Russian Propaganda Offensive Stuck in Ukraine. Russia’s global propaganda effort to invade Ukraine appears to have stalled as much as some ground forces, both of which are full of firepower but difficult to penetrate important targets.
Russian Propaganda Offensive Stuck in Ukraine
Much of Moscow’s propaganda campaign is public, with stories produced by media outlets such as Russia-backed Russia Today and Sputnik, and posted on social media in Russian, English, Spanish, Turkish and Arabic.
But Omelas, a company in Washington that tracks propaganda for the digital environment, found that those media operations began to lose audiences when Russian forces began to invade Ukraine. “Before February 24, the Russian media dominated the narrative about Ukraine in all languages, with a lot of content and a lot of touch,” Omelas
- CEO Evanna Hu told VOA.
- Things changed a week later.
- Russian media outreach
Omelas said Russian media published 12,300 posts on social media during this period, generating 1.3 million contacts.
Western media published 116,000 posts about Ukraine during this period, attracting 44.8 million contacts.
“Russian media still dominates published content in Russian, but gives way to the dominance of English-language information to Western media,” Hu said.
That space is also shrinking.
The European Union last week banned Russian state-run media, terminating broadcast licenses for Russian media such as Russia Today and their European affiliates.
Social media blocking
Social media companies such as Facebook parent Meta and Google, as well as YouTube and TikTok, have also banned Russia Today and Sputnik from publishing content on their platforms in the EU.
Russia Today USA Network announced on Thursday in a memo obtained by CNN that it would immediately cease operations and lay off nearly all of its employees due to “unforeseen business disruption events.”
Meta had also announced earlier that it had shut down a network of about 40 accounts, groups and pages targeting Ukrainian people on Facebook and Instagram.
“This network uses fake accounts to operate fictional characters and brands on the Internet that appear to be more real, apparently trying to withstand the scrutiny of platforms and researchers,” Meta said in a blog post.
Google said, “Extraordinary measures are being taken to stop disinformation campaigns. spread and disrupt online disinformation campaigns,”
Google’s president of global affairs Kent Walker wrote in a blog post. In addition to hundreds of channels and thousands of videos that violated community guidelines, including some engaged in coordinating deception.”
But there are questions about how much the crackdown by social media companies will ultimately affect Russia’s disinformation efforts. “It’s not clear at this point, ”
Bret Schafer, a digital disinformation researcher at the Alliance for Defence of Democracy in Washington, told VOA via email.
The numbers and interactions remain the same, but the numbers are small,” “After a while you’d think there would be fewer, but a lot of information would go to their influencers, and I don’t think influencers would be limited.”
Social media influencers
In some cases, these influencers have built and maintained large followings since the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
One such influencer is Rania Khalek, who has 246,000 followers on Twitter.
Callik posted a video in 2020 that a Russian-backed media dubbed “In the Now.” Callik currently works for BreakThrough News, which describes itself as “independent news for working-class people.” Neither Calleke nor Breaking News’ accounts carry
anything related to Russia Relationship tips.
“As you know, Russia has invaded Ukraine, and the West’s response has been escalation and re-escalation,” Callik said on “Breaking News” and on “Dispatches,” which she hosts on March 1. escalate while ignoring NATO’s role in provoking this war.” The show has so far attracted 73,000 views.
Another influencer who rose to prominence in the 2020 U.S. presidential election is Lee Camp, who hosts Redacted Tonight for Russia Today. He described the show on Twitter as an “anti-war, anti-corporate comedy.”
Although “Edit Tonight” was canceled due to the sudden shutdown of Russia Today’s U.S. network, shows hosted by Kemp are still available on YouTube, including the February 28 Ukraine episode. Kemp criticized those on the show who he said were blaming Russia without context and historical perspective.
“Basically, you have to be ignorant to get a real virtue signal of approval,” he said. “You have to act like Russia invaded Ukraine in a vacuum.”
Some observers say such perceptions by Kemp and others are now very common.
“There’s a lot of ‘what if’ right now,” Schaeffer of the Alliance for Defence of Democracy told VOA, “It’s really hard for fans of influencers, especially those targeting the left, to get the message across because there’s so much It’s hard to continue being anti-war and anti-imperialist, and your boss is attacking Ukrainian cities.”
American far-right media
Some of the same sentiment is starting to find its way into American far-right social media.
“I don’t take a stand on war,” Joe Oltmann, one of the hosts of the Conservative Daily Podcast, said on Friday’s show, which aired a YouTube video allegedly made by a Ukrainian “Save the Crocodile Tears for Ukraine”.
VOA was unable to independently confirm the true source of the video. The video called Western hypocrisy, echoing Russian talking points about NATO expansion and Nazi influence in Ukraine.
But VOA’s research found that the video had had its production time data deleted and has now been tagged with a warning that it “may be inappropriate for some users.” The study also found that the Ukrainian man speaking in the video closely resembles an actor in Moscow that online sources say.
Regardless of where the video came from, Altman used it to continue to express his views on Russia’s actions.
“I don’t want Russia to invade Ukraine at all,” Altman said on a podcast in response to the video, “But when you have military facilities and biological labs, let’s talk about Zelensky’s imprisoned opposition, by the way. Leader. Let’s talk about his shutdown of nationalized TV.”
Altman added, “Can you find people in Ukraine who really think Russia is bad? The answer is yes,” “Can you find people in Ukraine who think Russia is bad? Who is doing what it’s supposed to do? Are they ending corruption in their own national context?” The
researchers also found that Russian propaganda has found its way into far-right sites like Zero Hedge and The Duran . The Russia sympathy narrative also appeared on The Grayzone, a site that researchers describe as popular with Russian and Chinese propagandists for their willingness to promote anti-American and “anti-imperialist” views.
When contacted by VOA, Kalik said she did not work for the Russian government and received no funding from Moscow.
“I am a journalist with openly anti-war and anti-imperialist views. I am actually opposed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as anyone can easily see,” Callek told VOA in an email
. “Just because we don’t engage in deliberate historical amnesia about U.S. foreign policy and aggression, because we won’t be succumbed to supporting NATO expansion, we’re being accused of being Russian proxies? It’s shameful,” Lick said
. Terman has yet to respond to VOA’s attempts to contact him.
VOA also sought to reach out to Meta, Google and Twitter about how these social media companies plan to deal with Russian propaganda and disinformation from influencers not directly affiliated with Russia or Russia-affiliated media.
Meta and Google had not responded by the time this article was published. Twitter shared a list of steps it took to tackle disinformation and influencer operations related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including terminating more than a dozen accounts and blocking several links.
In a statement, Twitter said, “Our investigation is ongoing. However, our initial findings suggest that accounts and links originating from Russia are attempting to disrupt the public discussion of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.”
But other Russians such as Redfish Affiliate media remains active, with Redfish describing itself as a “digital content maker” with accounts on Twitter and Instagram.
“Redfish” has almost 151,000 followers on Twitter. It tweeted its opposition to the YouTube ban in Europe, saying it expected a “total ban on all platforms soon,” while promoting its accounts on TikTok and Telegram.
How influential Russian-affiliated media will be in the future, and the extent to which Russian social media influencers will be able to shape the information environment is uncertain.
But Russia is unlikely to give up trying to weaponize the information sphere, researchers say, and could learn from the way Western governments and independent media have outflanked Russian influence, at least so far.
“Any (information manipulation) campaign you launch has to be corroborated by ground truth,” Omelas’ Hu told VOA. “That’s something the U.S. military has learned the hard way from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
She Now that Ukraine’s military offensive has stalled, “Russia is starting to see the consequences,” he said.