China Information Operations Newsletter 18 August 2022
18 August 2022
We share our research and colleagues’ analyses that explain how misinformation operations during the Russia-Ukraine war are changing the global information environment. The newsletter is a collaboration between the Programme on Democracy and Technology and PeaceTech Lab. It is prepared by Dr Aliaksandr Herasimenka with the assistance of Danielle Recanati.
Pro-Russian narratives are increasing their foothold in some areas of Ukraine. An article by The New York Times reports that as Russia advances into the Donbas, hijacked radio and television channels are broadcasting Russian disinformation and pro-war propaganda. Some residents in contested areas lack access to the internet and are exposed to the Russian state version of the events claiming that the Ukrainian military is shelling their homes.
US Big Tech has shared Ukrainian user data with a state-owned Russian company, and now the Russian military can use it. According to a ProPublica report, Google allowed RuTarget, which is owned by Russia’s largest state bank, to access data belonging to individuals browsing websites and apps in Ukraine as recently as June 23. Russian military and intelligence services can now use this online activity data to track individuals and locations of interest.
Russian state media content continues reaching EU audiences despite the bloc’s ban on five Russian broadcasters. ISD identified several loopholes that RT is leveraging to reach the EU information space, including websites that copy-paste articles from RT in their entirety; websites that direct traffic to RT; mirror websites; and variations of RT domain names. The analysis found that “posts that link to these domains have been shared over 456,000 times on Twitter and Facebook, with a significant peak identified at the beginning of April.”
One of the reasons Russian state propaganda has proved successful among some Russians is rooted in its canny use of imperial historical narratives. Evegeniya Pyatovskaya and Julia Khrebtan-Horhager argue in their Conversation article that Russian propaganda’s presentation of the country’s imperial past through a nostalgic lens and its accompanying appeals to former greatness is behind the war acceptance among some Russians. However, it is hard to determine the real scope of this acceptance as it is extremely difficult to conduct independent polling in Russia, research into authoritarian systems suggests.
Many online conversations among African audiences about the war in Ukraine include the elements of anti-western rhetoric. A Brookings analysis of over 2.5 million tweets generated by users in Africa found that much of the content is now focused on averting attention to other topics, rejecting criticism of Russia’s actions, and arguing that criticism of Russia is hypocritical. These tweets assert that other conflicts in countries such as Syria, Yemen, and Ethiopia are much direr than the war in Ukraine but have received less attention because Ukrainian lives are valued more than others. Researchers found that RT content is behind a significant portion of the retweeted content on this topic.
The collection of repositories on GitHub provides more than 70 tools related to the war in Ukraine. These tools range from simple donation and information solutions for websites to regularly updated sophisticated datasets analysing the course of the war.