TODAY |

Kiwi reporter shares how she was duped into working for Russian agency trying to influence US election

Hindsight is a beautiful thing, according to one Kiwi reporter who was duped into working for a media outlet covertly run by a Russian interference agency.

Your playlist will load after this ad

Based in London, Laura Walters says in hindsight she can see all the red flags. Source: Breakfast

Around two weeks ago it was reported by the Associated Press that Facebook had removed a small network of accounts and pages linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency - the agency that has been using social media to sow political discord in the US since the 2016 presidential election.

The most recent interference campaign ahead of November's election in the US saw freelance journalists recruited to write articles in English and Arabic, mainly targeting left-leaning audiences. 

One of those journalists was Kiwi Laura Walters, a freelancer based in London recruited by 'Peace Data' to write an in-depth article about the issue of Chinese foreign influence in New Zealand.

She shared her experience with TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning, and says she had no idea what was really going on until about two weeks after she had done the work. 

"I had no idea. I did the job how I would do any other job. I pitched an idea, I wrote the story, I filed it, they were happy, they paid me. I didn't really think anything more of it."

That is, until she was approached by another news agency that wanted to talk to her about the work she had done two weeks prior.

"I thought, 'Uh oh,' and that's when I started furiously googling, of course, trying to find out what was going on and saw that the FBI had tipped off Facebook and other social media companies.

"It's definitely been a strange couple of weeks for me trying to wrap my head around that." 

As she understands it, Walters believes her work was being used to create a "camouflage" of sorts so the website could appeal to left-wing voters at first, and then the interference work would really begin.

Your playlist will load after this ad

In Finland’s capital the US President said there’s no reason for Russia to meddle in the vote. Source: Breakfast

"My piece was published quite early on and it's part of what you'd call the camouflage, so myself and other freelancers were brought in and commissioned to build the credibility of the website and create a camouflage so then they can deliver the payload, which are those specific types of political stories. 

"Essentially, what they were trying to do with the campaign was appeal to left wing voters and then once they appealed to them and they had engaged with them then they were going to start to influence them." 

She says "hindsight is a beautiful thing". 

"It was impossible for me to spot...In hindsight, you can see all of these little red flags and maybe these things that should have raised alarm bells.

"It just shows that it can kind of happen to anyone."