World Wide Web Laundry: Russian propaganda reaches Western and global audiences through an Internet promotion ecosystem that the West cannot counteract

Russian propaganda content easily overcomes timid attempts at blocking it and sanctions, reaching Western and global audiences through a ‘laundering’ ecosystem that gives it a new life beyond its original source. An extensive study conducted with the help of a specially created tool, Landromat, has uncovered this ecosystem by tracing the distribution channels of the publications of the RT television channel, which is blocked in the West.

By posting ‘banned’ propaganda content without indicating its source, intermediary resources legitimise it not only for consumers and authorities but, crucially, for search engines as well.

The identified 'laundering' and broadcasting ecosystem for the English-language version of the RT portal comprises about 400 domains. These include mirror sites, social networks, aggregators, and state media, as well as conspiracy theory sites, tantra, and alternative medicine websites.

The West is losing the information war on the Internet, using traditional tools that have no meaningful effect in the digital age. Meanwhile, the Kremlin's disinformation promotion system is specifically designed with its features in mind. An effective fight against disinformation and propaganda in these conditions is possible not through state monitoring but at the level of technology company algorithms.The 'laundromat' experience shows that identifying and blocking not just addresses and domain names, but their content, is an achievable task.

The West is struggling to counteract the information campaign by Russia and anti-Western autocracies, which not only easily bypasses bans and blocks but also simultaneously creates a new ecosystem of alternative mainstream media content and delivery methods (→ Re:Russia: Firehose of Falsehoods). One method involves radiating blocked content through a network of mirror and intermediary sites. These resources repost propaganda content, acting as an 'information laundry', allowing it to reach various audiences through multiple channels and gradually become 'common knowledge’, albeit without any attribution. This strategy of ‘laundering’ disinformation was used by the USSR: the most famous example is ‘Operation Infection’, in which the KGB used a clipping from an Indian newspaper to start a rumour that the AIDS virus had originated in a US government bio-lab. After this claim was retold (‘laundered’) through several sources, it eventually made its way onto the evening news on CBS.

Experts from the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), the University of Amsterdam, and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue have presented the results of a large-scale joint study, revealing this giant ‘laundromat’ of the modern Internet. The researchers analysed more than 1500 articles published in 2023 on RT's website, using a specially created tool called ‘The Information Laundromat’, which identifies similarities in content and metadata between publications and websites and is now publicly available. They used it to identify 60,000 URLs from 3600 domains linked to the distribution of RT content. By grouping the links and discarding materials that matched sources by less than 60%, they identified 386 domains registered in more than 40 countries. The most popular top-level domain was .ru, followed by .us (US), .ca (Canada), .lb (Lebanon), and .com, .net and .org. Almost all of them regularly reposted RT materials, forming a persistent ecosystem for ‘laundering’ this content, which continued its life in the information space without any indication of its propaganda origin.

These domains fall into several categories. The first category includes mirror sites, which are direct copies of the website. They do not hide the source of information but allow content to be distributed despite sanctions by using a different domain name. The most well-known of these mirrors is the domain, which was registered by RT's parent company ‘TV-Novosti’ on March 5, 2022 — three days after RT was banned in the EU. A variant of these mirrors are zombie domains: these sites were initially created as non-informational resources but were later repurposed and now replicate the content of the RT website. Experts found at least five such domains, each of which had a page written in simplified Chinese, offering participation in some online lottery. Although such sites are unlikely to generate a large amount of organic traffic, they could be part of a 'link scheme' that optimises search results, according to the authors of the study.

The second group of ‘laundering’ sites includes social networks. Of the domains most heavily involved in laundering RT material, about a quarter are well-known social media, video hosting or blogging platforms, especially Reddit and YouTube, but also Telegram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Substack, VKontakte, Instagram, Pinterest, 8kun, Gab and Rumble. Although sharing links via social networks does not usually qualify as information laundering, the analysis showed that many of them linked to mirror sites. For example, links to RT are banned on Reddit, but users put links to ‘mirrors’ and proxy sites, most often to the aforementioned, as well as to the Greek reposter site As a result, these publications were included in Google searches.

Another category of ‘laundering’ sites are domains that pretend to be local news publications. One of them,, named after a now-defunct Dublin newspaper, claims that it ‘focuses on Ireland's national news’. In reality, the study found that the Irish Sun is part of the UAE-registered Big News Network syndicate, which operates hundreds of publications around the world posing as local, national and regional media. The syndicate's title site,, ranked 11th on the laundry list of domains for republished RT content. Previously, in another study, ASD identified Big News Network and its affiliates as the largest source of RT content in UK search results.

A characteristic example is Although this site supposedly operates from Rwanda, the news tab on the war in Ukraine appears before the tab dedicated to Rwanda, and all relevant materials are copied from the RT website, attributed to Esha Saxena Mandala — a journalist who allegedly also covers sports and entertainment news. The photo of Esha Saxena Mandala on the site was found by researchers in several online stock photo libraries.

The next category of ‘laundering’ domains includes pages that have previously been found to be involved in the dissemination of conspiracy theories, far-right, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi sites, as well as resources of religious movements and various spiritual practices (for example, the Texas-based conservative Catholic resource An important role in the distribution of RT content is played by, a website created by former English football goalkeeper and self-proclaimed ‘Son of God’ David Icke, who is banned from entering the Netherlands for ‘endangering public order’. Some RT articles published there were viewed by over a million people in March 2024. RT materials are also extensively found in the news section of, which is dedicated to discussions on yoga, tantra, parapsychology, alternative medicine, and extraterrestrials.

State media from various countries, including China, Cambodia, Lebanon, Namibia, Nigeria, Yemen and Zimbabwe, play an important role in RT's laundry list of propaganda outlets. Finally, the last group of information resources that launder RT propaganda are news aggregators and RSS feeds. The study identified at least 88 aggregator domains that distribute content, the largest of which is Shafaqna, which, according to its website, ‘represents the interests of Shiite Muslims around the world’.

The sanctions imposed by Western governments against pro-Kremlin information resources are easily circumvented, and often at no cost to the Kremlin: many foreign domains seem to repost RT content for free, for ideological reasons. The true scale of the pro-Kremlin information ‘laundromat’ is much larger, the study's authors believe, as other Russian publications also disseminate their narratives through intermediary resources, from Sputnik News (and its approximately 30 regional and language agencies) to TASS, as well as pro-Kremlin think tanks, sites linked to Russian intelligence, and social media accounts of Russian embassies.

Thus, the current ‘regulatory’ approach to restricting pro-Kremlin propaganda is likely fundamentally flawed, as it does not account for the mechanisms of its dissemination in the networked environment. The West is losing the information war by relying on traditional tools that are ineffective in the digital age. Meanwhile, the Kremlin's disinformation promotion system is specifically designed with its features in mind. Effective combat against disinformation and propaganda under these conditions is possible not through state regulation but at the level of technology company algorithms. The experience of ‘laundromat’ shows that blocking technologies not of addresses and domain names, but of the content hosted on them, is an achievable task. Identification and blocking are only possible at the level of search and retrieval algorithms. Otherwise, in addition to the targeted efforts of propaganda structures to promote certain materials, peripheral resources will be incentivised to republish them if they align with artificially amplified network content. Conversely, they will be disincentivised if algorithms learn to recognize ‘laundered’ content and block it from search results.