It is well known and documented for years that Russian propaganda in the United States, Germany, and other EU countries specifically aims to polarize. During the corona pandemic, we have witnessed a particularly large number of conflicts, discussions about restrictions of basic rights and vaccinations causing polarization and in some cases radicalization. These conflicts were mainly fueled by Russian propaganda narratives.
A data analysis by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) shows that RT DE is one of the most important keywords for vaccine deniers and opponents in Germany.
Even before YouTube blocked RT DE, their team of researchers had analyzed how successful certain RT DE headlines about Covid-19 were and what the interaction between the corona denier scene and the Russian state broadcaster was like. The analysts found: RT DE was able to reach a wide audience via YouTube: 84 of the top 100 most popular videos had more than 100,000 views at the time the data was collected from the beginning of March to the end of July 2021. The most popular video had 1.2 million views.
Out of RT DE’s 100 most-watched videos, 67 videos contained a reference to Covid-19. Again 61 of them had a critical position towards the corona measures in Germany, the USA, and other democracies as well as towards “Western” Covid-19 vaccines. Three were classified as neutral, one of the videos analyzed presented the pandemic situation in Russia in a positive light.
In addition, the researchers examined a selection of 279 German-language Telegram channels from the right-wing extremist and conspiracy ideological milieu. The result: RT DE was one of the most popular sources here.
By reporting on the Covid 19 pandemic, “RT DE has become an organic part of the online communities of Covid skeptics,” the ISD report demonstrates. RT DE is considered a trustworthy medium in these groups. In such forums, criticism of measures to contain the pandemic is usually combined with general criticism of the “system” – the established political institutions and media.
However, The influence of RT on conspiracy believers in Germany dates far beyond the pandemic. RT DE has established itself as a platform for conspiracy believers in Germany since at least 2012.
RT DE followers community have long sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin. long before the current Russian attack on Ukraine, NATO was portrayed in the relevant Telegram channels as a warmonger in the conflict. The narrative then changed on the day of the invasion to a “denazification” of Ukraine was necessary, Putin could not help but attack.
In another observation, Boris Reitschuster, who has become the star of the scene during the pandemic, took a critical position towards Putin that had caused him the loss of thousands of subscribers.
Today, many corona deniers believe that there is a direct connection between the pandemic and the Ukraine war. Some claim that the war is intended to distract from alleged vaccine damage. Others, on the other hand, immediately doubted the authenticity of the war. Basically, conspiracy believers have no problem believing in multiple contradictory narratives. One moment it’s said that there is no war, the next it’s good that there is war.
The extreme right in Germany is very divided though on the Ukraine question. For example, the NPD is against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The right-wing extremist group Freie Sachsen, on the other hand, is in favor and would like to open a People’s Republic of Saxony – in the hope that Putin will then recognize it.
Download the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) report here
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