Oxford Internet Institute has published a report on Monday which says that Coronavirus misinformation spread by Russian and Chinese journalists is finding a bigger audience on social media in France and Germany than content from the European nations’ own premier news outlets.
Articles written in French and German, often by foreign countries are going viral on Facebook and Twitter. Most of these articles peddle fake news and conspiracy theories regarding covid-19.
The institute, which is part of Oxford University, looked at content generated by leading media outlets from Russia and China, as well as from Iran and Turkey — all of which are state-controlled or closely aligned to regimes in power.
Its report comes as the US government imposes new restrictions on Chinese state media, and builds on previous research by the institute that laid bare the penetration of such foreign outlets in English-language markets.
In their French, German as well as Spanish output, state media groups have “politicised the coronavirus by criticising Western democracies, praising their home countries, and promoting conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus”, the institute said.
“A majority of the content in these outlets is factually based. But what they have, especially if you look at the Russian outlets, is an agenda to discredit democratic countries,” Oxford researcher Jonathan Bright told AFP.
“The subtle weave in the overarching narrative is that democracy is on the verge of collapse.”
The institute looked at output from Russia’s RT broadcaster and Sputnik news agency; China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International (CRI) and Xinhua News Agency; plus foreign-language output from Iranian and Turkish networks.
The report also examined content in German, French and Spanish from Turkey’s TRT network, which it said focussed more on positive portrayals of the Turkish government’s actions against the pandemic.
In contrast, Russian, Chinese and Iranian media all promoted baseless theories, including that the US military unleashed the coronavirus, which originated late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.