Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He met regularly with an election team, which included more than 300 people from across his company, to prevent misinformation from spreading on the social network. He asked civil rights leaders for advice on upholding voter rights.
The core election team at Facebook, which was renamed Meta last year, has since been dispersed. Roughly 60 people are now focused primarily on elections, while others split their time on other projects. They meet with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not talked recently with civil rights groups, even as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.
Safeguarding elections is no longer Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, said four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation. Instead, he is focused on transforming his company into a provider of the immersive world of the metaverse, which he sees as the next frontier of growth, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have underlined how precarious elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running this November on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, with social media platforms continuing to be a key way to reach American voters.
2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.
$44 billion sale to Elon Musk, three employees with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk has suggested that he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.
barred Mr. Trump from its platforms after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has worked over the years to limit political falsehoods on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta spokesman, said the company had “taken a comprehensive approach to how elections play out on our platforms since before the U.S. 2020 elections and through the dozens of global elections since then.”
recently raised doubts about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia are also holding elections in October.
“People in the U.S. are almost certainly getting the Rolls-Royce treatment when it comes to any integrity on any platform, especially for U.S. elections,” said Sahar Massachi, the executive director of the think tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so however bad it is here, think about how much worse it is everywhere else.”
Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became evident after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.
banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.
Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to local governments to fund poll workers, pay for rental fees for polling places, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs.
The week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of falsehoods.
But while there were successes — the company kept foreign election interference off the platform — it struggled with how to handle Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify false claims of voter fraud. After the Jan. 6 riot, Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.
Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the company of removing election safety features too soon after the 2020 election. Facebook made growth and engagement its priorities over security, she said.
fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focused on election security, said the four employees, though he receives their reports. Instead, they meet with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.
Several civil right groups said they had noticed Meta’s shift in priorities. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t involved in discussions with them as he once was, nor are other top Meta executives, they said.
“I’m concerned,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who talked with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, ahead of the 2020 election. “It appears to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will leave Meta this fall.)
wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and the chief executives of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called for them to take down posts about the lie that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterms.
Yosef Getachew, a director at the nonprofit public advocacy organization Common Cause, whose group studied 2020 election misinformation on social media, said the companies had not responded.
“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterms with so many candidates using it to pre-emptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians in Michigan and Arizona who falsely said dead people cast votes for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against the Big Lie.”
When Jack Welch died on March 1, 2020, tributes poured in for the longtime chief executive of General Electric, whom many revered as the greatest chief executive of all time.
David Zaslav, the C.E.O. of Warner Bros. Discovery and a Welch disciple, remembered him as an almost godlike figure. “Jack set the path. He saw the whole world. He was above the whole world,” Mr. Zaslav said. “What he created at G.E. became the way companies now operate.”
Mr. Zaslav’s words were meant as unequivocal praise. During Mr. Welch’s two decades in power — from 1981 to 2001 — he turned G.E. into the most valuable company in the world, groomed a flock of protégés who went on to run major companies of their own, and set the standard by which other C.E.O.s were measured.
Yet a closer examination of the Welch legacy reveals that he was not simply the “Manager of the Century,” as Fortune magazine crowned him upon his retirement.
broken up for good.
the fateful decision to redesign the 737 — a plane introduced in the 1960s — once more, rather than lose out on a crucial order with American Airlines. That decision set in motion the flawed development of the 737 Max, which crashed twice in five months, killing 346 people. And while a number of factors contributed to those tragedies, they were ultimately the product of a corporate culture that cut corners in pursuit of short-term financial gains.
Even today Boeing is run by a Welch disciple. Dave Calhoun, the current C.E.O., was a dark horse candidate to succeed Mr. Welch in 2001, and he was on the Boeing board during the rollout of the Max and the botched response to the crashes.
When Mr. Calhoun took over the company in 2020, he set up his office not in Seattle (Boeing’s spiritual home) or Chicago (its official headquarters), but outside St. Louis at the Boeing Leadership Center, an internal training center explicitly built in the image of Crotonville. He said he hoped to channel Mr. Welch, whom he called his “forever mentor.”
The “Manager of the Century” was unbowed in retirement, barreling through the twilight of his life with the same bombast that defined his tenure as C.E.O.
He refashioned himself as a management guru and created a $50,000 online M.B.A. in an effort to instill his tough-nosed tactics in a new generation of business leaders. (The school boasts that “more than two out of three students receive a raise or promotion while enrolled.”) He cheered on the political rise of Mr. Trump, then advised him when he won the White House.
In his waning days, Mr. Welch emerged as a trafficker of conspiracy theories. He called climate change “mass neurosis” and “the attack on capitalism that socialism couldn’t bring.” He called for President Trump to appoint Rudy Giuliani attorney general and investigate his political enemies.
