Russia is successfully continuing its online disinformation campaigns, with hundreds of professionally-produced videos making their way on to YouTube, a new report reveals.
According to watchdog Newsguard, despite a ban, full-length propaganda films created by state-owned Russian TV station RT and justifying the war are still rife on YouTube.
It has uncovered 250 uploads of 50 such videos across more than 100 YouTube channels since the ban, which have between them garnered more than half a million views.
Many use harrowing footage of the aftermath of Russian strikes, while claiming that Ukraine has systematically targeted ethnic Russians in the east of the country. One describes NATO as the ‘reincarnation’ of Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht and SS.
One channel sharing the RT content is run by Mike Jones, a British ‘journalist’ and former YouTube gamer living in Russia; another by ex-US police officer John Mark Dougan.
YouTube banned RT and other state-funded TV channels this time last year. It now says it’s removed more than 9,000 channels and more than 85,000 videos related to the war for violating its community guidelines, and has also blocked more than 800 YouTube channels and four million videos associated with Russian state-funded news channels globally.
However, new videos appear as fast as they can be taken down. Last year, indeed, RT’s editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, commented: “Without using our brand, we open a channel on YouTube, it gets millions of views in a few days. After three days [YouTube’s] intelligence services figure it out […] and close it.”
Meanwhile, a report from the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) indicates that as the war has dragged on, the focus of Russian disinformation has shifted.
While there’s still emphasis on justifying the initial military action and demoralizing Ukraine, efforts are also being focused on disguising the high costs in terms of Russian casualties and on claims that the west is suffering.
This is reflected in Newsguard’s findings, with several of the RT videos it uncovered claiming that sanctions have had little impact on Russia, while devastating European economies.
In many cases, says DFRLab, more than one competing narrative is presented, with no attempt to reconcile them.
“This approach of producing ‘alternative’ explanations sows doubt among audiences that do not closely follow the war while providing ammunition for Kremlin sympathizers who actively support it,” the authors say.
“These explanations create media noise so that people who do not follow the war closely develop the impression that the truth is contested, lessening the chance of them supporting Ukraine in the conflict.”