October 22, 2019

by Alexandre Alaphilippe, Gary Machado, Roman Adamczyk and Antoine Grégoire

Hats off to EUvsDisinfo for their exposé on the EP Today website, which was featured in Politico’s Brussels Playbook a couple of weeks ago. EUvsDisinfo uncovered that EP Today – the self-proclaimed “monthly news magazine for the European Parliament” – had misled readers into thinking that the website is affiliated with the European Parliament. We noticed that people were quick in attributing this as Russian disinformation, but we wanted to recast attention to a couple of aspects of EUvsDisinfo’s article.

Content syndication

Below, you can see that EP Today used the process of content syndication to increase the web visibility of EP Today and their Facebook page. As the image shows, much of this content was from BOTH Russia Today and Voice of America.

Before using Russia Today, EP Today syndicated much of their content from Voice of America, and EUvsDisinfo did draw attention to the fact that…

In essence, this illustrates how easy it is for websites to syndicate content from news sites, regardless of the type of narratives pushed.

Promoting Indian interests

After delving deeper into EP Today’s website, we observed original content related to Indian interests. 

Interestingly, EP Today content has, for instance, been shared in the past by Dr Pramila Srivastava – Head of the Srivastava Group and publisher of the New Delhi Times newspaper.

But, why is that? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that EP Today’s Facebook page is managed from India, as EUvsDisinfo highlighted…

Just to go a little bit deeper into what EUvDisinfo flagged, we also looked at the amplification of EP Today content on Twitter (over the last 30 days), and noticed that this content was very popular in both India and Belgium.

India meets Brussels

In looking at the web archive of EPToday.com, we found a previous version of the page from 2014 that mentioned the same email address as EP Today’s current one, but had a different phone number listed.

From there, we conducted a Google reverse search on this Belgian landline phone number and two websites were returned.

It is interesting to note that Srivastava Group is located at Square de Meus in Brussels, which is close to the European Parliament. And it seems as though they share the same office address as EP Today.

Meanwhile, we searched to find out which servers these domains are hosted on, and found that both srivastavagroup.com and itcmsch.com were hosted on the same server (with around 36 other domains according to the viewdns service). Another significant one here is uiwnet.com (keep this name in mind).

Looking back at EPToday.com’s website, we searched for idirectts IP history using the viewdns.com service, and we found that eptoday.com was previously hosted on the same server as the SrivastavaGroup.com.

We also found the original registration of eptoday.com before it was “whois shadowed” (meaning hidden – thanks to Francesco Poldi for this), and the original email address was eptoday@uiwnet.com. And here, we found a direct link between the EP TODAY and UIWNET.COM domains, which were both hosted on the same server…

Food for thought

To summarise, EP Today’s online presence seems to have both physical (phone number, office address) and online (same servers, official registration email) links with Indian stakeholders in Brussels. Overall, this does reveal just how complicated this field of research is; it shows how attribution is always difficult, and how caution should be taken when reporting on disinformation investigations.