On May 1, a Russian-language Twitter account called Current Policy (@current_policy) tweeted a photo of what appears to be an American newspaper. The front page displays the famous “Napalm Girl” photo from the Vietnam War with the headline: “Devastating Forest Fires in Vietnam.” The tweet tells readers in Russian that American newspapers from the Vietnam War era actually claimed that these photos were presented as the effects of forest fires and not the use of napalm, an incendiary weapon made from jellied gasoline, dropped from the air.
“American newspapers presented the use of napalm in Vietnam as forest fires. Since then nothing has changed," the tweet's comment reads.
Eagle-eyed English-speakers, however, will notice something else in the photo.
“Thanks to press freedom you know better,” is written in pen next to the photo. The pen is still sitting on the newspaper, and if one looks closely, the words International Society for Human Rights is printed on its side. That is because the newspaper itself is fake -- part of an ad campaign to promote press freedom awareness.
The ad campaign was created for the International Society for Human Rights by the German firm Scholz and Friends, and includes a number of other fake newspaper front pages displaying other famous photos with misleading headlines. For example, the photo of “Tank Man” from the 1989 crackdown on protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square is headlined: “World’s Largest Military Fair Launched in China.” Another headline says that ex-KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko died of AIDS, when in fact he was poisoned by radioactive Polonium in an operation that British authorities suspect was carried out by Russian intelligence services. In all the images, we see the same pen and the handwritten note: “Thanks to press freedom you know better.”
Alexey Kovalev, an ex-employee of the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti and creator of the anti-propaganda site Noodle Remover, noticed that the Current Policy tweet had been retweeted by Vitaly Tretyakov, Dean of the school of television at Moscow State University.
It is not clear if the Current Policy account has anything to do with the Russian government, or with propaganda agencies like the so-called “troll factory” in St. Petersburg. It has a page on the Russian social network VK.com, but there is no explanation of who is behind it. It is clear, both from the Twitter account and VK page, that Current Policy puts out a near-constant stream of messaging that aligns with the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals in Europe, and in particular Ukraine, as well as pro-Putin and anti-opposition messaging.
Polgraph.info tweeted at the account early Thursday requesting information on who is behind it, and got no response by publication time, though perhaps response is delayed because it was after hours in Russia.