From Russia With Spin: How Content From Russian State Media is Laundered by Polish Blogs

March 13, 2024
by
Peter Benzoni Bret Schafer
Kamila Koronska
Maria Lompe
Lukrecija Neverovskaja
Richard Rogers
12 min read

Researchers from two European universities with support from the Alliance for Securing Democracy at GMF (ASD) have uncovered evidence that a small network of Polish news blogs—Lega Artis, News na Dziś, and Daily Blitz—may serve as pathways for Russian state media and pro-Kremlin media to reach Polish audiences. These sites employ content laundering techniques, automatically reposting stories predominantly sourced from Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian state-owned media conglomerate, and Zero Hedge, a financial blog that has been accused of spreading Russian propaganda. This comes despite efforts to ban, downrank, and remove such content within the EU.

Introduction and Context

The escalation of Russian aggression with the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 had significant repercussions in the digital information sphere, including many efforts to generate support for Ukraine. Poland, notable for its grassroots, community-led initiatives on social media to support Ukrainian refugees, witnessed an anomaly. Amid the flood of support, a blog ostensibly affiliated with an obscure law firm, Lega Artis, disseminated messages critical of Ukraine. Over the past two years, the blog’s following has only grown, and it continues to portray the “special military operation” positively while undermining Ukraine, its leadership, and its refugees. Despite Lega Artis’ listing in the Warsaw Bar Association, its founders and employees remain unknown, and according to a September 2023 investigation by Press.pl, the company is not officially recognized in Poland’s National Register of Advocates and Trainee Advocates.

Lega Artis first drew attention for spreading conspiracy theories about the pandemic and vaccine efficacy. During this period, Lega Artis’ supposed operations and its blog content were far more congruent, as the firm’s website advertised legal advice as well as downloadable forms and templates to help fight public health restrictions. In February 2022, the law firm transitioned from a legal advisory into “an independent informational portal”. Its content production, which often echoes pro-Kremlin lines, grew exponentially over the next two years, often surging during or after important events like the 2023 Polish election. This occurred despite no apparent or disclosed changes in its financial backing, its purpose, or its editorial direction.

 

Figure 1 — Graph showing the average publishing speed of Lega Artis articles by day from its inception in July 2021 until the research was conducted in January 2024.

 

 

Figure 2 — Graph showing the raw volume of Lega Artis by month from its inception in July 2021 until the research was conducted in January 2024.

According to a Press.pl report, Lega Artis has emerged as a leading news platform in economic and legal matters, alongside established outlets like Money.pl and Business Insider. It averages nearly 10,000 page views per day, peaking at well over 40,000 in February, according to a SimilarWeb report. It has also gained traction on social media, with right-wing politicians, among others, sharing its content. Multiple journalistic and fact-checking organizations in Poland, including Demagog and Konkret24, have thus scrutinized Lega Artis’ blog. Their respective investigations align on several fronts: the site’s ownership is anonymous, its authors are likely fictitious, and its financial sustainability is dubious, despite its daily output of low-quality “news”.

Building on those reports, researchers from the University of Amsterdam and Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń used methodologies developed by ASD to analyze Lega Artis’ significant role as an anti-Ukrainian entity within Poland’s information ecosystem and as a vessel for Russian propaganda dissemination.

 

 

Figure 3 — Daily visits to Lega Artis’ site between December 2023 and March 11, 2024,  according to SimilarWeb.

Methodology

In support of current journalistic initiatives aimed at uncovering Lega Artis’ operations, we undertook both website metadata analysis and an analysis of content that appeared on the site from its inception until January 10, 2024. Our goal was to provide journalists and researchers with insights into the site’s content production strategy and sourcing methods, while also shedding light on what seems to be a broader infrastructure designed to artificially amplify its content online.

We extracted metadata from Lega Artis’ website using a content and code matching tool developed by ASD to determine if it shared technical indicators with other websites, thus suggesting that it may be part of a larger information network. When we discovered potential matches, we then crawled those websites to determine the number of articles that had identical URL paths and title tags with those found on Lega Artis. Using the content-matching function on ASD’s tool, which searches search services like Google, Bing, Yandex; Google News and Bing News; the GDELT database; and Copyscape for text that closely matches a queried articles’, we then ran snippets of articles from Lega Artis and potential mirror websites to detect duplicate content.

Results and Analysis

Our investigation of Lega Artis’ metadata yielded two Google AdSense IDs associated with the site (pub-7198252156880771 and pub-2644536267352236). As of January 2024, the first AdSense ID was linked to two additional news blogs, News na Dziś (newsnadzis.pl) and Daily Blitz (dailyblitz.de). These findings were subsequently verified by DNSlytics. News na Dziś operates in Polish, targeting local audiences, while Daily Blitz caters to the Polish diaspora in Germany, publishing content in Polish, German, and English. Subsequently, we connected these IDs to a third website, Plotkosfera (plotkosfera.pl), a newly launched celebrity gossip site.

