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PropOrNot is a group that seeks to expose what it calls Russian propaganda and groups that use material from Russian sources.
The website is anonymously written; a spokesperson for the website who spoke by phone to The New Yorker was described as an American male who was "well versed in Internet culture and swore enthusiastically." The same spokesperson said that the group comprised around 40 individuals.
PropOrNot says there was a Russian propaganda effort involved in propagating fake news during the 2016 U.S. election. PropOrNot has said it analyzed data from Twitter and Facebook and tracked propaganda from a disinformation campaign by Russia that had a national reach of 15 million people within the United States. PropOrNot concluded that accounts belonging to both Russia Today and Sputnik News promoted "false and misleading stories in their reports," and additionally magnified other false articles found on the Internet to support their propaganda effort.
PropOrNot published a list of websites they called "bona-fide ‘useful idiots’" of the Russian government based on methodology they called "a combination of manual and automated analysis, including analysis of content, timing, technical indicators, and other reporting". The group's list included Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, the Ron Paul Institute, Black Agenda Report, Truthout, Truthdig, antiwar.com, and CounterPunch, although they did not provide any individual analysis to justify inclusion on the list. CounterPunch in response called PropOrNot a "shady little group," its findings "bogus," and their inclusion on the list a "baseless allegation." After email communications, PropOrNot agreed to remove CounterPunch from the list.
Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor for Harper's, was sharply critical of The Washington Post's decision to put the story on its front page, calling the article a "sorry piece of trash." Writers in The Intercept, Fortune, and Rolling Stone criticized The Washington Post for including a report by an organization with no reputation for fact-checking in an article on "fake news." The Intercept journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ben Norton were particularly critical of the inclusion of Naked Capitalism on the list of "useful idiots" for Russian propagandists.
Later, in The New Yorker, Adrian Chen said that he had been previously contacted by the organization, but had chosen not to follow up with them. Looking more carefully into their methodology, he argued that PropOrNot's criteria for establishing propaganda were so broad that they could have included "not only Russian state-controlled media organizations, such as Russia Today, but nearly every news outlet in the world, including the Post itself" on their list.
In December 2016, The Washington Post appended an "Editor's Note" to its article in response to the criticism of PropOrNot's list of websites. The note read, "The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot's findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so."
Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment