‘Lying on Purpose’ - Exposing a ‘Vatnik Soup’
Heidi Siegmund Cuda interviews Pekka Kallioniemi, the Finnish creator of ‘Vatnik Soup’ - a Twitter series and website where he identifies pro-Russian actors and propagandists from around the world
The list is nearing 200, and I visit it like a sanctuary, a gaslighting-free oasis where Finnish researcher Pekka Kallioniemi curates his master list, and where I find another soul across the universe bearing witness to truth.
I’m referring to vatniksoup.com — which hosts a spreadsheet of Kallioniemi Twitter threads, where he identifies “so-called independent journalists, politicians, military personnel or just regular grifters”, who he has identified as pro-Russian propagandists, or to use Russian slang, vatniks.
The first victim of war is truth, he writes, on the site’s home page, and I scan the list looking at people who have been actively assaulting reality with their disinformation, which I determine is too weak of a word for the destruction it causes. I ask Kallioniemi to please come up with something better.
“In academia. we call it intentionally misleading information,” he told me. “But I call it, ‘lying on purpose’ — there's intention behind the spread of fake news. And that to me, in many ways, that's the worst crime that you can do.”
Kallioniemi, who earned a PhD in interactive technology at Tampere University of Applied Sciences in 2018, said when Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, he wanted to do something to help the Ukrainian people.
“My background is in human technology interaction,” he said. “So I basically study how humans interact with technology, and how it affects us. My focus is on social media disinformation, and algorithms, and my speciality is on Russian Information Operations. I couldn’t go to Ukraine physically, so I started making these reports on people who I consider to be pro-Russia or pro-Kremlin propagandists.”
He said he must have timed it right because his Twitter threads took off quickly, with people from all over the world supporting his work through his virtual coffee tip jar.
“I think it’s a combination of good luck and the presentation style seems to fit modern social media: not too extensive, can be digested easily, like soup,” he added.
He said the patterns of pro-Russian actors became glaringly clear, because there were just a handful of narratives and they were coordinated among the ‘vatniks’.
“The main ones include: ‘Ukrainians are neo-Nazis’, ‘NATO expansion started the proxy war’, ‘Ukraine is corrupt and most of the aid goes to the black market’ or ‘the sanctions are hurting the West more than Russia’,” Kallioniemi told Byline Supplement.
He said finding the UK vatniks proved easy, among those who made his list are Arron Banks, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand, and Patrick Lancaster.
“Often their history is quite telling – they have visited Russia often, for example,” said Kallioniemi.
He said what motivates vatniks can be found by applying the MICE acronym — money, ideology, compromise, and ego.