The most telling example of Mr. Welch’s foray into political commentary, and the beliefs it revealed, came in 2012. That’s when he took to Twitter and accused the Obama administration of fabricating the monthly jobs report numbers for political gain. The accusation was rich with irony. After decades during which G.E. massaged its own earnings reports, Mr. Welch was effectively accusing the White House of doing the same thing.
While Mr. Welch’s claim was baseless, conservative pundits picked up on the conspiracy theory and amplified it on cable news and Twitter. Even Mr. Trump, then merely a reality television star, joined the chorus, calling Mr. Welch’s bogus accusation “100 percent correct” and accusing the Obama administration of “monkeying around” with the numbers. It was one of the first lies to go viral on social media, and it had come from one of the most revered figures in the history of business.
When Mr. Welch died, few of his eulogists paused to consider the entirety of his legacy. They didn’t dwell on the downsizing, the manipulated earnings, the Twitter antics.
And there was no consideration of the ways in which the economy had been shaped by Mr. Welch over the previous 40 years, creating a world where manufacturing jobs have evaporated as C.E.O. pay soars, where buybacks and dividends are plentiful as corporate tax rates plunge.
By glossing over this reality, his allies helped perpetuate the myth of his sainthood, adding their own spin on one of the most enduring bits of disinformation of all: the notion that Jack Welch was the greatest C.E.O. of all time.
The images of dead Ukrainians, some with their hands tied and others haphazardly buried in pits, spurred shocked Western leaders on Monday to promise even tougher sanctions against Russia, including possibly on energy, as the Kremlin dug in and showed signs of preparing a new assault.
The growing evidence that Russian soldiers killed scores of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, leaving their bodies behind as they withdrew, prompted President Biden to call for President Vladimir V. Putin to face a “war crime trial.” Germany and France expelled a total of 75 Russian diplomats, and President Emmanuel Macron of France said the European Union should consider sanctions against Russian coal and oil.
“This guy is brutal,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Putin. “And what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous, and everyone’s seen it.”
In Moscow on Monday, Mr. Putin said nothing about his war in Ukraine, but his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said the Kremlin “categorically” denied “any allegations” of Russian involvement in the atrocities. Instead, Russia’s state media aired relentless conspiracy theories about what it said was a Ukrainian fabrication, while the authorities threatened to prosecute anyone who publicly blamed Russians for the Bucha killings.
Russia said the bodies had been placed only recently on the streets after “all Russian units withdrew completely from Bucha” around March 30. But a review of videos and satellite imagery by The New York Times shows that many of the civilians were killed more than three weeks ago, when Russia’s military was in control of the town.
The war in Ukraine may now be headed for an even more dangerous phase, despite Russia’s withdrawal last week from areas near Kyiv.
Ukrainian and Western officials said that Russia appeared to be positioning troops for an intensified assault in the eastern Donbas area, where the port city of Mariupol remains under a brutal siege. And in Kharkiv, roughly 30 miles from the Russian border, unrelenting bombardment has left parts of the city of 1.4 million unrecognizable.
The systematic destruction produces little military gain, but is part of a broader strategy to seize the country’s east, analysts and U.S. military officials say.
With the Russian economy showing some signs of resilience after the initial shock of the wide-ranging Western sanctions put in place after Mr. Putin’s invasion in February, the Kremlin appeared to be girding for a continuation of the war, despite talk in European capitals of now possibly banning Russian coal, oil or, less likely, gas.
“They are not going to stop,” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, said in a statement on Monday. “Putin’s order given to his soldiers to destroy our state has not disappeared.”
In a visit to Bucha on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine left the door open to a negotiated peace, despite the horrific scenes uncovered over the weekend. In a camouflage bulletproof vest, surrounded by soldiers and journalists, Mr. Zelensky accused Russia of “genocide,” but said he was still hoping to meet with Mr. Putin to try to stop the war.
“Ukraine must have peace,” Mr. Zelensky said. “We are in Europe in the 21st century. We will continue efforts diplomatically and militarily.”
Mr. Biden, speaking to reporters in Washington after returning from Delaware, said that “information” needed to be gathered for a trial of Mr. Putin, calling the Russian leader a “war criminal.” Mr. Biden said he would at some point be announcing more sanctions against Russia, without specifying what they would be.
In Europe, the growing evidence of Russian atrocities also appeared to be paving the way for more sanctions, even as divisions remained among E.U. members of whether to impose a broad ban on Russian energy imports.
“Today there are very clear signs of war crimes,” Mr. Macron, the French president, told France Inter radio. “Those who were responsible for those crimes will have to answer for them.”
European Union ambassadors will meet on Wednesday to discuss another package of sanctions against Russia, but the extent of the new measures is still very much in flux, diplomats and officials said. A meeting of NATO defense ministers is also scheduled to take place that day.
