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Conspiratorial influencers | Russian propaganda relayed in Quebec

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A handful of Quebec conspiracy influencers, who have been very active against health measures for two years, are speaking out for propaganda campaigns emanating from the Russian government. The way in which they receive and adapt the discourse of the Kremlin, however, remains nebulous in the eyes of many experts consulted by The Press.

On March 6, a multitude of official Russian government accounts, including those of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, simultaneously published a tweet in English: as part of its “special military operation”, the Kremlin claimed having collected evidence that Kyiv had “eradicated traces of a military biological weapons program in Ukraine” funded by the United States Department of Defense.

The ambassadors of the United States and Ukraine have both vigorously denied to the UN having created any biological weapons program. The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the World Health Organization have done the same.

Two days later, Quebec conspiracy influencer Alexis Cossette-Trudel devoted a full one-hour program on alternative social networks to Ukrainian “biolabs”, “biological warfare laboratories” which he compared to the Institute of Virology. of Wuhan, in China, from where the virus responsible for the COVID-19 would have emanated in order to create the pandemic from scratch. “It’s exactly the same narrative, the same speech. The West funding biological, warfare research labs abroad,” argued Mr. Cossette-Trudel, according to whom “globalist governments” seek to provoke World War III against Russia because of the COVID pandemic. -19 was “a failure” to control the population.


SCREENSHOT FROM RADIOQUÉBEC

Alexis Cossette-Trudel

The next day, the number of searches for the term “biolabs” made from Quebec was rapidly growing, suggests data from Google Trends, a Google tool for detecting popularity trends on the Internet.

Amplify misinformation

Timothy Graham, a Queensland University researcher who has scrutinized the activities of 75 official Twitter accounts attached to the Russian government, argues that these play a major role in spreading and amplifying misinformation. Because these are official government accounts, they are completely shielded from Twitter messages warning that false or misleading information regarding the war in Ukraine could be spread.

It is thereafter that the mechanism seems to become more complex. Russian disinformation is often relayed in the West in the English language by official state news media, such as Russia Today (RT) or Sputnik, by more obscure Twitter accounts presumably linked to the Russian government, by automated accounts (bots) and by pro-Russian citizen activists. “This misinformation circulates a lot on applications like Telegramon the Russian social network VKontakte (VK)” and on a multitude of alternative social platforms, where it is gradually interpreted and transformed by different influencers, explains researcher Aaron Erlich.

It is always very difficult to find the point of origin.

Researcher Aaron Erlich

A “symbiotic relationship”

The thin line that separates misinformation from actual conspiracy theories then disappears within communities that follow conspiracy influencers on social media. “It’s almost a symbiotic relationship,” says University of Washington researcher Kate Starbird, co-founder of the Center for an Informed Public. Sometimes it seems like Russian misinformation feeds conspiratorial influencers and then grows and blossoms within their communities. On other occasions, it seems like conspiracy theories emerge organically [de leurs réseaux] before being amplified by Russian disinformation agents. There is a kind of collaboration between the two,” she says.


SCREENSHOT FROM TWITTER

Tweet by Mel Goyer

Alexis Cossette-Trudel is not the only one to relay them. Influencer Mel Goyer, very active in the anti-mask movement, also relayed information about “secret biological labs” in Ukraine. Several other influencers very regularly evoke the conflict in Ukraine by attributing several abuses to the Azov regiment, a Ukrainian military unit whose members display their neo-Nazi allegiance.

Very brief checks carried out by The Press with Google Trends suggest that in Quebec, it takes one to two days after the dissemination of disinformation tweets in English from the Russian authorities before the themes are francized and begin to gain popularity.

“Although it is not necessarily easy to discern the origin of disinformation, the objective remains the same: to destabilize and divide the opposition, to have the support of public opinion, to weaken the posture of a country or of a government with regard to the conflict and to sow doubt and discord,” says researcher Guilhem Aliaga, affiliated with the UNESCO-PREV Chair at the University of Sherbrooke.

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