From Russia, Elaborate Tales of Fake Journalists

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    The man appeared in a poorly lit room reading from his computer screen, which was reflected in his thick glasses. He appeared to be a real person, but it has not been possible to verify his actual identity. No one by the name of Mohamed al-Alawi appears to have produced any previous articles or videos, as would be expected of a journalist. According to Active Fence, an internet security company, the character has no educational or work history, and no network of friends or social connections online.

    The video, though, showed what purported to be photographs of a purchase contract and of the villa itself, creating a veneer of authenticity for credulous viewers. The property is, in fact, part of a resort owned by Orascom Development, whose website highlights El Gouna’s “year-round sunshine, shimmering lagoons, sandy beaches and azure waters.”

    An article about the video’s claim appeared two days later as a paid advertisement, or branded content, on Punch, a news outlet in Nigeria, as well as three other Nigerian websites that aggregate news and entertainment content.

    The article had the byline of Arthur Nkono, who according to internet searches does not appear to have written any other articles. The article quoted a political scientist, Abdrulrahman Alabassy, who likewise appears not to exist except in accounts linking the villa to the corrupt use of Western financial aid to Ukraine. (Punch, which later removed the post, did not respond to requests for comment.)

    A day later, the claim made its first appearance on X in a post by Sonja van den Ende, an activist in the Netherlands, whose articles have previously appeared on propaganda outlets linked to the Russian government, according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. (She also served as an election observer in an occupied territory of Ukraine during Russian parliamentary elections in September.)



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