Since the start of the conflict, European leaders, along with the United States, have pursued a strategy of putting sanctions in place a piece at a time, gradually toughening them to leave themselves more cards to play in case Russia escalates the conflict.
But the outrage over the new revelations of atrocities may force their hand.
One version of a new E.U. sanctions package under consideration could include a ban on Russian coal, but not oil and gas, E.U. officials said. Bans on Russian goods entering E.U. ports are also under consideration, as well as smaller measures to close loopholes in existing sanctions, European diplomats and officials said.
While Mr. Macron said the new sanctions should target both coal and oil, Christian Lindner, the German finance minister, indicated that coal would be the only Russian energy export included in the sanctions package. The European Union, he said, needed to “differentiate between oil, coal and gas.”
Coal, which is largely mined by private companies in Russia, is less critical to the Kremlin’s coffers than the oil and gas industry, in which state-owned companies play the leading role.
Germany is the key country holding the bloc back from an outright ban on oil and gas, though the idea is also unpopular in other, smaller European nations that largely rely on Russian supplies. Berlin has consistently argued that sanctions against Russia ought to hurt Russia more than they hurt Europe.
Germany’s hesitation to endorse oil and gas sanctions was on display Sunday, when cracks appeared in the coalition government’s position on such a move.
Christine Lambrecht, the defense minister, said the bloc should consider banning gas imports, while the economy and energy minister, Robert Habeck said such a move would not be useful because Mr. Putin has “already practically lost the war.”
“The horrifying news from Bucha will certainly pile more pressure on the E.U. to impose energy sanctions on Moscow this Wednesday, but hard-hitting import bans on oil and gas remain unlikely for now,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, a consultancy.
“Internal momentum is building over stopping Russian coal,” Mr. Rahman said, “If anything, that’s likely to be the first thing Brussels targets on the energy side.”
Mr. Rahman said that, for now, the economic and political costs of a sudden stop of Russian oil and gas imports were too high for most E.U. leaders. He said it could take Russia using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Ukraine to lead the E.U. to impose sanctions on oil and gas imports.
Still, the Bucha revelations did prompt Germany and France — two countries that have long been careful to avoid provoking Russia — to escalate the confrontation with Moscow.
Germany said it would expel 40 Russian diplomats, an unusually high number for a single round of expulsions that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said was necessitated by the “incredible brutality on the part of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda.”
France said it, too, would expel “many” Russian diplomats stationed in the country; a Foreign Ministry official put the number at 35.
And Lithuania expelled the Russian ambassador and recalled its own from Moscow, the first time that a European country has made such a move since the start of the war.
Russia promised to retaliate against the expulsions and dismissed the reports of the atrocities in Bucha, describing them as fabricated pretexts for more sanctions. State television even claimed that Western operatives had chosen Bucha for their “provocation” because the town’s name sounded like the English word “butcher.”
It was the latest instance in which the Kremlin’s media machine has tried to parry overwhelming evidence of Russian involvement in an atrocity with a flood of conspiracy theories sowing confusion among casual consumers of the news.
It appeared likely that, inside Russia, the approach would work. The Kremlin narrative is increasingly the only one being heard by regular Russians, with independent news media shut down, access to Facebook and Instagram blocked, and a new censorship law punishing any deviation from that narrative with as much as 15 years in prison.
Driving the point home, the Russian general prosecutor’s office issued a statement on Monday indicating that anyone referring to the Bucha atrocities as Russia’s doing risked prosecution.
Anton Troianovski reported from Istanbul, and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels. Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Nefffrom Kharkiv; Megan Specia from Krakow, Poland; Constant Méheut and Aurelien Breeden from Paris; Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin; and Katie Rogers from Washington.
“And almost without exception, these influencers feel that they have been wronged by mainstream society in some way,” Mr. Brooking added.
Dr. Malone earned a medical degree from Northwestern University in 1991, and for the next decade taught pathology at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Maryland. He then turned to biotech start-ups and consulting. His résumé says he was “instrumental” in securing early-stage approval for research on the Ebola vaccine by the pharmaceutical company Merck in the mid-2010s. He also worked on repurposing drugs to treat Zika.
In extended interviews at his home over two days, Dr. Malone said he was repeatedly not recognized for his contributions over the course of his career, his voice low and grave as he recounted perceived slights by the institutions he had worked for. His wife, Dr. Jill Glasspool Malone, paced the room and pulled up articles on her laptop that she said supported his complaints.
The example he points to more frequently is from his time at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. While there, he performed experiments that showed how human cells could absorb an mRNA cocktail and produce proteins from it. Those experiments, he says, make him the inventor of mRNA vaccine technology.
“I was there,” Dr. Malone said. “I wrote all the invention.”
