ArchivedAugust 24 2022, 17:08 pm

Russia’s Popular Spanish-Language Propaganda Accounts Are Losing Reach

The Ger­man Mar­shall Fund’s Alliance for Secur­ing Democ­ra­cy, a US think tank, is report­ing that the reach of the pop­u­lar Span­ish-lan­guage social media accounts of Russ­ian state media out­lets RT and Sput­nik has con­sis­tent­ly declined in recent months. At the same time, the report says new media accounts and the accounts of Russ­ian jour­nal­ists and diplo­mats have start­ed to make up for some of the lost engage­ment. Accord­ing to a GMF report:

August 16, 2022 Russia’s Span­ish-lan­guage social media accounts have con­sis­tent­ly punched above their weight, with fol­low­er num­bers and engage­ment totals far out­pac­ing those of Russia’s oth­er exter­nal fac­ing mes­sen­gers. The suc­cess of Russia’s Span­ish-lan­guage out­lets has even drawn the atten­tion of US law­mak­ers, who last month urged Meta, Twit­ter, and Telegram to crack down on Russ­ian state media accounts tar­get­ing Span­ish speak­ers in the West­ern Hemi­sphere. While Russia’s Span­ish-lan­guage con­tent remains pop­u­lar, data col­lect­ed on ASD’s Hamil­ton 2.0 tool and Facebook’s Crowd­Tan­gle tool show that some of Russia’s most influ­en­tial Span­ish-lan­guage accounts have been hit hard by plat­form restric­tions. For these accounts, like RT en Español, ini­tial engage­ment spikes at the start of the war have been fol­lowed by months of per­sis­tent decline. New media accounts and accounts for indi­vid­ual jour­nal­ists have start­ed to make up for that lost engage­ment, though, and Russia’s Span­ish-speak­ing diplo­mats have seen sig­nif­i­cant growth. Some diplo­mats are now as vis­i­ble on social media as state-backed out­lets, rais­ing ques­tions about the effi­ca­cy of poli­cies that treat state-fund­ed media and state offi­cials differently.

Read the full report here.

The report notes that while the RT en Español Twit­ter account gen­er­at­ed over 600,000 retweets and more than 1,1 mil­lion likes in the first month of the war, its retweets and likes were down by over 70 per­cent in July. Sim­i­lar­ly, the Sput­nik Mun­do Face­book account earned almost 900,000 inter­ac­tions dur­ing the first month of the war. Still, the num­ber declined by 56 per­cent the next month and has con­tin­ued to decrease since then.

The Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed that RT en Español, which has 200 Span­ish-speak­ing employ­ees and offices in Venezuela, Cuba, and Argenti­na, has amassed more than  18 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Face­book and almost six mil­lion on YouTube. This makes the Span­ish RT branch the sec­ond most-watched Span­ish-lan­guage news chan­nel on YouTube and shows how Russ­ian state-owned Span­ish-lan­guage media out­lets are out­per­form­ing their US coun­ter­parts out­side West­ern infor­ma­tion spaces where antipa­thy for the West is deep and sym­pa­thy for Rus­sia real.

In 2017, the NYT char­ac­ter­ized RT as follows:

Ana­lysts are sharply divid­ed about the influ­ence of RT. Point­ing to its minus­cule rat­ings num­bers, many cau­tion against over­stat­ing its impact. Yet focus­ing on rat­ings may miss the point, says Peter Pomer­ant­sev, who wrote a book three years ago that described Russia’s use of tele­vi­sion for pro­pa­gan­da. “Rat­ings aren’t the main thing for them,” he said. “These are cam­paigns for finan­cial, polit­i­cal and media influ­ence.” RT and Sput­nik pro­pel those cam­paigns by help­ing cre­ate the fod­der for thou­sands of fake news prop­a­ga­tors and pro­vid­ing anoth­er out­let for hacked mate­r­i­al that can serve Russ­ian inter­ests, said Ben Nim­mo, who stud­ies RT for the Atlantic Coun­cil. What­ev­er its impact, RT is unques­tion­ably a case study in the com­plex­i­ty of mod­ern pro­pa­gan­da. It is both a slick mod­ern tele­vi­sion net­work, dressed up with great visu­als and styl­ish pre­sen­ters, and a con­tent farm that helps feed the Euro­pean far right. View­ers find it dif­fi­cult to dis­cern exact­ly what is jour­nal­ism and what is pro­pa­gan­da, what may be “fake news” and what is real but pre­sent­ed with a strong slant.

Sput­nik is a Russ­ian state-owned news agency estab­lished in 2014 and oper­at­ing in over 30 lan­guages. It has been fre­quent­ly accused of spread­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion and is mon­i­tored by the strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion divi­sions of the EU and NATO.


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