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It is Groundhog Day in the world of pro-Kremlin disinformation, with WWII revisionism and the coronavirus continuing to dominate our disinfo caseload this week.

According to Punxsutaney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, winter will be ending early this year. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Kremlin’s persistent disinformation efforts surrounding World War II and the coronavirus outbreak – shadows that even poor Phil the groundhog couldn’t possibly ignore.

The Kremlin’s historical revisionism about World War II and the Holocaust shows no signs of losing steam, with disinformation outlets accusing just about everyone (except obviously) Russia of distorting the truth about the war: Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy, the Baltic States, and naturally the worst offender of all, Poland.

Among their many sins, the Poles supposedly courted Hitler’s favour and helped plan the Jewish genocide, and now continue to ignore facts and civilized discussion that challenge Poland’s self-serving version of history. Best of all: while making these entirely unfounded accusations, the pro-Kremlin media actually has the audacity to describe itself as producing “precise and objective reporting on WWII events“. Yes, even as it publishes stories like this – because #noshame #sorrynotsorry.

The coronavirus disinfo outbreak intensifies

Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak has been a major theme for RT and Sputnik – roughly one-tenth of their coverage worldwide was devoted to the topic between 20 January and 2 February. On 31 January, this reached a peak of 498 articles published in a single day. The intensive coverage on the RT and Sputnik websites was also reflected in their social media output. By volume of output, target audience and overall traction, we saw that the highest number of articles targeted Arabic speakers, followed by Spanish, English and Russian speakers. On Twitter, one of RT’s accounts in Spanish – RT Última Hora – actually made it to the Top-20 accounts globally, along with the official accounts of the World Health Organisation and CNN International.

 

 

Messages about the coronavirus in Russian underperformed significantly on social media. But this doesn’t mean that Russian-speaking audiences were not subject to disinformation about the virus. In fact, it appears that the main channel for stoking fear and advancing conspiracy theories in this case is Russian TV (as reflected in our database).

Given that we are all concerned about the spread of the virus and its ramifications, it is not the least bit surprising that pro-Kremlin outlets devote a lot of attention to the issue. After all, their average volume matches the level of coverage by Western media. However, unsurprisingly, the messages pushed by pro-Kremlin actors differ significantly from those published by reliable sources. Last week’s Disinformation Review already documented numerous false messages related to the coronavirus, which systematically play on basic human emotions like fear and concern for one’s health and wellbeing. This week, the database has been “enriched” by 15 new cases on the topic in 4 languages.

In addition to repeating false claims already seen last week – e.g., that the coronavirus is an American biological weapon, part of the United States’ war against Russia and China, or an instrument of Big Pharma – the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine also got more creative. Apparently, the coronavirus was stolen from a Canadian laboratory by Chinese spies, sponsored by both Bill Gates and George Soros (because of course it was!), and prophesied way back in the 1970s by blind Bulgarian psychic Baba Vanga.

With seemingly endless possibilities for conjuring fantasy horrors and conspiracy theories, the coronavirus is a gift that keeps on giving for purveyors of disinformation. And while the virus continues to dominate the news cycle, we should expect the accompanying disinformation arc to continue in tandem. Like with the Notre Dame fire last April, the pro-Kremlin media has demonstrated once again that it is always shamelessly and opportunistically ready to jump on any tragedy and exploit it for its own ends.

