Anonymity affords ordinarily timid individuals the courage and opportunity to behave dishonestly. That, anyway, is the story we typically hear, especially in the context of the Internet. As Oleg Kashin recently pointed out in his column [ru] at openspace.ru, however, it takes two to make a successful prank (the prankster and the sucker)—a point on vivid display in a minor RuNet scandal last week. On December 14, Komsomolskaia Pravda newspaper chief editor Vladimir Sungorkin received a fax [ru] supposedly from the American embassy in Moscow, informing him that his visa to the United States had been frozen in connection with the recently passed Magnitsky Act, which bars certain Russians from entering American soil.

Revealing something about the hierarchy of Russia's media landscape, Sungorkin took his case to Margarita Simonyan, chief editor of the (largely anti-American, pro-Kremlin) RT (formerly “Russia Today”) television network. Simonyan quickly tweeted [ru] at Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, complaining that America had lost sight of the Magnitsky case and demonstrated its own weak commitment to free speech (implying that Sungorkin had been targeted for his criticisms of the White House).

As it turned out, the fax was a fake, and Sungorkin and Simonyan had fallen for someone's gag, hook, line, and sinker, exposing a moment's gullibility, but also the consequences [ru] of anti-American propaganda on the people who manufacture the stuff: namely, that they so easily believe the American government would target them in such diplomatic maneuvers.