The US State Department said Russia is attempting to confuse and spread the news about the coronavirus pandemic using a well-developed online operation which consists of a wide array of proxy websites to cause conspiracy theories and misinformation.
According to AP News, the announcement of Trump's administration on Wednesday was a rare move as it has been wary of accusing Moscow of conducting campaigns of disinformation, especially during the United States general elections.
Proof of interference
Despite evidence showing Russia interfering with the 2016 elections by launching a divisive disinformation operation on social media, the report of the State Department did not investigate how, if at all, Moscow is conducting another attempt at influencing this year's election.
However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday that the United States government would give a $10 million reward for useful information that would lead to individuals working with foreign entities who are planning on interfering with the US elections through illegal online activities.
The State Department had outlined a Russian-backed disinformation campaign that spread false and malicious information online. The advocations allegedly used state officials and state-funded media reports and invaded social media conversations in the US, and set up a massive framework of websites.
The head of the State Department's Global Engagement Center, Lea Gabrielle, said Moscow plays a crucial role in making and spreading misinformation and propaganda about several topics across the United States.
The department also labeled more than six websites that it said served as Russia proxies and have developed a wide array of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic that has continuously spread across various social media platforms and has been talked about by many users.
Gabrielle said that while the online news outlets seem to be independent entities from the Russia government, the reality is they serve as a connective tissue between Moscow and state-funded media that frequently move to spread misinformation using their own mediums.
The official said the difficulty for the average online person who sees the sites to figure out their affiliation with Russia is what makes them effective.
Despite the frequent accusations, Russia has continuously denied the claims calling them a persistent phobia of the United States government, as reported by Hollywood Reporter.
The websites the State Department mentioned have spread misinformation and unsupported claims that the COVID-19 virus was created in a lab to be used as a biological weapon. They also state that Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates is secretly using the pandemic to further his goal of placing microchips into everyone and that vaccines for the coronavirus are just a money-making method created by pharmaceutical companies.
According to US News, the exact origin of the coronavirus remains unclear. Still, there is a widely accepted consensus that the first cases came from Wuhan, China, inside an animal market. Several leaders around the world have supported the development of a safe and effective vaccine that would fight against the deadly virus.
Gabrielle said Russia had a history of broadcasting malicious and inaccurate information concerning health and science matters. She also said Moscow's disinformation ecosystem thrives on people's fear and confusion.
The State Department's report found that some of the websites undermine their ties to Russian intelligence or have worked to hide funding from the Kremlin while steadily building up a vast following on social media platforms.