Russia uses Ukraine crisis to generate clicks in Spanish

According to an analysis provided to Foreign Policein an effort that researchers say is aimed at blurring Western Hemisphere Hispanic support for Ukraine.

According to Washington-based company Omelas, which has set up an artificial intelligence-based dashboard to track Russian propaganda, Russian media in Spanish – generously spreading Kremlin propaganda on Ukraine – has outperformed its counterparts Americans in terms of audience engagement by a ratio of more than 3 to 1 in the last two weeks of January.

“They want to disrupt [and] politically influencing the discourse in any or all of these countries to make it harder for people to understand what is really going on,” said Andrew Gonzalez, program manager at Omelas who conducted the study. “On Ukraine, if they’re able to prevent people from understanding what’s going on, it’s much harder for the government to generate support for some type of retaliation or countermeasure.”

According to an analysis provided to Foreign Policein an effort that researchers say is aimed at blurring Western Hemisphere Hispanic support for Ukraine.

According to Washington-based company Omelas, which has set up an artificial intelligence-based dashboard to track Russian propaganda, Russian media in Spanish – generously spreading Kremlin propaganda on Ukraine – has outperformed its counterparts Americans in terms of audience engagement by a ratio of more than 3 to 1 in the last two weeks of January.

“They want to disrupt [and] politically influencing the discourse in any or all of these countries to make it harder for people to understand what is really going on,” said Andrew Gonzalez, program manager at Omelas who conducted the study. “On Ukraine, if theycapable of preventing people from understanding whatAs this happens, it is much more difficult for the government to generate support for some type of retaliation or countermeasure.

Since the Cold War, Russia has long tried to cultivate ties with leftist regimes in Latin America and has maintained strong relations with countries like Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, which have remained stubbornly socialist into the 21st century. The Soviet Union has long had a willing audience in the region for narratives that portray the United States as an imperial power.

But researchers and pundits are still alarmed by the speed at which Russian propaganda began to dominate the Spanish-language digital airwaves as Russian troops built up along the Ukrainian border. According to Omelas tracking, in the last half of January, Russian government-owned media published 1,600 posts referencing Ukraine, including videos, articles and social media content garnering 173,200 engagements – such as likes, shares and comments – which was almost 40% of user engagements on Spanish language articles on the crisis. Russian state-backed media has more than doubled the output of the second-largest publisher of Spanish-language content on Ukraine, the Venezuelan opposition newspaper El Nacionaland US-based media, led by Univision, CNN and Telemundo, which published just 722 stories about the crisis.

Russia’s message resonated. Popular messages on RT channels falsely claimed that the conflict over Ukraine could be a Western ploy to increase arms sales and that the United States had staged a disinformation campaign to portray Russia as an aggressor. Russian forces invaded and annexed part of Ukraine in 2014, and Moscow has mustered more than 100,000 troops and heavy weapons near the Ukrainian border since last fall.

Spanish speakers commenting on the content on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook seemed “really supportive of Russia,” Gonzalez said. Russian media, he said, “know how to take the pulse of any issue and generate the necessary engagements for their narrative to dominate.”

In a statement, RT insisted that viewers were looking for a “balanced news picture” when watching the channel. “It’s also not surprising that some seek to cull stories and data, and form a narrative around our content that simply doesn’t exist, to support particular claims that suit their stories,” Anna Belkina, RT communications manager. , Recount Foreign Police in an email.

As US media outlets are spent and published on Spanish-language content by their Russian counterparts, there is growing concern in the halls of Congress about the threat of misinformation and misinformation permeating Hispanic communities in the US, especially after a conspiracy attack. theories engulfed South Florida during the 2020 presidential election.

“The amount of disinformation in Spanish about the election was significant and sort of staggering,” said Bret Schafer, senior researcher and head of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.the Information Manipulation Team, which tracks Russian, Chinese and Iranian state media. “And thatIt is somewhat inconceivable that Russia, as good as it is at manipulating the public,I don’t understand this and I try to exploit it on some level. »

Speaking before a House Administration Committee roundtable at Miami Dade College on Monday, former Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who was defeated in a 2020 re-election bid, said that the rise of misinformation flooding Hispanics in South Florida came not just from social media, but also from WhatsApp groups, where American residents communicate with friends and family in the region, including Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador.

“It’s spreading exponentially, misleading our community,” the Ecuador-born former congresswoman said.

Still, experts worry the Biden administration has been too slow to address the issue, as Russia’s public broadcasters have become increasingly professional and the quality of their content has improved. The surge of Russian state-owned content in the Americas may also have had an impact on some corners of the American media landscape. Fox News host Tucker Carlson reportedly sought to arrange an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin through Kremlin intermediaries in the United States and publicly defended Moscow as the Russian military gathered more than 100,000 soldiers along the Ukrainian border.

Last year, Russian public broadcasters eclipsed their American counterparts. The Alliance for Securing Democracy, drawing on data from social monitoring platform CrowdTangle, found that RT en Español attracted 24 million interactions in the past 12 months, up from just 2, 5 million interactions for Voz de América. When combined with RT’s other Spanish-language offshoots, such as its video-focused platform and RT america_latina, the Russian public broadcaster recorded 40 million interactions. Sputnik Mundo, another public agency, obtained 4 million visits.

The focus on Ukraine also appears to be a new trend from outlets like RT, which had tended to focus more narrowly on the Western Hemisphere until recently. Schafer’s Securing Democracy Alliance found that only 6% of videos posted by RT America in 2021 actually mentioned Russia. Even if viewers are aware that Moscow is the source of the content, not focusing on the Kremlin gives Russian state media the advantage of blending in more easily with mainstream news content, a- he declared.

“TheThere is no effort to really attract people to Russia,” Schafer said. “It’s to push them back from the West.” For example, Russian state media went to great lengths to criticize the pro-US government of Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez when protests erupted against proposed tax and healthcare reforms as well as government corruption in 2021. .

And that is what worries experts and officials. With nearly 500 million Spanish speakers worldwide, mostly concentrated in the Americas, Russian disinformation can spread quickly through global social networks like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube from the United States to the Caribbean and South America, and vice versa.

“Instead of having to target Mexican, Bolivian and Chilean audiences individually, Russia can reach all Spanish-speaking audiences simultaneously,” Gonzalez said. “The only thing people will see is Russian propaganda.”

Christi C. Elwood