Much-cited investigative journalism blog with focus on mis/disinformation, digital marketing, reputation management, content removal, and search manipulation tactics.
All posts by Dean Sterling Jones, unless stated otherwise.
— Bylines —
• “Daily Telegraph Stops Publishing Section Paid for by China” by Jim Waterson and Dean Sterling Jones, The Guardian, April 14, 2020
• “How Russia Tried to Weaponize Charlie Sheen” by Dean Sterling Jones and Amy Mackinnon, Foreign Policy, September 23, 2020
• “How A Popular Women’s Website Became A Pay-To-Play Nightmare” by Dean Sterling Jones, BuzzFeed News, April 22, 2019
• “There’s An Underground Economy Selling Links From The New York Times, BBC, CNN, And Other Big News Sites,” by Dean Sterling Jones, BuzzFeed News, July 26, 2019
• “Hackers Are Breaking Into Websites And Adding Links To Game Google” by Craig Silverman and Dean Sterling Jones, BuzzFeed News, December 18, 2019
• “A Russian Propagandist Ran An Ad In The Washington Post — And Then Ran Victory Laps In Russian Media” by Dean Sterling Jones, BuzzFeed News, February 6, 2020
• “A British Newspaper Has Given Chinese Coronavirus Propaganda a Direct Line to the UK” by Dean Sterling Jones, BuzzFeed News, April 1, 2020
The Daily Beast
• “Inside the Online Campaign to Whitewash the History of Donald Trump’s Russian Business Associates” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, July 5, 2018
• “Who Whitewashed the Wiki of Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina?” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, July 24, 2018
• “National Enquirer Boss David Pecker Tiptoes Away From His Pal Trump as Scandal Swirls and Circulation Drops” by Lachlan Markay, Asawin Suebsaeng and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, August 02, 2018
• “D.C.-Based Russian Media Venture Boasts that Indicted Kremlin Operative Is Its CFO” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, October 26, 2018
• “Google Yanks Services From Russian Propaganda Site” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, February 07, 2019
• “The Gwyneth Paltrow-Approved Doctor Pushing Wacky Coronavirus Conspiracies” by Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, March 24, 2020
• “How a Playboy Model Exposed an Online Child-Porn Scam” by Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, May 6, 2020
— Selected media mentions —
• “Amateur sleuths hunt for Trump bombshells” by Darren Samuelsohn, Politico, August 20, 2017:
It took Jones only a few weeks of digging to find a couple of scoops. One of them, that former Trump business partner Tevfik Arif tried to scrub online details about his arrest (and subsequent acquittal) for underage prostitution, was picked up by The Daily Beast last month.
On his blog, Jones — who briefly worked as a community newspaper reporter — has also documented Wikipedia editing records that show how Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer and Trump business partner, may have used a pseudonym to delete information about his criminal history from Trump’s Wikipedia page. He has also identified about a dozen posts written under Trump’s name on his now-defunct Trump University blog that appeared to plagiarize content from news outlets including CNN, USA Today and The New York Times.
• “Amateur Sleuths Spend Personal Savings Hunting for Trump Dirt” by Shannon Bream, Fox News Insider, August 21, 2017:
Jordan Sekulow (speaking to host Shannon Bream about the above Politico article): I think it’s wonderful that these people who are – who want to bring down the president – are wasting all of their time and money to do so. I don’t even think the special counsel is going to be able to find anything on the president, so good luck to these sleuths who are, again, spending all they’ve got to try and bring this president down. It does underscore, though, just how much hatred there is out there for this President of the United States, who was elected so overwhelmingly by the American people.
• “Russia’s Internet Research Agency Troll Farm Is Recruiting ‘English-Speaking Journalists,’” Cheat Sheet, The Daily Beast, April 19, 2018:
The Federal News Agency, an Internet Research Agency-linked and pro-Kremlin website, has been recruiting “English-speaking journalists and authors” to work on its “Wake Up, America!” campaign, according to investigative-reporting blog Shooting the Messenger. The campaign’s purpose is to stand against “hegemony of the U.S. authorities in the information field,” the Federal News Agency claims.
