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Fake ‘Manspreading’ Video Shared by Kremlin-backed Site Sparks Real Backlash Against #Metoo

News Brief

A video showing a purported feminist activist supposedly pouring bleach over men on a Russian subway train for having their legs spread too wide helped spur a viral backlash against the MeToo movement after it was shared by a youth-oriented site run by the Kremlin-backed RT network (formerly known as Russia Today).

The reaction to the clip, headlined “Fighting Manspreading...With Bleach!”, also showed how susceptible people are to invented controversies online, especially when they are spread with authentic-looking video footage.

“This is a pretty extreme way to combat #manspreading,” read a caption beneath the video, which showed a succession of men jumping out of their seats on the St Petersburg metro after the woman emptied a bottle of liquid over men sitting with their legs spread apart.

One man who said he was in the video has said he was paid to receive the drenching. And in addition to the person filming her, the woman in the video had a camera hanging around her neck to capture additional close-up shots for the slickly-edited clip.

But the bait was taken by many Facebook users, generating tens of thousands of comments denouncing campaigners for women’s rights and the MeToo movement. “This is not a protest, this is assault,” said one comment from a user named Robin Steadman, which has now been liked at least 16,000 times. “Maybe someone should pour bleach water on her for sticking her breasts out,” he added. There are signs this account may have been a fake too. But many angry comments denouncing the woman’s actions appeared to be from genuine users.

All the signs point to this being a fake controversy, according to a European Union-funded disinformation debunking site which first highlighted the video. “The video stages extreme feminist activism and manages to provoke extreme anti-feminist reactions,” said “EU vs Disinfo” in a report on the video, which it called “Kremlin propaganda.”

Since the video went viral, the Russian media has published reports that the video was staged, highlighting a social media post from a man called Stanislav Kudrin, who claimed he was paid to take part. “Staged, naturally,” wrote Kudrin. “That feeling when you come to a shoot with two spare pairs of pants, and leave with a salary.”

Kudrin said the video had been created by “My Duck’s Vision”, a company that specializes in producing “viral videos.” The company has denied any involvement. But it has previously made films for Nashi, a youth movement backed by the Kremlin.

Even “In The Now” acknowledged online that many were calling the video a set-up, which analysts say serves to enhance the video’s effect, encouraging distrust.

“The majority of those who are targeted will not suspect that what they see,” commented the EU vs Disinfo site, “and share [what] is in fact Russian state propaganda.”