What the mainstream media did instead, he said, was give credit for the mRNA vaccines to the scientists Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, because there “is a concerted campaign to get them the Nobel Prize” by Pfizer and BioNTech, where Dr. Kariko is a senior vice president, as well as the University of Pennsylvania, where Dr. Weissman leads a laboratory researching vaccines and infectious diseases.
But at the time he was conducting those experiments, it was not known how to protect the fragile RNA from the immune system’s attack, scientists say. Former colleagues said they had watched in astonishment as Dr. Malone began posting on social media about why he deserved to win the Nobel Prize.
The idea that he is the inventor of mRNA vaccines is “a totally false claim,” said Dr. Gyula Acsadi, a pediatrician in Connecticut who along with Dr. Malone and five others wrote a widely cited paper in 1990 showing that injecting RNA into muscle could produce proteins. (The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by injecting RNA into arm muscles that produce copies of the “spike protein” found on the outside of the coronavirus. The human immune system identifies that protein, attacks it and then remembers how to defeat it.)
In the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Twitter accounts shared messages of support for Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president.
They tried to deflect criticism of the war by comparing it to conflicts instigated by Western countries. Their commentary — along with tweets from other users who condemned it — made the hashtag #IStandWithPutin trend on Twitter in several regions around the world.
While some of the accounts said they were based in Nigeria and South Africa, the majority of those with a declared location on Twitter claimed to be from India and targeted their messages to other Indian users, researchers said.
evacuating nearly 20,000 of its citizens who were in the country when Russia’s invasion began. Hundreds of Indian students remained stuck amid heavy shelling at the time. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who has avoided condemning Russia, appealed to Mr. Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, for help.
Russia’s local embassy used Twitter to instruct Indian media outlets to not use the word “war” but to instead refer to it as a “special military operation,” as media outlets in Russia have been forced by law to do. Some Indian Twitter users responded by mocking the embassy, while others chastised local media outlets as inept and needing instruction from Russia.
Pro-Russian sentiment has taken hold in right-wing circles in the United States, misinformation that has spread within Russia claims Ukrainians have staged bombings or bombed their own neighborhoods, and myths about Ukrainian fortitude have gone viral across social media platforms. But in India and other countries where social media users joined the hashtag, pro-Russian narratives have focused on ethnonationalism and Western hypocrisy over the war, themes that have resonated with social media users.
“There were dense clusters of communities engaging with it, many of which were based in India or based in Pakistan,” said Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor of Middle East studies and digital humanities at Hamad Bin Khalifa University who analyzed the accounts using #IStandWithPutin.
It was not clear whether the accounts promoting pro-Putin messages in India were authentic, although Dr. Jones said some of the most popular ones engaged in suspicious behavior, like using stock photos as profile pictures or racking up likes and retweets despite having few followers.
blog post this month. “These accounts represent a wide range of attempts to manipulate the service — including opportunistic, financially motivated spam — and we don’t currently believe they represent a specific, coordinated campaign associated with a government actor.”
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
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Ongoing peace talks. During peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul, Russia promised it would “reduce military activity” near Kyiv, and Ukraine said it was ready to declare itself permanently neutral. Even so, weeks of further negotiation may be needed to reach an agreement, and Russia appears determined to capture more territory in eastern Ukraine.
On the ground. Russia’s apparent concessions in the north of Ukraine reflected a successful Ukrainian resistance that has bogged down Russia’s forces around Kyiv’s suburbs and retaken territory near the capital and cities closer to the Russian border.
New sanctions. The United States is preparing new sanctions targeting the supply chains of Russia’s military industrial sector as it seeks to erode Moscow’s ability to attack Ukraine. The new measures will be rolled out in coordination with Western allies.
But some of the accounts in India most likely belonged to real people, Dr. Jones said. “If you can get enough people spreading a message, then real people will join in,” he said. “It becomes hard to sort the organic behavior from the inorganic because it’s a mesh.”
In India, some right-wing groups have advanced similar messages. An organization called the Hindu Sena marched in support of Russia this month in the heart of India’s capital. Carrying Russian flags ordered for the occasion as well as saffron ones often flown by Hindu nationalists, participants were led by the group’s president, Vishnu Gupta.
Over 300 activists chanted, “Russia you fight on, we are with you” and “Long live the friendship of India and Russia.”
“Russia has always stood by India and is its best friend. While America supports Pakistan and does not want any Asian power to rise,” Mr. Gupta said in an interview. “We don’t believe in war. But now that it’s happening, India must go with Russia. We must make our position clear.”
Russia’s embassy in India has also used Twitter and Facebook to promote conspiracy theories about biological research labs in Ukraine and to pressure the Indian media.
largest supplier of weapons, and Ukraine by abstaining from voting against Russia at the United Nations. India has also sent medical supplies to Ukraine. It has been looking for ways to maintain its trade relations with Russia despite sanctions imposed on it by many Western countries.
But public sentiment about the war could pressure local politicians to choose a side, experts said.