Within a month of our study, we observed the addition of Plotkosfera to the same Google AdSense network as News na Dziś, Daily Blitz, and Lega Artis. Links to Plotkosfera in Lega Artis’ tweets subtly confirm an association among these sites. However, our analysis did not reveal any evidence of Plotkosfera repurposing content from other sites, including those focused on gossip. Currently, Plotkosfera operates exclusively in Polish and centers on Polish celebrities. Its dedicated “news” section, however, suggests a potential expansion into broader news content production in the future.

About AdSense IDs

AdSense IDs are unique identifiers assigned to publishers by Google AdSense to manage and track the performance of ads on their websites. When multiple sites share the same AdSense ID, it indicates a direct financial or operational relationship between them, as these IDs are linked to specific accounts receiving payment for ad placements. Sharing AdSense IDs between unrelated sites is uncommon because each ID is tied to the financial information and tax details of the account holder. As such, publishers are generally cautious about associating their AdSense account with entities outside their control, to prevent misuse that could lead to account suspension or revenue loss. Therefore, when an AdSense ID is found across multiple sites, it strongly suggests a deliberate connection.

During the course of our investigation, we discovered that some of the identified websites had reciprocal links to one another in their respective footers. Daily Blitz acknowledged all three connected sites, while Lega Artis’ footer provided links to News na Dziś and Plotkosfera. For whatever reason, News na Dziś did not reciprocate these endorsements, but we considered this sufficient evidence to demonstrate the sites’ interconnectedness.

Figure 4 — Images of Daily Blitz and Lega Artis’ homepage footers where they reference each other.

Mirror sites operating in Poland
 

Once we established that these sites are connected, we proceeded to analyze their content to determine if they qualify as “pink slime” websites known for repurposing content without proper attribution. To achieve this, we used Screaming Frog, a website crawler, to compile article titles and links from each site, finding notable similarities in URL paths and title tags between and among News na Dziś, Daily Blitz, and Lega Artis. (Plotkosfera was not included in this analysis.)

Both Daily Blitz and News na Dziś published articles copied verbatim from the Lega Artis blog. These often included distinctive article sign-offs, (likely fictitious) author bios, and calls to action for donations. While these are still present on Daily Blitz, they have been removed from News na Dziś, though cached versions reveal their previous inclusion. Of the 3,066 articles published by Lega Artis from its inception until January 2024, approximately 970 were identical or nearly identical to those found on Daily Blitz and 384 articles were identical or nearly identical to those found on News na Dziś, accounting for 31% and 12%, respectively, of Lega Artis’ total content. This evidence provided strong proof that the three sites are heavily sourcing content from one another, and it raised further questions about whether any of these sites were, as Lega Artis claimed, “independent informational portals”.

We looked at Lega Artis’ publishing history to further investigate this point. By the end of 2022, Lega Artis was producing nearly five articles per day. This frequency increased during major news events, such as a missile strike near the Polish-Ukrainian border in November 2022, with up to 12 articles per day, rivaling well-staffed newspapers. Its capabilities have only grown since—the site now has days when it produces up to 24 articles. Considering the even more rapid content generation of Daily Blitz and News na Dziś, this pace suggests that the sites are not only sourcing material from one another but from a broader network as well. We therefore expanded our investigation in an attempt to uncover the additional content sources that could sustain such a high volume of daily production.

Figure 5 — The number of identical articles among Lega Artis, News na Dziś, and Daily Blitz compared with the total number of articles published by each site.

Sourcing Materials from Foreign Pipelines

Having discovered compelling evidence of content copying among the three websites, we generated samples of Lega Artis and News Na Dziś articles to undergo content similarity analysis. Our objective was to test the hypothesis that Lega Artis might be copying articles from external sources. To achieve this, we assembled a sample of Lega Artis articles. Given previous accusations that Lega Artis amplifies Kremlin narratives, we selected articles discussing Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy. Additionally, we prepared a supplementary sample of the same Lega Artis articles translated into Russian. Because our preliminary research uncovered several English-language articles on News na Dziś, we also created an additional sample of News na Dziś articles that mentioned former US President Donald Trump.

By using the aforementioned tool developed by ASD to detect similar content across the web, we discovered copies of articles on News na Dziś that were originally published on Zero Hedge, a financial blog established by Bulgaria-born ex-investment banker Daniel Ivandjiiski that has been accused by the US government, the Rand Institute, and investigative journalists of amplifying Russian propaganda. While direct links to the Russian state are unproven, Zero Hedge’s editorial choices have sparked widespread criticism, particularly for spreading misleading and false claims. This includes reporting that falsely suggested that former German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that nation states must “give up sovereignty to the New World Order” or that Ukrainian prosecutors had implicated former US President Barack Obama and current US President Joe Biden in a money laundering scheme.

