Dealing with disinformation is often psychologically draining – both for its creators as well as for those fighting against it. To be constantly immersed in lies and distortive half-truths, unmoored from reality, takes a toll on us all.
This is why it is sometimes refreshing to highlight how absurd, even laughable, pro-Kremlin disinformation can be. Like the claim that Facebook uses Ukrainian Nazis to fight Russia. Or that the US and Ukraine are plotting to bomb Siberia. Or that the US will turn Crimea into a nuclear desert.
Let’s take a look at some of this week’s most outrageous cases.
“NATO is an aggressive coronavirus of capitalism”
That pro-Kremlin disinformation consistently portrays NATO as an aggressive project of US imperialism is of course well known – but to describe it as a “militaristic coronavirus of capitalism directed against global progress” is another level of venomous nonsense. Perhaps this is the pro-Kremlin media’s way of expressing frustration that NATO’s principle of collective defence is highly “infectious”, and has an enduring appeal especially to countries that suffered under Soviet imperialism. This is a position the pro-Kremlin media is incapable of acknowledging, and instead chooses to repeat the discredited lie that the West promised Moscow NATO wouldn’t expand eastward.
“Kyiv agrees to carry out genocide of Ukrainian citizens in exchange for IMF loans”
Demonising Ukraine is one of the most stalwart elements of the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign, which has no shame in making egregiously false claims like that Ukrainian government officials agreed with the IMF to reduce the national population to 10 million people. In addition to being genocidal, Kyiv is also portrayed as petty as cruel – allegedly confiscating the apartments and cars of people who do not want to join an attack on Donbas. It’s hard to fathom that anyone could be persuaded by such blatant fabrications, but the pro-Kremlin media seems to think it’s worth investing in such absurd content. Ukraine is supposedly a fake country, a colony of the US Democratic Party, and/or a puppet state fully controlled by George Soros.
“Italian fight against coronavirus ‘fake news’ could lead to an Orwellian system of thought control”
Dis- and misinformation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has raised serious concerns about the negative consequences for public health and safety. Governments and social media companies are grappling with how best to mitigate the problem. But instead of sharing these concerns and doing its part to prevent the spread of false content, the pro-Kremlin media is accusing the West of suppressing free speech. Italy’s attempts to tackle coronavirus disinformation are described as “a climate of witch hunts typical of a system that considers dissidents as enemies who should be destroyed”. Estonia, meanwhile, is accused of pursuing “overt repression of objectionable media”, following its enforcement of EU sanctions against Russia, which led to the shuttering of the Sputnik office in Tallinn. Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of Russian state media company Rossiya Segodnya – which controls Sputnik – is on the EU sanctions list for his support of the annexation of Crimea and armed intervention in eastern Ukraine.
Pro-Kremlin outlets also regularly complain about social media policies designed to curb harmful content and increase transparency, claiming that they amount to censorship and even persecution of Russian users. Facebook’s decision to label state-controlled media has not been well received, and the pro-Kremlin media is taking out its anger by claiming that Facebook’s moderation and fact-checking efforts are apparently controlled by Soros, Ukrainian Nazis, Baltic gays, and other undesirables. Sputnik also claimed that Facebook will start These complaints are of course unsurprising, given that pro-Kremlin disinformation is also targeted by these policies. On the coronavirus, for example, pro-Kremlin outlets are still spreading lies about Bill Gates’ microchip plot and the artificial origins of the virus for purposes of bioterrorism.
Check out the rest of this week’s cases below – topics include the US protests, Flight MH17, historical revisionism, and alleged Western intervention in the Russian constitutional referendum.