Russian fake news and troll factories are notorious phenomena of recent years. Our non-governmental organization has been working to address the issue of Russian disinformation since the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014.
Based on that practical experience we realized that Russian propaganda is a method based on narratives, which in the research we suggest to measure as key structural elements of disinformation campaigns. Once established narratives are supported by a deliberately manipulated interpretation of real events.
In order to prove our assumptions we have thoroughly studied all broadcasts and political talk-shows on the three biggest Russian national TV channels for the period of 3,5 years: July 1, 2014 – December 31, 2017. Based on monitoring data the research concludes that 88% of all negative news (22’711 mentions) about Europe can be categorized in six key narratives. These narratives keep the Russian audience’s attention in the desired frame and encourage to change their perceptions in comparison to just fake news because even when they are countered by arguments they do not fail. This fundamentally changed the whole paradigm of news, facts, and events which are used to support prepared propaganda.
In the research, we present a detailed analysis of the Russian media landscape, a breakdown of Russian disinformation about European countries and a description of narratives, all with case studies and quotes. Although this disinformation is targeted towards a Russian domestic audience we believe it is important for our European colleagues to be aware of the threats emerging from this.
Top Russian TV channels are deliberately dehumanizing an average European, they are depicting European (liberal) values as “toxic” and they are convincing Russians that they have the right to be aggressive towards Europe and Europeans. For instance, European countries are mentioned 18 times daily in a negative context on the channels that were researched (compared to “only” 6 daily ads of Coca-Cola). The average ratio of negative to positive news is 85% to 15%, and there are only two countries, which Russian TV covers positively: Belarus and Switzerland. Daily life in Europe is shown as very insecure, unstable and immoral. The total quantity of negative news has increased by 87% from July ’14 to December ’17.
The research was publicly presented at the 5th Annual Tallinn Conference on the Eastern Partnership