation.

The personas first posted content promoting Kremlin narratives about NATO and the Baltic states on various fringe news sites, such as The Baltic Word andOpEdNews. They subsequently reposted the same content, at times modifying it to better suit a different format, on self-publishing platforms such as Reddit, Live Leak, and Quora.

In some cases, there was consistency in the personas across different platforms. This consistency could suggest that the personas belonged to real people; it is also possible, however, that the accounts were inauthentic but managed with some degree of sophistication so as to avoid detection because of biographical inconsistencies.

NATO deployed troops to the Baltic states in early 2017 as part of its defense and deterrence posture known as the Enhanced Forward Presence. The Russian government considers that deployment an act of aggression, despite the small number of troops involved, and has launched an anti-NATO messaging campaign in response.