 


related disinfo cases

31.01.2020
Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, RISS
USSR, Germany, Poland
30.01.2020
Polnyi Kontakt @ Vesti FM [18:36 – 18:47]
China
03.02.2020
TASS KP.ru
Estonia
04.02.2020
RIA FAN
Sweden
28.01.2020
Antifascist Info Agency
Canada, China
03.02.2020
Zvezda TV
China, US
29.01.2020
Sputnik Italia
Russia, Poland
29.01.2020
Zvezda Weekly
China, Russia, US
31.01.2020
Moskovskij Komsomolets
China
30.01.2020
Komsomolskaya Pravda, Moskovskij Komsomolets, RIA FAN, Utro.ru
China
03.02.2020
Zvezda TV
China, US
01.02.2020
almayadeen, katehon, annabaa, azzaman, al-binaa, shaamtimes, aleshraq, dampress, syrianownews, almajd, darhaya, arabitoday, alderaah-news, news-sinaa, elsob7, egysaudi, alsharqtimes,
China, US
29.01.2020
Sputnik News
USSR, Russia, Ukraine, Germany
27.01.2020
Sputnik News, RT Russian, RIA Novosti, Regnum, Fontanka, Riafan, Interfax, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Sputnik France, RT Spanish, Fort-Russ News
Russia, Syria
31.01.2020
NewsFront Spanish
Latvia, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland
01.02.2020
almayadeen, katehon, annabaa, azzaman, al-binaa, shaamtimes, aleshraq, dampress, syrianownews, almajd, darhaya, arabitoday, alderaah-news, news-sinaa, elsob7, egysaudi, alsharqtimes,
Cuba, Canada, China, US
31.01.2020
Sputnik Georgia
China
03.02.2020
Tsargrad.tv; Nsn.fm; Twitter.com
China, US
31.01.2020
Sputnik Georgia
Russia, Ukraine
03.02.2020
60 Minut @ Rossiya 1 time [00:45:43-00:46:12]
Russia, Germany
26.01.2020
RT Deutsch
USSR, Russia, Germany, Poland
02.02.2020
RT Deutsch Video @ 2:32-3:10
Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, Poland
30.01.2020
PolitWera (10:05-10:20), ukr-leaks, RIA FAN, Argumenty Nedeli, Russkoe Agentstvo Novostei, Tsargrad,Nation News
Ukraine
28.01.2020
Sputnik Polska
Russia, Ukraine, Poland
27.01.2020
Spuntik Polska
Russia, Poland
28.01.2020
Sputnik Armenia
Estonia
28.01.2020
Sputnik Polska
Russia, Germany, Poland
24.01.2020
Verelq.am
Armenia, The Netherlands
29.01.2020
Sputnik Polska
Russia, Germany, Poland
01.02.2020
Komsomolskaya pravda
China, US
01.02.2020
riafan
Ukraine
28.01.2020
TRK "Zvezda"
USSR, Ukraine, Baltic states, Poland
28.01.2020
South Front
China
29.01.2020
RIA FAN
China, Russia, US
29.01.2020
RIA FAN
Syria
27.01.2020
Polit Navigator
Ukraine
27.01.2020
Polit Navigator
Montenegro, US
27.01.2020
New Eastern Outlook
Sweden
20.01.2020
Sputnik Armenia
Russia, Poland
27.01.2020
Strategic Culture Foundation
Ukraine, US
27.01.2020
South Front
Israel, US, Syria
24.01.2020
Sputnik Belarus
Russia, Ukraine, Baltic states, Poland
23.01.2020
Sputnik Italia
21.01.2020
Vmeste s Rossiyey
Russia, Ukraine, Belarus
24.01.2020
60 Minut @ Rossiya 1 [22:35 - 23:39]
China, US
21.01.2020
RT (rt.com), Sputnik News, Sputnik Latvia, Sputnik Poland, Sputnik Mundo, Pervyy Kanal, Ren TV, Baltnews
Russia, Syria
24.01.2020
Sputnik Moldova
Ukraine, Baltic states, Poland
22.01.2020
Geopolitica.ru
Iraq
24.01.2020
utro.ru