“It’s a major, major flashpoint for a truly global competition for information,” Mr. Brookie said. “Its an inflection point where a number of countries — not just Russia but the United States, its allies and partners, as well as China — are positioning themselves.”
When Victoria Nuland, an under secretary of state, was questioned in the Senate this month over whether Ukraine had biological weapons, she said laboratories in the country had materials that could be dangerous if they fell into Russian hands. Jack Posobiec, a far-right commentator, insinuated on his March 9 podcast that Ms. Nuland’s answer bolstered the conspiracy theory.
“Everybody needs to come clean about what was going on in those labs, because I guarantee you the Russians are about to put all of it onto the world stage,” said Mr. Posobiec, who did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Russian officials also latched on to Ms. Nuland’s comments. “The nervous reaction confirms that Russia’s allegations are grounded,” the country’s official account for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted on Twitter.
Beyond the bioweapons conspiracy theory, Joseph Jordan, a white nationalist podcaster who goes by the pseudonym Eric Striker, repeated Russia’s claim that a pregnant woman who was injured in the bombing of a Ukrainian maternity hospital had faked her injuries. In his Telegram channel, Mr. Jordan told his 15,000 followers that the hospital photos had been “staged.” He did not respond to a request for comment.
Some Russians have publicly commented on what appears to be common ground with far-right Americans. Last week on the Russian state-backed news program “60 Minutes,” which is not connected to the CBS show of the same name, the host, Olga Skabeeva, addressed the country’s strengthening ties with Mr. Carlson.
“Our acquaintance, the host of Fox News Tucker Carlson, obviously has his own interests,” she said, airing several clips of Mr. Carlson’s show where he suggested the United States had pushed for conflict in Ukraine. “But lately, more and more often, they’re in tune with our own.”
In the tense weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian officials denied that it planned anything of the sort, denouncing the United States and its NATO allies for stoking panic and anti-Russian hatred. When it did invade, the officials denied it was at war.
Since then, the Kremlin has cycled through a torrent of lies to explain why it had to wage a “special military operation” against a sovereign neighbor. Drug-addled neo-Nazis. Genocide. American biological weapons factories. Birds and reptiles trained to carry pathogens into Russia. Ukrainian forces bombing their own cities, including theaters sheltering children.
Disinformation in wartime is as old as war itself, but today war unfolds in the age of social media and digital diplomacy. That has given Russia — and its allies in China and elsewhere — powerful means to prop up the claim that the invasion is justified, exploiting disinformation to rally its citizens at home and to discredit its enemies abroad. Truth has simply become another front in Russia’s war.
Using a barrage of increasingly outlandish falsehoods, President Vladimir V. Putin has created an alternative reality, one in which Russia is at war not with Ukraine but with a larger, more pernicious enemy in the West. Even since the war began, the lies have gotten more and more bizarre, transforming from claims that “true sovereignty” for Ukraine was possible only under Russia, made before the attacks, to those about migratory birds carrying bioweapons.
reaching audiences that were once harder to reach.
“Previously, if you were sitting in Moscow and you wanted to reach audiences sitting in, say, Idaho, you would have to work really hard doing that,” said Elise Thomas, a researcher in Australia for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, referring to disinformation campaigns dating to the Soviet Union. “It would take you time to set up the systems, whereas now you can do it with the press of a button.”
The power of Russia’s claim that the invasion is justified comes not from the veracity of any individual falsehood meant to support it but from the broader argument. Individual lies about bioweapons labs or crisis actors are advanced by Russia as swiftly as they are debunked, with little consistency or logic between them. But supporters stubbornly cling to the overarching belief that something is wrong in Ukraine and Russia will fix it. Those connections prove harder to shake, even as new evidence is introduced.
That mythology, and its resilience in the face of fact-checking and criticism, reflects “the ability of autocrats and malign actors to completely brainwash us to the point where we don’t see what’s in front of us,” said Laura Thornton, the director and senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy.
The Kremlin’s narratives today feed on pre-existing views of the war’s root causes, which Mr. Putin has nurtured for years — and restated in increasingly strident language last week.
President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, whose video messages to Ukrainians and the world have combined bravery with the stage presence of the television performer he once was.
Russia, though, has more tools and reach, and it has the upper hand with weaponry. The strategy has been to overwhelm the information space, especially at home, which “is really where their focus is,” said Peter Pomerantsev, a scholar at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University who has written extensively about Russian propaganda.
Russia’s propaganda machine plays into suspicion of the West and NATO, which have been vilified on state television for years, deeply embedding distrust in Russian society. State media has also more recently echoed beliefs advanced by the QAnon movement, which ascribes the world’s problems largely to global elites and sex traffickers.
