19th-century Aberystwyth newspaper given second life as ‘fake news’ site

Aberystwyth. Picture by AberComms1 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

A 19th-century Aberystwyth newspaper was resurrected as a fake news site, according to a non-governmental organisation that uncovers attempts at spreading disinformation.

Aberystwyth Times was one of over 265 fake local news sites in more than 65 countries identified by EU DisinfoLab.

The NGO said it was part of a network of sites designed to influence the EU and the UN by repeatedly criticising Pakistan.

The Aberystwyth Times website described itself as “a weekly newspaper published in Aberystwyth and circulated nationally in Wales”.

“Most of the paper was in English, with a section in Welsh,” it said. “The website provides a one place solution for its readers having news from around the Globe with the main focus on travel, opinion articles and latest news.”

 

‘Layers’

In practice, only one article on the website, dated Sep 27, 2019, seems to have been about Wales at all and focused on the Welsh rugby team.

The real Aberystwyth Times only existed between 1868-1870, and the more specific information on the site seems to have been lifted from Wikipedia. The website was created on 20 July last year.

EU DisinfoLab discovered that:

  • Most of the websites are named after an extinct local newspaper or spoof real media outlets;
  • They republish content from several news agencies (KCNA, Voice of America, Interfax);
  • They cover the same Indian-related demonstrations and events;
  • They republish anti-Pakistan content from the described Indian network (including EP Today, 4NewsAgency, Times Of Geneva, New Delhi Times);
  • Most websites have a Twitter account as well.

The Twitter account for Aberystwyth Times seems to have been closed down.

EU DisinfoLab said that the websites were created in order to “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 offer a ‘mirage’ of international support”.

There was also an attempt to “influence public perceptions on Pakistan by multiplying iterations of the same content available on search engines”.

 

 

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