Disinfowatch, a Canadian website tracking foreign disinformation, reported earlier this month that China, Russia, and Iran have used a national tragedy in Canada to discredit the country’s reputation as human rights defender and deflect from their own human rights abuses. According to the Disininfowatch report:
October 8, 2021 The discovery of unmarked graves at former Canadian residential schools in spring 2021 received widespread coverage by Canadian national media over the past four months. But coverage of this topic has not been exclusive to domestic outlets; state-owned media in China, Russia, and Iran have devoted significant coverage to the subject while state-controlled social media accounts have actively amplified these foreign narratives. In so doing, these regimes have exploited the residential schools tragedy in order to discredit Canada and its voice as a global defender of human rights.
Authoritarian regimes often use a rhetorical tactic called “whataboutism” as part of their information and influence operations, whereby negative stories in western liberal media are exploited by these regimes in order to deflect attention away from their criminal activity and human rights abuses. Whataboutism was a frequent Cold War tactic of Soviet propagandists, who would, for example, point to the mistreatment of Black Americans whenever Soviet terror and repression were mentioned by Western media and officials. While historical and current injustices in liberal democratic societies must be addressed, the weaponization of those issues by malign foreign regimes for the purpose of propaganda, must be recognized, analyzed and exposed.
Read the full report here.
According to the report, China used the resident school tragedy to distract from its human rights violations in Xinjiang by creating a false moral equivalency between the two events. Russia and Iran, on the other hand, have exploited the issue as a mechanism to discredit the Canadian government and undermine the country’s credibility on human rights issues.
The report notes that Chinese English-language state media sites Xinhua, China Global Television Network (CGTN), and The Global Times collectively wrote 94 articles about the resident school tragedy while Russian English-language state media outlets RT, Sputnik, and TASS published 28 articles, and Iran’s Press TV published 16 articles.