Those beliefs make people feel “scared and uncertain and alienated,” said Sophia Moskalenko, a social psychologist at Georgia State University. “As a result of manipulating their emotions, they will be more likely to embrace conspiracy theories.”
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to Know
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Signs of a stalemate take shape. With Russia’s advance on Ukraine’s major cities stalled and satellite imagery showing soldiers digging into defensive positions around Kyiv, a consensus is emerging in the West that the war has reached a bloody stalemate.
A Ukrainian base is hit. A missile attack on barracks in the southern city of Mykolaiv killed more than 40 marines, a Ukrainian official said. That would make it one of the single deadliest attacks on Ukrainian forces since the start of the war, and the death toll could be much higher than reported.
Chernobyl workers are relieved. After more than three weeks without being able to leave the nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine, 64 workers were able to be rotated out, officials said. Staff at the plant have been trapped since Feb. 23, a day before Russian forces took control of the site.
Mr. Putin’s public remarks, which dominate state media, have become increasingly strident. He has warned that nationalist sentiment in Ukraine is a threat to Russia itself, as is NATO expansion.
swiftly to silence dissenting points of view that could cut through the fog of war and discourage the Russian population.
For now, the campaign appears to have rallied public opinion behind Mr. Putin, according to most surveys in Russia, though not as high as might be expected for a country at war.
“My impression is that many people in Russia are buying the government’s narrative,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “They have doctored images on state-controlled media. Private media don’t cover the war, fearing 15 years in prison. Same goes for people on the social media. Russia has lost information warfare globally, but the regime is quite successful at home.”
appeared in the information fortress the Kremlin is building.
A week after the invasion began, when it was already clear the war was going badly for Russian troops, Mr. Putin rushed to enact a law that punishes “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. Media regulators warned broadcasters not to refer to the war as a war. They also forced off the air two flagships of independent media — Ekho Moskvy, a liberal radio station, and Dozhd, a television station — that gave voice to the Kremlin’s opponents.
Access to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and most recently Instagram has also been severed inside Russia — all platforms the country’s diplomats have continued to use outside to misinform. Once spread, disinformation can be tenacious, even in places with a free press and open debate, like the United States, where polls suggest that more than 40 percent of the population believes the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump.
“Why are people so surprised that this kind of widespread disinformation can be so effective in Russia when it was so effective here?” Ms. Thornton of the German Marshall Fund said.
As the war in Ukraine drags on, however, casualties are mounting, confronting families in Russia with the loss of fathers and sons. That could test how persuasive the Kremlin’s information campaign truly is.
The Soviet Union sought to keep a similar veil of silence around its decade-long quagmire in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but the truth seeped into public consciousness anyway, eroding the foundation of the entire system. Two years after the last troops pulled out in 1989, the Soviet Union itself collapsed.
Mr. Thiel has attracted the most attention for two $10 million donations to the Senate candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. Like Mr. Thiel, the men are tech investors with pedigrees from elite universities who cast themselves as antagonists to the establishment. They have also worked for the billionaire and been financially dependent on him. Mr. Masters, the chief operating officer of Thiel Capital, the investor’s family office, has promised to leave that job before Arizona’s August primary.
Mr. Thiel, who declined to comment for this article, announced last week that he would leave the board of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, which conservatives have accused of censorship. One reason for the change: He plans to focus more on politics.
A Moneyman’s Evolution
Born in West Germany and raised in South Africa and the San Francisco Bay Area, Mr. Thiel showed his provocative side at Stanford in the late 1980s. Classmates recalled Mr. Thiel, who studied philosophy and law, describing South Africa’s apartheid as a sound economic system. (A spokesman for Mr. Thiel has denied that he supported apartheid.)
Mr. Thiel also helped found The Stanford Review, a conservative campus paper that sought to provide “alternative views” to what he deemed left-wing orthodoxy.
In 1995, he co-wrote a book, “The Diversity Myth,” arguing that “the extreme focus on racism” had caused greater societal tension and acrimony. Rape, he and his co-author, David Sacks, wrote, sometimes included “seductions that are later regretted.” (Mr. Thiel has apologized for the book.)
In 1998, Mr. Thiel helped create what would become the digital payments company PayPal. He became Facebook’s first outside investor in 2004 and established the venture capital firm Founders Fund a year later. Forbes puts his fortune at $2.6 billion.
one 2009 piece, Mr. Thiel, who called himself a libertarian, wrote that he had come to “no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” arguing that American politics would always be hostile to free-market ideals, and that politics was about interfering with other people’s lives without their consent. Since then, he has hosted and attended events with white nationalists and alt-right figures.
His political giving evolved with those views. He donated lavishly to Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns before turning to candidates who were more extreme than the Republican establishment.
