A lesson in Russian disinformation from the pages of a 1982 TV Guide

Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT) March 11, 2019

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New York (CNN Business)Long before there were online trolls, and before Mark Zuckerberg was even born, Russian disinformation was enough of a worry in the US that it made the cover of TV Guide.

"Why American TV Is So Vulnerable to Foreign Disinformation," the front page headline of the magazine's June 1982 issue said.
Read today, the piece is a reminder that while the medium through which we are exposed to disinformation may have changed, many of the tactics and ends used by Russian trolls online are similar, whether during the 2016 election or now.
"They plant a story — totally fictitious — in a leftist paper in, say, Bombay," the 1982 article's author, John Weisman, wrote in it. "Then it gets picked up by a Communist journal in Rio. Then in Rome. Then Tass, the Soviet news agency, lifts it from the Rome paper and runs it as a 'sources say' news item. And soon the non-Communist press starts to pick up on it, using terms such as, 'it is alleged that..." And thus an absolute lie gets into general circulation."
The modern spread of disinformation follows a similar pattern, except rather than having to wait as a story takes weeks or months to jump from a newspaper in Bombay to mainstream outlets, online trolls, or intelligence agents — Russian or not — can spread information around the world in hours online.
First they plant stories on blogs that look like they are legitimate news sites, or decide to promote a real story that suits their purposes. Then they use fake accounts to amplify the story — repeatedly tweeting it, making it appear like it is being shared by real people, making it "trend" — until someone like a journalist, or maybe a politician, shares it and it goes into the mainstream.