• Press Pool with Julie Mason, Sirius XM, April 20, 2018:
For those of you who are looking for a job, there’s a Russian troll farm that’s recruiting English-speaking journalists. Uh, you know, need a few extra bucks? It’s called the Federal News Agency, which—Federal News Agency used to be the name of, like, a transcription service here in Washington DC, so when I first saw that I was, like, “wait, what?” Anyway, Federal News Agency, a pro-Russian website linked to the Internet Research Agency, has been recruiting English-speaking journalists to work on its “Wake Up, America!” campaign. This is according to Shooting the Messenger.
• “New Russian Media Venture Wants to Wage ‘Information War’ in Washington, D.C.” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, June 10, 2018:
In April, Russia’s Federal News Agency (FAN) announced the creation of an American outlet called “USA Really.” Its website and accompanying social media pages sprang up in May and quickly began promoting a mid-June rally to be held in front of the White House in protest of “growing political censorship… aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation.”
At the helm of the project is Alexander Malkevich, a Russian media executive and a member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, a body created by President Vladimir Putin in 2005 to advise government policymaking…
USA Really’s “flash mob” protest was initially scheduled for June 14, in what it says was a recognition of Flag Day and President Donald Trump’s birthday. But rather than applying for a rally protest with D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), which oversees such events, it asked the city’s film and television office for a film permit, the type that movie studios obtain before taping scenes on D.C. streets…
MPD told Dean Sterling Jones, a Belfast-based investigative writer who’s followed the USA Really case for weeks and first reported Malkevich’s involvement, that it had received no requests for a rally permit from the group…
On Saturday, Jones received a diatribe from someone named Michael using a USA Really email address in response to a post he’d written on the group.
“Are you a semicrazy person?” Michael asked, according to a copy of the message provided to The Daily Beast. “WFT is wrong with you? How can you suck so much with fact interpretation?”
Asked about that exchange, Michael, who said he was emailing from Moscow, struck a conciliatory tone. “Actually, I appreciate Dean’s work a lot so I offered her to write to us too,” he wrote, apparently unclear of Jones’ gender. “So I cannot tell you what I objected in her beautiful articles.”
• “Russian ‘troll factory’ cries foul over US advert removal” by Olga Robinson, BBC Monitoring, February 21, 2020:
Russian news outlets with links to a St Petersburg “troll factory” have accused US media of “censorship” after the Washington Post removed a controversial pro-Kremlin advert that briefly appeared on its website.
The advert – written in the form of an open letter – was placed in late January by Alexander Malkevich, the former editor of the English-language USA Really site, which has been linked by the US Treasury to Russia’s troll operation…
The Russian websites also hit back at another US publication, BuzzFeed News, over its reporting of the story.
They quoted Malkevich as saying that the US security services interfered with the BuzzFeed reporting of the ad controversy and forced its journalists to twist his comments…
Speaking to the BBC, the author of the Buzzfeed story, Dean Sterling Jones, denied the allegations.
“In reality, I was never contacted by US security agents and all comments attributed to Malkevich are exactly as he provided,” he said.
When contacted by BuzzFeed, Malkevich “spuriously claimed that the US National Security Agency had forced the Washington Post to pull his ad”, Sterling Jones added.
“BuzzFeed News chose not to publish that claim because we didn’t want to give him a platform to spread false information.”
• “Who Paid for the HuffPost Puff Piece on Trump’s Felonious Friend?” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, January 11, 2018:
An unknown client paid a Pakistani national to place an article at the HuffPost defending a controversial associate of President Donald Trump.
HuffPost scrubbed the article, written in December, from its website after a blogger in Northern Ireland, Dean Sterling Jones, inquired about the piece, which hailed the dismissal last year of a $250 million tax fraud case against Felix Sater, a Russian-born former Trump Organization executive.
