On social media, coronavirus-related content published by RT and Sputnik in France, Germany and Spain can achieve higher average engagement per article than reputable media outlets, a recent study by the Oxford Internet Institute found.
For example, RT and Sputnik content in Spanish at times reached up to 16 times greater engagement on Twitter and Facebook than major outlets, such as El Pais and El Mundo. Some RT and Sputnik articles in French reached up to 5 times more engagement compared to content produced by Le Monde and Le Figaro; in German, nearly 2 times, compared to Der Siegel and Tagesschau.
Over the course of three weeks in May and June, the researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute monitored the Spanish, French and German-language distribution of COVID-19 news from Russian, Chinese, Iranian and Turkish state-backed outlets. The researchers found that while state-backed outlets from Russia, China, Iran and Turkey have smaller distribution networks compared to the major news outlets and could not match their overall volume of engagement, they managed to attract significant median engagement per article rivaling established media.
This illustrates how foreign state-backed media is able to polarise debates on social media networks – which, ironically, are forbidden in China and Iran.
According to the Oxford Internet Institute, the most engaging coronavirus-related reporting distributed by state-backed media outlets presented a combination of both reputable and false or misleading information that attempted to undermine Western democracies, bolster their own success, and fuel conspiracy theories.
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