Israel, Ukraine
24.01.2020
Sputnik Polska
Russia, Poland
22.01.2020
Sputnik Polska
Slovakia, Czech Republic, UK, Russia, Germany, Poland
20.01.2020
Sputnik Polska
Poland
19.01.2020
Sputnik Deutschland
24.01.2020
RT web Arabic, arabyoum, miralnews, akhbarlibya, masr20, uk-arabicnews, news-araby, bbcnews1, sabq-sa, albidda, akhbarten, saadaonline, newsaliraq, elbayan-news, abudhabi-news, emeknes, shamra, rtarab, syriafriends, revo-front
US, Syria
22.01.2020
Geopolitica.ru
Latvia, Russia, Baltic states, Estonia, Lithuania
22.01.2020
Evrozona @ Radio Vesti (25:00-25:28)
22.01.2020
Evrozona @ Radio Vesti (04:35-04:51)
Germany
22.01.2020
Polnyi kontakt @ Radio Vesti time 17:33-18:08
Switzerland, Sweden
22.01.2020
Georgia and World, Vzglyad, Ren TV, Zavtra.ru, NTV
The Netherlands
24.01.2020
Sputnik Armenia
Latvia, Russia, Ukraine, Baltic states, Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, Poland
21.01.2020
Vreamya Pokhazhet @ Pervyi Kanal [08:42 - 10:12]
22.01.2020
Asaval-Dasavali
UK, Russia, US, Georgia
20.01.2020
Flux.md
Romania, Moldova
22.01.2020
El Zoom @ RT Spanish time 06:30-06:50
Mexico, Canada, Hungary, US, Poland
22.01.2020
Sputnik Armenia, Sputnik Georgia, Sputnik Moldova
Poland
12.01.2020
NewsFront DE, Lenta.ru, Russkaya Vesna, REN TV, RIA Novosti, DNR-pravda, Vsevesti24
Canada, Ukraine
19.12.2019
Yandex Zen, www.rubaltic.ru, vegchel.ru
Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania
15.01.2020
Sputnik Srbija, IN4S
Montenegro, Serbia, US
09.01.2020
Sputnik Deutschland
Russia, US
26.12.2019
News Front - Spanish
Montenegro
11.02.2019
News Front - Spanish
North Macedonia, Montenegro
02.01.2020
RT Arabic (ar.rt.com), m.akhbarelyom.com, m.akhbarelyom.com, shorouknews.com, albawabhnews.com, akhbarak.net, watan-m3k.com, capbonnews.com, shamra, nabd.com, elaosboa.news, emeknes.com, rtarab.com, bbcnews1.com, bbcnews1.com, hamsnews.com, lakom.co.il, hamsnews.com, elbayan-news.com, abudhabi-news.com, ajel.sahafahn.net, akhbaralyawm.com, masr20.com, bbcnews1.com, news-araby.com, elbayan-news.com, elbayan-news.com, sabq-sa.com, news.akhbarten.com, ruarab.top, saadaonline.net, abudhabi-news.com, bbcnews1.com, albidda.net, news.miralnews.com, belbalady, Khabaralyoum, uk-arabicnews.com, akherkhabrtoday.com, arabyoum.com, mail.lomazoma.com, akhbarlibya, eshraag.com, dmcnews.org, mbs.news
USSR, Russia, Estonia
16.12.2019
RT Arabic (ar.rt.com), Revo-Front, nabd.com, araby.best, shamra, akhbarak.net, rtarab.com, Arabi today, bbcnews1.com, emeknes.com, elbayan-news.com, sabq-sa.com, abudhabi-news.com, news.akhbarten.com, news-araby.com, masr20.com, saadaonline.net, albidda.net, uk-arabicnews.com, Revo-Front, belbalady, nafeza2world.com
Yugoslavia, Serbia
15.12.2019
Sputnik Serbia - Cyrillic
US
13.12.2019
Sputnik Serbia - Cyrillic
Russia, US
12.12.2019
Sputnik Serbia - Latin
Serbia
12.12.2019
Sputnik Serbia - Latin, Vesti online, informer.rs
Serbia, Russia
11.12.2019
Sputnik Arabic - (sptnkne.ws), Katehon - English, Alalam TV
Syria