The EUvsDisinfo database has been accumulating coronavirus-related disinformation cases for more than two months – it’s time to take a look and see what’s hiding in plain sight.
Comparing the cases on the coronavirus published between January 22 and March 25 with the caseload from this week alone, it appears that the anti-American vibe is still going strong. In total, we have collected 39 cases claiming that the US created the coronavirus.
The second most common narrative is that the EU is failing to cope with the crisis and is disintegrating as a result, together with the border-free Schengen area. In particular, this narrative of failure and lack of EU solidarity is trending after the delivery of Russian aid to Italy – we have added 26 new disinformation cases to the database.
The narrative that the virus is being used as a weapon against China and its economy comes in third place with 24 cases.
And in fourth place is the rather creative notion that the whole coronavirus crisis is a secret plan of the global elite, with 17 cases and counting.
Rounding out our top five is a group of messages targeting Ukraine in the context of the coronavirus crisis, with the pro-Kremlin media successfully managing to mix in accusations of Nazism. Total cases: 13.
Do the most common narratives also mean most engagement?
In order to answer this question, we looked at the 152 cases collected between January 22 and March 25, which have had more time to age on social media and generate likes, shares, and comments. We derived 442 URLs and analysed them using BuzzSumo. Then we linked the most popular URLs with cases to see which of the narratives have struck a chord with the public. Check out the ten most popular disinformation messages below.
While the pro-Kremlin media has been pushing all sorts of different and often contradictory narratives – ranging from bizarre conspiracy theories, to Ukraine responding inadequately to the pandemic, to the West either failing to react or reacting hysterically – the articles that saw the biggest engagement numbers all claimed that the virus was manufactured by the United States.
If 68,700 likes, shares, and comments across different social media platforms doesn’t seem like much, the 263,902 engagements for all those 152 coronavirus-related disinformation articles looks somewhat more worrying. Especially since this is a topic where disinformation can bring life-threatening consequences.
But it’s also important to lighten the mood occasionally in these challenging times, and here the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine never fails. Here were this week’s funniest cases:
– 380 Belgians caught COVID-19 through a massive act of group sex
– the cause for the spread of the coronavirus epidemic is the legalisation of gay marriage
– Baba Vanga predicted a Russian cure against the coronavirus.
And no, these are not a belated April Fool’s joke. This is the face of pro-Kremlin disinformation, in many cases financed directly by the Russian state budget, generously produced for our “enjoyment.”