The article’s author, listed on HuffPost’s website under the name Waqas KH, runs a Pakistani company called Steve SEO Services. That company offers to ghostwrite articles and organize internet commenting campaigns for paying clients. On the freelancer website Fiverr, Waqas goes by the username “nico_seo” and offers to place articles on HuffPost for an $80 fee. For an extra $50, he will write the article himself.
• “HuffPost, Breaking From Its Roots, Ends Unpaid Contributions” by Sydney Ember, The New York Times, January 18, 2018:
Since its founding nearly 13 years ago, The Huffington Post has relied heavily on unpaid contributors, whose ranks included aspiring writers, citizen journalists and celebrities from the Rolodex of the site’s co-founder Arianna Huffington…
On Thursday, it said it was immediately dissolving its self-publishing contributors platform — which has mushroomed to include 100,000 writers — in what is perhaps the most significant break from the past under its editor in chief, Lydia Polgreen…
[Recently] a contributor with the byline Waqas KH published an article about Felix Sater, an associate of President Trump, that he had been paid to post. The site has since deleted the article.
• “Ex-Trump Aide Frantically Scrambles to Scrub Russia From Bio” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, November 6, 2017:
Former Donald Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo is determined to prove that he did not work for Vladimir Putin, and he’s using every tool at his disposal to do so—from a congressional ethics complaint, to a defamation lawsuit, to a surreptitious Wikipedia edit campaign.
Sean Dwyer, an employee of Caputo’s PR firm, Zeppelin Communications, was blocked from Wikipedia in August after he was caught using multiple pseudonymous accounts to purge Caputo’s page of alleged Putin ties, according to an investigation by the site’s editors.
[Dwyer’s] editing campaign, which was first reported by independent blogger Dean Sterling Jones, shows that […] he repeatedly attempted to remove language from [Wikipedia that tied his work for a Russian state-owned media company] to any efforts to burnish [Russian president Vladimir Putin’s] reputation abroad…
Caputo denied that Dwyer had run afoul of any Wikipedia guidelines. “Sean has done nothing wrong except engage with Wikipedia according to their rules, which apparently put him in the sights of a wanker trolling me from his mommy’s basement,” he said.
• “Trump’s Business Partner Tries to Erase his Prostitution Bust From Web” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, July 21, 2017:
…Kazakh-born real estate mogul, Tevfik Arif, is doing his best to clean up his past, trying to purge the web of references to his arrest in an underage prostitution bust. He was later acquitted in the matter.
Arif, a former Soviet trade minister whose company once prospected for the Trump Organization in Russia and Eastern Europe, has demanded the removal of allegedly defamatory information about that arrest from websites that have investigated or recapped controversies involving some of President Donald Trump’s past business associates…
Since May, [Arif] has sent four takedown requests to Google and one to Automattic, the owner of popular web publishing platform WordPress, demanding that they remove content from websites hosted by their respective companies that Arif claims is defamatory. Each complaint contained documents from Turkish court orders requiring the removal of similar web content. The takedown requests were first reported by the blog Shooting the Messenger.
• The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, July 24, 2018:
The Daily Beast tonight has a great report up on this, detailing dozens of edits to both of the Wikipedia pages for Maria Butina and for Paul Erickson, dropping all information about alleged ties to the Russian government, alleged efforts to broker meetings between Trump and Putin during the campaign, reported criminal history, reported business history between them, references to investigative reporting about Russian money being potentially had funneled through the NRA, all of that is gone, all removed.
• “The Enigmatic Russian Paying Maria Butina’s Legal Bills” by Natasha Bertrand, The Atlantic, March 20, 2019:
New revelations about [convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s] legal-defense fund in Russia shows that one of her backers has been trying to promote fringe separatist movements in the U.S. since well before 2016.
In 2018, Alexander Ionov, the founder of the NGO, called the Anti-Globalization Movement, began raising money for Butina through a fundraising website that says all proceeds will be “used to finance legal protection and to improve the conditions of Maria’s detention in prison.” The website was first discovered by freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones.