In 2013, Curtis Yarvin, an entrepreneur who has voiced racist beliefs and said democracy was a destructive system of government, emailed Mr. Thiel. Mr. Yarvin wrote that Mr. Cruz, then a newly elected senator, “needs to purge every single traitor” from the Republican Party. In the email, which The Times obtained, Mr. Yarvin argued that it didn’t matter if those candidates lost general elections or cost the party control in Congress.
Mr. Thiel, who had donated to Mr. Cruz’s 2012 campaign, replied, “It’s relatively safe to support Cruz (for me) because he threatens the Republican establishment.”
Mr. Thiel used his money to fund other causes. In 2016, he was revealed as the secret funder of a lawsuit that targeted Gawker Media, which had reported he was gay. Gawker declared bankruptcy, partly from the costs of fighting the lawsuit.
proud to be a gay Republican supporting Mr. Trump. He later donated $1.25 million to the candidate.
After Mr. Trump won, Mr. Thiel was named to the president-elect’s executive transition team. At a meeting with tech leaders at Trump Tower in Manhattan in December 2016, Mr. Trump told Mr. Thiel, “You’re a very special guy.”
A month later, Mr. Thiel, a naturalized American, was revealed to have also obtained citizenship in New Zealand. That prompted a furor, especially after Mr. Trump had urged people to pledge “total allegiance to the United States.”
During Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Thiel became frustrated with the administration. “There are all these ways that things have fallen short,” he told The Times in 2018.
In 2020, he stayed on the sidelines. His only notable federal election donation was to Kris Kobach, a Trump ally and former secretary of state of Kansas known for his hard-line views on immigration. (Mr. Kobach lost his primary bid for the Senate.)
Mr. Thiel’s personal priorities also changed. In 2016, he announced that he was moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The next year, he married a longtime boyfriend, Matt Danzeisen; they have two children.
Mr. Thiel reduced his business commitments and started pondering leaving Meta’s board, which he had joined in 2005, two of the people with knowledge of his thinking said. At an October event held by a conservative tech group in Miami, he alluded to his frustration with Facebook, which was increasingly removing certain kinds of speech and had barred Mr. Trump.
a $13 million mansion in Washington from Wilbur Ross, Mr. Trump’s commerce secretary. In October, he spoke at the event for the Federalist Society at Stanford and at the National Conservatism Conference.
He also rebuilt his relationship with Mr. Trump. Since the 2020 election, they have met at least three times in New York and at Mar-a-Lago, sometimes with Mr. Masters or Mr. Vance. And Mr. Thiel invested in Mr. McEntee’s company, which is building a dating app for conservatives called the RightStuff.
Mr. McEntee declined to answer questions about his app and said Mr. Thiel was “a great guy.” Mr. Trump’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Giving to Win
Mr. Thiel’s political giving ramped up last spring with his $10 million checks to PACs supporting Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters. The sums were his biggest and the largest ever one-time contributions to a PAC backing a single candidate, according to OpenSecrets.
Like Mr. Trump in 2016, Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters lack experience in politics. Mr. Vance, the venture capitalist who wrote the best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” met Mr. Thiel a decade ago when the billionaire delivered a lecture at Yale Law School, where Mr. Vance was a student.
Zero to One.” In 2020, Mr. Masters reported more than $1.1 million in salary from Thiel Capital and book royalties.
Mr. Vance, Mr. Masters and their campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.
Both candidates have repeated the Trumpian lie of election fraud, with Mr. Masters stating in a November campaign ad, “I think Trump won in 2020.” They have also made Mr. Thiel a selling point in their campaigns.
In November, Mr. Vance wrote on Twitter that anyone who donated $10,800 to his campaign could attend a small group dinner with him and Mr. Thiel. Mr. Masters offered the same opportunity for a meal with Mr. Thiel and raised $550,000 by selling nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, of “Zero to One”digital art that would give holders “access to parties with me and Peter.”
a 20-minute speech at the National Conservatism Conference in October, he said nationalism was “a corrective” to the “brain-dead, one-world state” of globalism. He also blasted the Biden administration.
“We have the zombie retreads just busy rearranging the deck chairs,” he said. “We need dissident voices more than ever.”
Over Memorial Day weekend in 2011, a caravan of journalists chased her up the East Coast during a six-day trip from Washington to New Hampshire, believing she might use the occasion to announce that she would run against Mr. Obama. The trip also included a dinnertime stop at Trump Tower, where she and its most famous resident stepped out in front of the paparazzi on their way to get pizza.
She wouldn’t reveal her intentions until later that year, in October. And when she did, she broke the news on Mark Levin’s radio show — not on Fox News. It was a slight that infuriated Mr. Ailes, who had been paying her $1 million a year with the expectation that it would pay off with the buzz and big ratings that kind of announcement could generate.
The Void Trump Filled
There were signs at the time that Mr. Trump was starting to fill the void in Fox’s coverage — and in conservative politics — that would exist without Ms. Palin center stage. He had been getting a considerable amount of coverage from the network lately for his fixation on wild rumors about Mr. Obama’s background.
