WHO WE ARE?
Romanian Centre for European Policies (CRPE) is one of the leading Romanian think-tanks specialized in EU affairs, with over 10 years of experience in implementing European and regional projects. The mission of the CRPE is to promote Romania as an influential leader in the development of EU agendas and policies. Another major objective is to advance and promote democracy and a European agenda in the Eastern Partnership countries by providing expertise in various fields and by initiating or participating in public debates.
The project is set up to map the COVID-19 related disinformation campaigns in the countries that are subject to a prolific activity of Russian-backed propaganda. We aim to reveal some of the main fake narratives that have been spread in the region, who the main actors disseminating them are, who they target and what on the other side of the coin is – the disproof. The countries we cover are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
We set up for an exhaustive desk research to find out on our own what the most popular fake narratives in each country are. We look for information in the online sources such as: Russian broadcast pro-Kremlin media, local pro-Kremlin media, state media, and local obscure/shady websites that are known for disinformation. To guideline our research, we consult fact-checking websites that focus on deconstruction of the trending fake news. Additionally, we check the social media accounts of prominent public officials and influencers.
Following the desk research, we interviewed experts/journalists from each country to back up and deepen qualitatively our research. We aimed to get more inside and informal information on who are the most vocal pro-Russian public figures, what are the main media outlets to push for Kremlin propaganda, and what are the trusted fact-checking media sources. Also, we sought to receive insights on the target groups that are sensitive to disinformation and what are some legal actions of the authorities to fight disinformation.
Subsequent to our preliminary research, we were able to distinguish six big topics/categories of disinformation that are exploited in the region:
A: Spread of anti vaccine misinformation
Anti vaccine misinformation is a narrative with a long tradition that found its revival due to the new coronavirus infection. The narratives in this category illustrate the unfounded theories of fading public figures and (surprise!) the church on how dangerous the non-existent COVID-19 vaccine is. The category also covers the fruitful informal medicinal culture that beamed with alternative remedies on how to fight the virus.
B: Kremlin-backed propaganda and disinformation campaigns
The category shows what are the new narratives that Russia capitalized on following the COVID-19 outbreak. The narratives of the subcategory Russia: “A friend in need is a friend indeed” explore the unconditional and prompt humanitarian aid provided by Russia to the country of study, to the separatist region in that country (if applicable) and to other EU/Western countries. The purpose of the narrative is to portray a responsive and humane Russia that omits past troubles and tensions for the sake of the health of the citizens.
The purpose of the Russia: A tale of a superhero subcategory is to show how Russia attempts to build an image of an organized country that manages well the COVID-19 outbreak (A country one would love to associate with). We embraced narratives that emphasize on Russia’s prolific work in identifying a treatment and praise the well organized health system that helped the country fight the pandemic.
C: Improving self-image: China’s use of COVID-19 pandemic
China took its opportunity to advertise itself to the countries in the region as a friend. The narratives of this category cover China’s humanitarian aid to the countries in need.
D: Anti Western propaganda and undermining democracies
Under this category we gathered narratives that attack the EU, NATO, the US and other relevant Western countries and international organizations. The aim of these narratives is to undermine the efficiency of democracy and defame West support in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
E: Wide dissemination of popular conspiracy theories
This category presents the main conspiracies that were exploited during the pandemic. The creativity of bots, trolls and obscure public figures gave birth and propulsated narratives on the dangers of 5G, Bill Gates and the global occult and the mass chipping of the population.
F: Other disinformation campaigns
Under this category we present the unusual study cases of propaganda or disinformation that occured in the countries of our study.
Website logo taken from the Noun Project – By Symbolon, IT
Cover photo by Iza Gawrych on Unsplash
*Icons and images are taken from the Noun Project and Unsplash.