Until recently, the phenomenon of Russian government propaganda was only interesting to a small group of Russia experts, news junkies and counter-propaganda fundraisers. It was mainly seen as a tool for keeping Russians supportive of Vladimir Putin. No longer. Thanks to post-U.S. election blame games, and the upcoming election season in Europe, how the Russian state pushes its messages to Western audiences is a hot political topic. It's also woefully misunderstood.

As the Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev, who started his own project to debunk Russian government propaganda, puts it: "The fight against fake news has itself turned into fake news. It's a kind of meta-propaganda."

Take a widely quoted Washington Post story that relies on an anonymous group of "concerned American citizens" that calls itself PropOrNot and aims to "identify, help counter and eventually deter Russian propaganda." The article cites PropOrNot estimates that "stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times." The PropOrNot report doesn't explain how the group arrived at that number, but it does identify such established left-wing, libertarian and right-wing sites as the Naked Capitalism blog, Zero Hedge and Drudge Report as conduits for Russian propaganda.