EU Monitors See Coordinated COVID-19 Disinformation Effort By Iran, Russia, China
By RFE/RL April 22, 2020
BRUSSELS -- EU monitors have identified a "trilateral convergence of disinformation narratives" being promoted by China, Iran, and Russia on the coronavirus pandemic and say they are being "multiplied" in a coordinated manner, according to an internal document seen by RFE/RL.
The document, which is dated 20 April, says common themes are that the coronavirus is a biological weapon created in the United States to bring down opponents and that China, Iran, and Russia "are doing much better than the West" in fighting the epidemic.
It also states that Iranian leaders -- amplified by Russian media -- continue calling for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Iran, claiming that they are undermining the country's humanitarian and medical response to COVID-19.
The document says this is part of a wider Russian, Iranian, and Chinese "convergence" calling for a lifting of sanctions on Russia, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela -- all countries that have seen U.S. economic sanctions against them increase under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
In the case of Syria, the COVID-19 disinformation is used "to reinforce an anti-EU narrative that claims the bloc is perpetrating an "economic war" on the Middle Eastern country.
The 25-page document was written by the strategic communications division of the European diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service (EEAS).
It is a follow-up to an April report stating that Russia and China are deploying a campaign of disinformation around the coronavirus pandemic that could have "harmful consequences" for public health around the world.
In a March report, the EU monitors accused pro-Kremlin media outlets of actively spreading disinformation about the epidemic in an attempt to "undermine public trust" in Western countries.
The new report says Russia and to a lesser extent China continue to amplify "conspiracy narratives" aimed at both public audiences in the EU and the wider neighborhood. It further notes that official Russian sources and state media continue running a coordinated campaign aimed at undermining the EU and its crisis response and at sowing confusion about the health implications of COVID-19.
The document also states that most of the content identified by the EEAS continues to proliferate widely on social-media services such as Twitter and Facebook. It alleges that Google and other services that deliver advertisements "continue to monetise and incentivise harmful health disinformation by hosting paid ads on respective websites."
Representatives of those companies did not immediately respond to RFE/RL's request for comment.
According to analysis by the team, disinformation about the virus is going particularly viral in smaller media markets both inside and outside the EU in which technology giants "face lower incentives to take adequate countermeasures."
It adds that false or highly misleading content in languages such as Czech, Russian, and Ukrainian continues to go viral even when it has been flagged by local fact-checkers.
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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