in the beginning, there was russia

Manila, 20 November—I’m over a week late to this, but the New York Times’ Opinion section made this amazing video series tracing the beginnings of Russian disinformation, detailing how it once succeeded in spreading fake news using traditional media, and tracking how it has managed to transform its disinformation best practices to suit the social media era.

I love this series because of all the intensive research it did—from tracing old print news, to retrieving old footage of old TV interviews, to actually tracking down and interviewing former FBI detectives and KGB defectors (one of whom, sadly, died before the piece could debut.)

And on top of all that, it has a terrific, easy-to-understand script, and fantastic infographics on the video. It’s a dream, I tell you. I wish I had been part of the team that accomplished it.


It’s a three-part video series, and they are all on Youtube. The first one, titled Meet the KGB Spies Who Invented Fake News, traces the path of one patently false news that was traced to Russian spies: That the US is responsible for the HIV virus.

From an inconspicuously placed news brief in an Indian newspaper in July 1983, to the “scientific” study by two German scientists that claimed to have data that AIDS was made in a US laboratory in 1985, the claim appeared in more than 200 reports in over 80 countries, until it finally landed a prime US TV spot in March 1987.

Mission accomplished.

The next two videos trace how that 1980s playbook managed to survive even the collapse of the USSR in 1989. The answer: Vladimir Putin, who was among former KGB agents trained to spend 25% of their time coming up with disinformation campaigns (and were thereby evaluated on such metrics), managed to climb to the top.

And how is the rest of the world dealing? Miserably, of course.

As a final note, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at this series: Too Much Information about Disinformation, by the Times Insider.