Running dozens of News na Dziś article titles through search services (Google, Bing, and Yandex) frequently revealed articles on Zero Hedge with identical titles and identical link paths. Using the Python library Newspaper3k to extract article content from both sources, we were able to verify that the article content was likewise identical between sources.

Story

News na Dzis

Zero Hedge

Not Only Can Trump Win, Right Now He’s The Favorite To Win

https://newsnadzis.pl/not-only-can-trump-win-right-now-hes-the-favorite-to-win/

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/not-only-can-trump-win-right-now-hes-favorite-win

Putin To Skip G20 Summit In India As Ukraine Boasts Of ICC Arrest Warrant Impact

https://newsnadzis.pl/putin-to-skip-g20-summit-in-india-as-ukraine-boasts-of-icc-arrest-warrant-influence/

https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/putin-skip-g20-summit-india-ukraine-boasts-icc-arrest-warrant-impact

Trump Is Surging

https://newsnadzis.pl/trump-is-surging/

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/trump-surging

Zelensky Tries To Reassure Hollywood A-Listers At Golden Globes: “There Will Be No Third World War”

https://newsnadzis.pl/zelensky-tries-to-reassure-hollywood-a-listers-at-golden-globes-there-will-be-no-third-world-battle/

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/zelensky-tries-reassure-hollywood-listers-golden-globes-there-will-be-no-third-world-war

Ukraine’s Fate Will Be Decided In Coming Year, Top Zelensky Aide Admits

https://newsnadzis.pl/ukraines-fate-will-be-determined-in-coming-twelve-months-top-zelensky-aide-admits/

https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/ukraines-fate-will-be-decided-coming-year-top-zelensky-aide-admits

Putin Trots Around Middle East, All Smiles With MbS, While US Can’t Secure Ukraine Funding

https://newsnadzis.pl/putin-trots-around-middle-east-all-smiles-with-mbs-while-us-cant-secure-ukraine-funding/

https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/putin-trots-around-middle-east-all-smiles-mbs-while-us-cant-secure-ukraine-funding

Zelensky Issues Veiled Threat To Destabilize Europe If Weapons Flow Curtailed

https://newsnadzis.pl/zelensky-points-veiled-possibility-to-destabilize-europe-if-weapons-circulation-curtailed/

https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/zelensky-issues-veiled-threat-destabilize-europe-if-weapons-flow-curtailed

Trump Calls for Supreme Court docket ‘Intercede’ In Exact Battles

https://newsnadzis.pl/trump-calls-for-supreme-court-docket-intercede-in-exact-battles/

https://www.zerohedge.com/trump-calls-for-supreme-court-docket-intercede-in-exact-battles/

Trump Gag Order Reinstated By NY Appeals Court

https://newsnadzis.pl/trump-gag-order-reinstated-by-ny-appeals-court/

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/trump-gag-order-reinstated-ny-appeals-court

Anti-Putin Activist Alexey Navalny Handed 19 More Years In Penal advanced

https://newsnadzis.pl/anti-putin-activist-alexey-navalny-handed-19-more-years-in-penal-advanced/

https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/anti-putin-activist-alexey-navalny-handed-19-more-years-prison

Rogan: Democrats Have “No Cards To Play” For 2024, Except Imprisoning Trump

https://newsnadzis.pl/rogan-democrats-have-no-cards-to-play-for-2024-except-imprisoning-trump/

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/rogan-democrats-have-no-cards-play-2024-except-imprisoning-trump

Explaining The $18 Million Mar-a-Lago Valuation By NY Trump Case Mediate

https://newsnadzis.pl/explaining-the-18-million-mar-a-lago-valuation-by-ny-trump-case-mediate/

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/explaining-18-million-mar-lago-valuation-ny-trump-case-judge

US Mission To NATO Signals Zelensky Must Sit At “Negotiating Desk”

https://newsnadzis.pl/us-mission-to-nato-signals-zelensky-must-sit-at-negotiating-desk/

https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/us-mission-nato-signals-zelensky-must-sit-negotiating-table-first

Watch: Trump Suggests Biden Is Given Cocaine To “Liven Up”

https://newsnadzis.pl/watch-trump-suggests-biden-is-given-cocaine-to-liven-up/

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/watch-trump-suggests-biden-given-cocaine-liven

Zelenskyy Asks Spirit Cooker Marina Abramovic To Be Ambassador For Ukraine, Abet ‘Rebuild Colleges’

https://newsnadzis.pl/zelenskyy-asks-spirit-cooker-marina-abramovic-to-be-ambassador-for-ukraine-abet-rebuild-colleges/

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/zelensky-asks-spirit-cooker-marina-abramovic-be-ambassador-ukraine-help-rebuild-schools

Figure 6 — Table showing copies of ZeroHedge articles published on and subsequently deleted from News na Dziś.