One interview in March 2011 on “Fox & Friends” — the show known inside the network to be such a close reflection of Mr. Ailes’s favorite story lines that staff called it “Roger’s daybook” — was typical of how Mr. Trump used his media platform to endear himself to the hard right. He spent an entire segment that morning talking about ways that the president could be lying about being born in the United States. “It’s turning out to be a very big deal because people now are calling me from all over saying, ‘Please don’t give up on this issue,’” Mr. Trump boasted.
Three days after that interview, the network announced a new segment on “Fox & Friends”: “Mondays With Trump.” A promo teased that it would be “Bold, brash and never bashful.” And it was on “Fox & Friends” where Mr. Trump appeared after his pizza outing with Ms. Palin in the spring, talking up his prospects as a contender for the White House over hers.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Ailes were, at first, seemingly well matched.
Though he had financial motivations for promoting sensational but misleading stories, Mr. Ailes also seemed to be a true believer in some of the darkest and most bizarre political conspiracy theories.
In 2013, Mr. Obama himself raised the issue with Michael Clemente, the Fox News executive vice president for news, asking him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner whether Mr. Ailes was fully bought-in on the conspiracies over the president’s birthplace. “Does Roger really believe this stuff?” Mr. Obama asked. Mr. Clemente answered, “He does.”
NUREMBERG, Germany — Maria Liebermann came wrapped in fairy lights and waved a peace flag featuring a white dove. Martin Schmidt carried a Germany flag with the word RESIST scrawled across it in capital letters.
She is a self-described “eco-leftist.” He votes for the far-right Alternative for Germany. They disagree on everything from immigration to climate change, but on a recent Monday they marched side by side against the prospect of a general Covid vaccine mandate, shouting “Freedom!”
At the start of the pandemic, Germany was widely lauded as a model of unity in combating the coronavirus. A general trust in government encouraged citizens to comply with lockdowns, mask guidance and social distancing restrictions.
But that confidence in the authorities has steadily waned as the pandemic enters its third year and the fight has shifted toward vaccines, exposing deep rifts in German society and setting back efforts to combat Covid cases.
death threats from vaccine opponents in recent weeks.
In western Germany, the picture is more complicated.
A well-established tradition of homeopathy and natural cures has meant that a certain distrust of science and medicine has long been widely accepted in Germany’s middle class. Homeopathic doctors are commonplace, their services reimbursed by public health insurers. Germany’s new age esoteric industry — books, crystals, courses and the like — brings in an estimated 20 billion euros in revenue a year. Bavaria has the highest number of certified healers in the country.
unlikely coalition of protesters that includes naturalists, neo-Nazis and ordinary citizens alike. In China, authorities said that the 13 million residents in Xi’an will be allowed to travel in and out of the city, ending a 32-day lockdown.
Sophia, a 22-year-old who described herself as an “energetic healer,” and who was chatting to friends about an hour before the Nuremberg march, lamented the lack of opposition coming from parties on the left like the Greens that had traditionally challenged the status quo.
“Now they’re all backing the vaccine mandate,” she said. In the recent German election, Sophia, who declined to give her last name, supported the Basis party, a newly founded anti-vax party that garnered less than 3 percent of the vote.
Sophia comes from a family of doctors, and both her parents and her older brother got fully vaccinated and have urged her to do the same. But she is concerned that the vaccine was developed too fast, and doesn’t trust the government to disclose any serious side effects.
“My body is telling me that this is not a good idea,” she said. “I have a pretty good connection to my body.”
Her friends concurred. “It’s not about keeping us healthy, it’s about giving us all a QR code,” said Stefan, a 35-year-old father of five who advocates civil disobedience and also did not want his full name used. “They rule with fear. It’s a kind of tyranny.”
“Mainstream science is a religion,” he added.
Distrust in “mainstream science,” and mainstream politics, is one thing esoterics and the far right can agree on, said Mr. Grande of the WZB.
“The common denominator is distrust,” he said. “What unites these two very different groups is an alienation from traditional parties, from science, from media.”
Mr. Grande said the high levels of trust in government shown by Germans early in the pandemic, when nine in 10 backed the coronavirus restrictions, began to erode after the first lockdown as weariness with the pandemic set in.
The danger now, Mr. Grande said, is that the weekly contact with the far right on the streets normalizes that group for those who belong to what he calls “the distrustful center.” Both camps share a belief in conspiracy theories, which have the power to radicalize the movement beyond the fringes.
The vaccine mandate, which will be debated in parliament at the end of the month, is the decisive driver of the protests. “The debate about vaccine mandate is oil into the fire of the radicalization,” Mr. Grande said.
“I fear we have a difficult political phase ahead of us in this pandemic,” he said.