State report: Russian, Chinese, and Iranian disinformation narratives echoing each other

Source: Politico | April 21, 2020 | Betsy Woodruff Swan

The three governments are pushing a host of matching messages, including that the novel coronavirus was an American bioweapon.

China, Iran and Russia are using the coronavirus crisis to launch a propaganda and disinformation onslaught against the United States, the State Department warns in a new report.

The three governments are pushing a host of matching messages: that the novel coronavirus was an American bioweapon, that the U.S. was scoring political points off the crisis, that the virus didn’t come from China, that U.S. troops spread it, that America’s sanctions are killing Iranians, that China’s response was great while the U.S.’s was negligent, that all three governments are managing the crisis well, and that the U.S. economy can’t bear the toll of the virus.

The report, which is not public, was produced by the department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) — a fledgling office focused on the global information wars — and reviewed by POLITICO. It makes the case that propaganda and disinformation narratives from those country’s governments have converged as coronavirus has spread. And it says that while the three governments have pushed out the same messages in the past, the global pandemic has seen the convergence of their messaging accelerate.

Some of the disinformation is produced by state-run media outlets, and some has been put out by the governments themselves. A website run by Russia’s Defense Ministry, for instance, highlighted the conspiracy theory that billionaire Bill Gates played a role in creating the virus.

Before the virus spread outside of China, per the report, the overlap between the three governments’ messaging was fairly narrow: They all defended President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela, which the U.S. and other Western powers do not recognize as legitimate; and argued the U.S. fails to uphold its commitments to international agreements.

But by February 2020, according to the report, the messaging began to converge. The report argues this came and accelerated as those governments have struggled to keep public opinion in their own countries on their side.

One core message has been that China is a strong global health leader and that the United States, meanwhile, is a weak ally. Lea Gabrielle, who helms the GEC, told POLITICO that China has also let Russia’s propaganda efforts targeting the U.S. spread through its country — where the Beijing government’s internet censorship is notorious and relentless.


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