Armenia is one of the countries in the Caucasus hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to imposing restrictions, early on, the authorities decided to attempt to fight the spread of the virus by tracking residents ’whereabouts and contacts through their telephones. This decision drew much criticism. Members of the Armenian Parliament stated that a voluntary application designed in Iran was adapted for the purpose of helping citizens determine if they had come in contact with the coronavirus.
The global pandemic has been a topic used by the leaders in government and the opposition. Some members of the opposition claimed that the pandemic was orchestrated to cancel the constitutional referendum, which was scheduled to take place in April. In addition, some MPs endorsed disinformation about the lack of efficiency of masks or their dangerous effects on health. Some MPs publicly refused to wear masks.
Anti-globalist discourse is also quite widespread and its main vectors are far-right and opposition groups criticizing both the government and the NGOs. Far-right and pro-Russian actors are disseminating conspiracy theories about US bio-labs operating in Armenia. Other conspiracy theories “inform” the public that the virus was created by a professor at Harvard University who has been arrested. Soros and Bill Gates are depicted as the masterminds behind the pandemic. Conspiracy narratives also explore regional tensions. An Armenian source claimed that Azerbaijan was paying the Armenian Prime Minister for the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
Despite widespread misinformation and propaganda by some representatives in healthcare, a survey conducted in July 2020 revealed that the vast majority of respondents continue to trust the healthcare system and health experts (54% – Fully Trust / 27% – Rather Trust). Only around twenty-six percent (26%) of the respondents stated that they trust social media, making it the most distrusted “institution”. Hopefully, this means that the misinformation spread via social media platforms had little impact on the population (true at least for the respondents to the survey).
Media & Legislation
As Armenia continues to have record high cases of Covid-19 infections, there is a growing consensus that along with government mismanagement disinformation campaigns played a significant role in worsening the epidemiological situation. It is important to mention that the Armenian information space is being flooded with fake news and disinformation. With regard to dissemination of fake news, there is no special legislation.