EU reports that Russia has launched a disinformation campaign about COVID-19
Reuters reports that Russian media have launched a "significant disinformation campaign" against the West in order to worsen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and spark distrust and panic, according to a European Union document. "A significant disinformation campaign is being waged by Russian state media and pro-Kremlin media about the COVID-19 disease," the internal document, dated Monday, reads.
The increase in activity by disinformation peddlers from Russia was confirmed today by a European Commission spokesperson. The Kremlin has denied the allegations.
"The main aim of the Kremlin disinformation is to intensify the crisis in public health care in Western countries ... in accordance with their broader strategy of attempting to disrupt European society," reads the document, which was created inside the European External Action Service, the EU's diplomatic service and combined foreign and defense ministry. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov called the allegations unfounded and lacking in common sense.
"We're talking about unsubstantiated accusations that are most probably, under the current situation, the result of anti-Russian obsession," Reuters quoted Peskov as saying. According to European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano, Brussels is registering growth in the number of disinformation communications being disseminated in association with COVID-19, including from "sources in Russia or sources identified in the past as pro-Kremlin."
The Commission has beefed up its monitoring of social media and is doing its best to trace those who first post untruths, the spokesperson said, adding that Brussels has also contacted Moscow about the issue, without result. "Whoever disseminates this ... is playing with human lives," Stano warned.
News of the nine-page document analyzing the attempt by the Kremlin to exploit the pandemic in order to disrupt the West from within, aided by the dissemination of chaos and fear, has also appeared in other media outlets. According to Russian news server Inosmi.ru, the document warns, among other things, that the effectiveness of how social media platforms are clearing content about COVID-19 for posting and sharing is not yet certain.
An EU database has recorded almost 80 different cases of disinformation points online about COVID-19 since 22 January. The document also warns that people and Internet accounts associated with the Russian state have moved away from subjects such as Syria, or the protests by the "yellow vests" in France, to disseminating disinformation about the novel coronavirus.
One example is the idea that the COVID-19 virus was engineered by human beings and that "the West" has transformed it into a weapon. The disinformation targeting Italy is concentrating on casting doubt on the ability of the authorities to cope with the infection.
In the Spanish-language disinformation, apocalyptic stories are being disseminated accusing capitalists of attempting to exploit the virus to enrich themselves. Praise for how brilliantly Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin are allegedly coping with the infection is also part of the disinformation.
According to the analysis, between 1 January and 12 March there were more than 6.8 million shares of "news" reports from the pro-Kremlin RT television channel in Spanish on Facebook, Reddit and Twitter, making it the twelfth most-popular information source online, overtaking several Western media outlets. Russia has rejected previous accusations by Western governments and secret services that it has been conducting disinformation campaigns and influencing public opinion, especially with regard to the election of Donald Trump during the US presidential elections in 2016.
The British Government one week ago established a special team of experts to combat deceptive, misleading information about the novel coronavirus that is being sent through the Internet. A similar team to combat disinformation was created there in 2018 aiming to curb the impact of Russian propaganda associated with the poisoning of the former British spy inside of Russian intelligence, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia in the southern English town of Salisbury.
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