• “New Details Revealed About a Mysterious Russian Who Funds Maria Butina’s Defense” by Tana Ganeva, Raw Story, March 20, 2019:
[Alexander Ionov] is raising money for [Maria Butina’s] defense through a group called the Anti-Globalization Movement. The website, peppered with glossy photos of Butina, purports to tell “Maria’s story.”
“Help me change my situation,” it reads in Russian. Freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones first unearthed the site and detailed Ionov’s history and potential Kremlin ties.
Writing on his blog Shooting the Messenger, Jones observes that the group that’s hosting the site for Butina’s legal bills got a Russian presidential grant of 3.5 million rubles (approximately $53,000) to bring members of Texas and California secessionist groups to a Russian conference in September of 2016.
• “Here are all the Russian interference efforts that didn’t make it into Barr’s letter” by Casey Michel, ThinkProgress, March 27, 2019:
[Alexander Ionov], meanwhile, has been busy. Not only has be apparently gained more cachet in Moscow — he recently had a meeting with the Venezuelan ambassador — but as journalist Dean Sterling Jones recently uncovered, he’s been helping raise money for Russian agent Maria Butina.
• “Here Are Some Job Ads For The Russian Troll Factory” by Jane Lytvynenko, BuzzFeed News, February 22, 2018:
The Internet Research Agency (IRA), now commonly known as the Russian troll factory, has gained international fame for its work during the 2016 US election, and the resulting indictments of 13 people announced by the Department of Justice last week.
Job ads from the IRA posted before the election give a sense of the kind of person the agency was looking for and how it helped weed out candidates. The ads were posted on Russian employment websites in 2014 and 2015 and the address listed in them matches the known location of the IRA’s headquarters. The blog Shooting the Messenger first posted some of the job ads.
• “This London university keeps hosting pseudoscientific events” by Tom Chivers, BuzzFeed UK, March 15, 2017:
Lifestyle Prescriptions was founded by Johannes Fisslinger in 2016; on its website, practitioners of the “lifestyle medicine” it promotes claim to be able to teach how to “prevent and heal diabetes, heart disease, obesity, autoimmune disease, cancer and many other health issues”, and a practitioner claims to be able to “heal cancer”.
The blogger Dean Sterling Jones, who has investigated Fisslinger, claims that “lifestyle medicine” is based on “meta-medicine”, a scientifically unfounded practice that says there are links between psychological traumas and specific illnesses – for instance, a woman seeing her child in danger might get breast cancer.
Previously, Fisslinger ran the International Meta-Medicine Association (IMMA). A 2009 report by a Norwegian TV station said three cancer sufferers died after being advised by IMMA practitioners to stop taking conventional treatment.
• “Indian Government Attempts to Remove Material from Western Sites” by Eugene Volokh, Reason, August 27, 2019:
That material: Photoshopped pictures of PM Narendra Modi “embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach.” Northern Irish blogger Dean Sterling Jones reports on a successful demand that Buzzfeed remove the photo, and on an unsuccessful demand that WordPress remove it from Jones’ own blog post, which had reported on the Buzzfeed incident. I confirmed that the takedown demand came from the Mumbai Cyber Police.
• “Satirical Cartoon Blog Post Blocked in Turkey” by Maren Williams, Comic Book Legal Defence Fund, December 9, 2016:
According to independent U.K. journalist Dean Sterling Jones on his own blog, WordPress had announced earlier this year that it would ignore any potential takedown requests from the Turkish government. The reality of an actual court order may have forced it to reconsider, however: as a representative told Jones via email, the company was “forced to geo-block the specific sites mentioned in the Turkish court orders or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country,” meaning that all blogs and other sites hosted on the platform would be unavailable there.