Zero Hedge was not the only source that was reattributed by Lega Artis or its mirror sites. As mentioned, we collected two sample sets of Lega Artis’ articles that mention Zelenskyy—both of which presented him as unqualified for his role or struggling to navigate the international political landscape—and searched for potential similarities between these articles and articles published on other websites.

We first found a partial match between a Lega Artis article in Polish and an article from russianfreepress.com, a little known and likely unconnected outlet. This article critiques—and thus quotes—a RIA Novosti (Russian state media) report. When we translated the article into Russian and ran it through ASD’s content matching tool, we identified the identical article on RIA Novosti, highlighting direct content replication across these sites (Figure 7). This discovery led us to apply the same investigative process to other articles, linking every story in our Zelenskyy-focused sample to Russian state media, primarily RIA Novosti, and in one case to a duplicated article about Mykhailo Podolak, a Ukrainian politician, that also appeared on Radio Sputnik. By doing so, we unveiled a direct connection between the Polish media landscape—exemplified by Lega Artis, News na Dziś, and Daily Blitz—and Rossiya Segodnya.

Except for the images, the articles across the Polish and Russian sites are identical, underscoring a blatant content laundering effort among them. Our investigation into News na Dziś revealed that most matched articles were eventually removed and now display a “404 file not found” error, though they remain indexed by (and thus accessible on) Google. This pattern raises further questions about the integrity of this network, suggesting either technical glitches or deliberate attempts to obscure content laundering practices. However, archived versions of these articles allowed us to confirm their prior existence on the site.

Figure 7 — Copies of a RIA Novosti article about Zelenskyy’s alleged rudeness at the NATO summit in 2023 that appeared on Lega Artis and Daily Blitz
Figure 8 — Traces of News na Dziś articles in Google indices that show matches with Lega Artis and Daily Blitz. The web pages are now inaccessible due to 404 errors but could still be queried with search engines.

 

 

Table showing how copies of articles from Rossiya Segodnya group appear on the sites connected to Lega Artis.

Story: “Zelensky was warned about the consequences of provocation at Zaporizhia NPP”

Ria Novosti

Daily Blitz

Lega Artis

News na Dziś

Story: "The journalist revealed her reaction to Zelensky’s rudeness on the sidelines of the NATO summit"

Story: "He will sign. Biden will hit Zelensky”

Story: “Zelensky is trying to convince NATO countries to rewrite the message canceling the accelerated accession process”

Story: “Duda failed during his visit to Ukraine because Zelensky did not apologize for the genocide in Volhynia”

Story: “Podolak: Russia will never agree to Ukraine joining NATO, even on reduced borders”

Changed Featured Images in Articles

Our inquiry into the origins of the content within the Lega Artis network also identified efforts to disguise their sources by altering lead images, often sourced from various news outlets or X. A notable portion of these images were uncredited, sourced directly from Sputnik Media Bank (part of Russian state media outlet Sputnik News), and accompanied articles on the Russia-Ukraine War. This practice of image substitution, while superficial, indicates an attempt to veil the true provenance and connections of the content shared within this network. It also provides another connection to Russian state media.

Lega Artis Image + Article

Sputnik Media Bank Image

Figure 10 - Table showing shared media assets between Lega Artis and Sputnik Media Bank
 

Conclusion

This research, conducted during the Digital Methods Initiative Winter School in Amsterdam in 2024, aimed to trace the content sources of the Polish “legal advisory” website Lega Artis and its affiliated network. We also sought to place our findings within the broader context of previous reporting on Lega Artis by journalists, human rights activists, NGOs, and fact-checkers in Poland. Our investigation conclusively found that Lega Artis, which presents itself as an independent platform, is part of a network that sources content from outlets such as RIA Novosti.

Lega Artis and its associated sites violate standard practices in publishing and distributing news content. They have deceived readers by masquerading as a conventional outlet, while employing mirror websites, social media accounts, and cross-posting strategies to boost their online presence. Notably, the network has republished content from the Rossiya Segodnya group and ZeroHedge without proper attribution or acknowledgment.

As highlighted by the Fundacja Centrum Badań nad Współczesnym Środowiskiem Bezpieczeństw (Foundation of the Center for Research on the Contemporary Security Environment), this situation presents an opportunity for the Polish government to intervene. By addressing Polish websites that republish Russian state information, the government could counteract efforts to bypass bans imposed by the European Commission following Russia’s invasion in February 2022, thereby preventing the infiltration of Russian state media content into the Polish media ecosystem.