EUvsDisinfo, a European Union-funded disinformation watchdog, is reporting that Russia is using “weaponized victimhood” as a strategy to further its disinformation efforts. EUvsDisinfo argues that this kind of victimhood, a sense of loss of power when a traditionally privileged status position is challenged, has evolved into a major component of the Kremlin’s policy-making. According to the EUvsDisinfo report:
August 5, 2021 Several researchers note that the role of the victim is a coveted position in modern public discourse. Research points to this phenomenon in US politics, among men accused of sexual harassment – “I’m the victim here!” – and as an element in Kremlin disinformation efforts. EUvsDisinfo has observed this on several occasions – here, for instance, or here. This approach is called “weaponised victimhood”, and is defined in research along the following lines: Weaponised victimhood speaks to a felt sense of loss of power and esteem among social groups facing challenges to their traditionally privileged status positions.
A privileged party – in this case Russia, one of the world’s most powerful and advanced countries – describes itself as a victim of aggression. Victimhood has evolved into a major component of the Kremlin’s policy-making. The Russian state describes itself as “encircled by unfriendly forces” while a “treacherous ‘fifth column’ is attacking” the Russian state from within. In the EUvsDisinfo database, this approach is documented in the Litvinenko, Skripal and Navalny cases, in the MH17 case, the case of the public protests in Russia in January 2021 and even as a pretext to Russia’s slow vaccine roll-out.
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The report notes that Russia is frequently playing out what it calls “Reducatio ad Hitlerlum” to persuade audiences to disapprove of an action or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups held in contempt by the target audience.
China is another country that has weaponized victimhood to further its disinformation efforts: In July, we reported that Chinese-state-linked social media accounts were running a disinformation operation targeting the Chinese diaspora involving the anti-racist #StopAsianHate campaign. The operation illustrated the Chinese Communist Party’s common tactic of using accusations of racism to deflect criticism.
Recent GIOR reporting on Russia’s disinformation efforts has included:
- In July, we reported on Russian attempts to further capitalize on the recent growing controversy in the US over a mischaracterization of Critical Race Theory.
- In July, we reported that actors linked to Russian disinformation operations are targeting American far-right audiences on alternative online platforms.
- In May, we reported that pro-Kremlin media outlets were using the tense situation at the Russian-Ukrainian border to spread narratives targeting the annual NATO exercises along with Ukraine.