Faced with no ideal options, WordPress chose to geo-block the specific site requested within Turkey but direct users to a multilingual site with directions for circumventing online censorship via services such as VPNs and Tor. It also reported the takedown to the Lumen database, and the WordPress rep identified as Janet J told Jones that the company is brainstorming ways to maximize intellectual freedom and transparency for its users…
Jones also spoke with Spanish cartoonist Jaume Capdevila, whose work was among the panels featured on the blocked page and also reproduced above. He expressed pride that a Turkish blogger found his cartoon “useful for his struggle for freedom,” and highlighted the importance of laughing at authoritarian leaders through satire.
• “The Daily 202: 10 stories illuminate the Trump doctrine on foreign policy” by James Hohmann, The Washington Post, July 5, 2018
• “The Daily 202: Anti-Trump backlash fuels a Democratic sweep in Virginia and elections across the country” by James Hohmann, The Washington Post, November 8, 2017
• “Playbook Power Briefing: Trade wars escalate as duties on some Chinese goods take effect at midnight” by Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer, Daniel Lippman, and Akela Lacy, Politico, July 6, 2018
• “A Farewell to Feministing and the Heyday of Feminist Blogging” by Emma Goldberg, The New York Times, December 08, 2019
• “China Steps up Western Media Campaign Over Coronavirus Crisis” by Jim Waterson and Lily Kuo, The Guardian, April 3, 2020
• “A simple question about ‘enemies of the people'” by Brian Stelter, CNN, Reliable Sources, August 03, 2018
• “The Note: For Trump, a week of big moves could have big blowback” by Rick Klein and Maryalice Parks, ABC News, July 6, 2018
• “National Enquirer distancing itself from the President” by Katy Tur, MSNBC, August 03, 2018
• “Celebrities Are Spreading a Wacky Coronavirus 5G Conspiracy and They Need to Stop” by Laura Bradley, The Daily Beast, April 6, 2020
• “Goop Expert Says Coronavirus Doesn’t Exist: ‘There is Potentially no Such Thing’” by Chelsea Ritschel, The Independent, March 24, 2020
• “Goop-approved shrink says there’s ‘no such thing’ as coronavirus” by Melissa Malamut, New York Post, March 24, 2020
•“Goop contributor Kelly Brogan peddles ‘nonsense’ conspiracy theories about coronavirus, cites 5G and vaccine companies as real causes” by Megan C. Hills, Evening Standard Insider, March 25, 2020
• “‘Very, very dangerous’ Goop ‘expert’ slammed for bizarre coronavirus video” by Elizabeth Di Filippo, Yahoo Canada Style, March 25, 2020
• “Please, for the love of god, don’t get your coronavirus advice from the Goop people” by Reid McCarter, The A.V. Club, March 24, 2020
• “Leading voices in Russian interference efforts rally to support Maria Butina” by Casey Michel, ThinkProgress, May 29, 2019
• “Preserving work in a time of vanishing archives” by Tiffany Stevens, Columbia Journalism Review, November 05, 2019
• “Job ads reveal work of Russian troll farm employees” by Max Greenwood, The Hill, February 22, 2018
• “HuffPost Shuts Down Unpaid Contributor Blogger Program” by Todd Spangler, Variety, January 18, 2018
• “The GOP puts the Kochs on ice” by Jennie Neufeld, Vox, Vox Sentences, August 03, 2018
• “How should the press cover Trump rallies?” by Pete Vernon, Columbia Journalism Review, The Media Today, August 03, 2018
• “At WME, Attempts to Scrub Scandal From Executive and Client Wikipedia Pages” by Matt Donnelly, The Wrap, August 06, 2018
• “Did Fox News Ignore News of Paul Manafort’s Indictment and Cover a Cheeseburger Emoji Controversy Instead?” by Kim LaCapria, Snopes, October 30, 2017
• “Magazine publisher with criminal past says Telegraph used him to ‘attack’ Impress” by Freddy Mayhew, Press Gazette, January 27, 2017
• “More Indian Government Attempts to Remove Material from Western Sites” by Eugene Volokh, Reason, October 11, 2019
• “Revenge Pornster Craig Brittain Issues DMCA Notices Demanding Google Delist Entire Websites, Including Wikipedia” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, April 7, 2017
• “Craig Brittain’s Senate Race Page Reports Craig Brittain’s Personal Account As An ‘Imposter’” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, October 31, 2017
