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German-Speaking Anti-Vaxxers and Right-Wing Populists More Susceptible to Russian Propaganda, Study Finds

March 9th, 2022 15:30

The Insti­tute for Strate­gic Dia­logue (ISD), a UK think tank, has pub­lished a study on Ger­man-lan­guage dis­in­for­ma­tion about the Russ­ian inva­sion of Ukraine on Face­book. The study shows that the online Ger­man-speak­ing com­mu­ni­ties of Covid-19 skep­tics, anti-vaxxers, far-right and right-wing pop­ulists are more sus­cep­ti­ble to Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da. Accord­ing to the ISD study:

March 1, 2022 In this Dig­i­tal Dis­patch, we will share sev­er­al trends that we observed in Ger­man-lan­guage Face­book groups dur­ing the days pri­or to Russia’s inva­sion, and in the days imme­di­ate­ly after it. The per­sis­tence with which the Russ­ian author­i­ties have been try­ing to obtain a broad­cast­ing license for its Ger­man-lan­guage TV chan­nel RT DE (Rus­sia Today Deutsch) high­light how impor­tant the Ger­man audi­ence is for the Russ­ian state. […] In mid-Feb­ru­ary, as the risk of a full-scale war start­ed to grow, we decid­ed to inves­ti­gate how the same Face­book groups that had fre­quent­ly shared COVID-19 videos by RT DE were dis­cussing the sit­u­a­tion, and what links and web domains they had been post­ing. […] As this study of Face­book groups has shown, online Ger­man-speak­ing com­mu­ni­ties of COVID-19 scep­tics, anti-vaxxers, far-right and right-wing pop­ulists are among those more sus­cep­ti­ble to Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da. In the months pri­or to Russia’s inva­sion, these com­mu­ni­ties – who were pre­vi­ous­ly shar­ing RT DE COVID-19 mis­in­for­ma­tion on Face­book – began to share con­tent from RT DE more fre­quent­ly than any oth­er news web­sites in their posts about Rus­sia and Ukraine.   Pro-Krem­lin nar­ra­tives from oth­er web­sites are also being shared in these groups in the form of videos and links. This type of dis­in­for­ma­tion, which echoes Russ­ian state lines with­out direct ref­er­ence to Russ­ian state media, will arguably not dis­ap­pear after the offi­cial accounts of Russ­ian state media are blocked from platforms.

Read the full study here.

The Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report has pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed on sev­er­al stud­ies exam­in­ing sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da, and which have found :

  • Ukraini­ans with stronger ana­lyt­ic rea­son­ing skills are bet­ter insu­lat­ed against Russ­ian propaganda.
  • Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da is par­tic­u­lar­ly suc­cess­ful in Cen­tral and West­ern Balkan coun­tries because of its post-com­mu­nist lega­cy, pan-Slav­ism, the role of the Ortho­dox Church, and a deeply embed­ded cul­ture of corruption.
  • Ser­bia is the East­ern Euro­pean coun­try most sus­cep­ti­ble to Russ­ian and Chi­nese influence.
  • Lithuan­ian counter-mea­sures against Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion such as ban­ning Russ­ian broad­cast­ers or cre­at­ing media lit­er­a­cy projects made the Lithuan­ian pop­u­la­tion less sus­cep­ti­ble to disinformation.

In March 2021, we report­ed that an EU study had found Ger­many is the main focus of Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts in Europe. In May, we report­ed on a NATO study exam­in­ing how Rus­sia has used “infor­ma­tion laun­der­ing process­es” to spread its influ­ence in the Ger­man media envi­ron­ment, tar­get­ing report­ing about Covid-19, Alex­ei Naval­ny, and North Stream‑2.