• “Turkish president demands Google delist a bunch of websites comparing him to Hitler” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, May 24, 2017
• “Snopes Debunks Fake YouTube Video; Video’s Creator Responds With A Bogus DMCA Notice” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, December 6, 2017
• “Why is Harvard sticking the knife into butter again?” by Marika Sboros, FoodMed.net, July 29, 2016
• “ADSA faces growing backlash for ‘record 17 lies’ about Noakes” by Marika Sboros, FoodMed.net, May 8, 2017
• “As A Dog Returns To His Vomit, Lunatic Revenge Porn Extortionist and Dryvyng CEO Craig Brittain Returns To Censorious Threats” by Ken White, Popehat, April 6, 2017
• “The ultimate DMCA takedown fail” by Rob Beschizza, Boing Boing, October 23, 2017
— Book cites —
1. Omer Benjakob and Stephen Harrison, “Press Coverage of Wikipedia’s First Two Decades,” in Wikipedia @ 20: Stories of an Incomplete Revolution, ed. Joseph Readle and Jackie Koerner (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020), p. 32:
The year 2018 […] saw the clearest example of Russian intervention in Wikipedia, with Russian agent Maria Butina being outed by the community for trying to scrub her own Wikipedia page.
As referenced in Notes:
69. Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, “Who Whitewashed the Wiki of Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina?” Daily Beast, July 24, 2018.
2. Richard Stengel, Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It, (London: Grove Press, 2019), p. 181-182:
The Internet Research Agency was creating hundreds of pieces of fake and misleading internet content an hour. Like a digital marketing agency, it operated across the entire social media ecosystem. The whole enterprise is financed by a tycoon who is an ally of Putin’s… MR7.ru had actually published documents smuggled out by IRA employees. They ranged from overarching guidelines about posting (amount, frequency, use of keywords) to talking points about the news of the day (protests on the Maidan, American policy toward Syria) to a glossary of internet slang. The guidelines offered a blueprint for what the workers did and how they did it.
One document describes their job this way:
TROLL. The purpose of the troll is to produce a quarrel which offends his interlocutor. It is worth remembering that trolling is not writing articles to order. It is a deliberate provocation with the goal of ridiculing your opponent.
The first thing workers needed to do, according to one of the memos, was to create online personas, sometimes called “sock puppets.” These personas are meant to look and sound like real people. They have names and photographs. They “like” other people’s photos and comments and statuses. Workers are meant to have multiple social media accounts – one memo said they should have at least three different Facebook accounts. There are also specific guidelines, for example, for posting pro-Russian material in the comments sections of Fox News, Huffington Post, Politico, and the Blaze. The guidelines suggest that these identities should mix political opinions with more mundane posts about things like music or movies or “the owner’s social life.”
One of the personas used in a document to illustrate how the process works is named “Natalya.” “Natalya” has a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a Google+ profile, and a VKontakte account. “She” is interested in “art, psychology and all that happens in the world.” She writes about doing a manicure at home, about how she enjoys Fifty Shades of Grey parodies, and about Facebook getting rid of the “feeling fat” emoji. But she also expresses vehement political opinions: that America is behind the protests in Ukraine; that the protesters support Nazi fascism; and that the new Ukrainian government is hopelessly corrupt.
As referenced in Notes:
52. Translated from a lexicon of internet slang terms produced by the Internet Research Agency and leaked in 2015. See Andrei Soshnikov, “Столица политического троллинга” (“The Capital of Political Trolling”), MR7.ru, March 11, 2015; and Dean Sterling Jones, “Inside the Russian Troll Factory,” Shooting the Messenger, February 7, 2018.
53. Jones, “Inside the Russian Troll Factory.”
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