News stories on coronavirus in French, German, and Spanish languages are being published by state-backed outlets from China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, generating greater engagement across Facebook and Twitter than prominent domestic news media, according to new analysis from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), University of Oxford.

OII researchers have found that in some instances, French, German and Spanish language reporting from foreign state-backed outlets has greater impact than independent and established media in their respective countries, achieving a higher average engagement per article on Facebook and Twitter than major news outlets with larger distribution networks.

Outlets such as Russia Today (RT), producing French language coronavirus-related content, had five times as many engagements per shared article across Facebook and Twitter than prominent news source Le Monde.  Similarly, state backed outlet China Radio International (CRI) produced coronavirus content published in Spanish and generated over four times as many engagements per shared article across social media channels as leading Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Co-author of the latest data memo, Professor Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said:

“State-backed media from China, Iran, Russia, and Turkey are targeting French, German, and Spanish-speaking social media users around the world with news on coronavirus.”

Katarina Rebello, Research Assistant, Oxford Internet Institute, added:

“Many of these state-backed outlets blend reputable, fact-based reporting about the coronavirus with misleading or false information, which can lead to greater uncertainty among public audiences trying to make sense of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The researchers examined coronavirus coverage for key themes in state-backed narratives, finding significant variations by language and source country, specifically:

  • Russian outlets producing coronavirus content in French and German consistently emphasised weak democratic institutions and civil disorder in Europe.
  • Chinese and Turkish outlets producing Spanish content promoted their own countries global leadership in combating the pandemic.
  • Russian and Iranian outlets generated polarizing content targeted at Latin America and Spanish speaking social media users in the United States.

Read the full report.

For more information please call 01865 287220 or email press@oii.ox.ac.uk

Notes for editors

About the analysis

The report ‘Covid-19 News and Information from State-Backed Outlets targeting French, German and Spanish-Speaking Social Media Users’ is published by the Computational Propaganda Project, at the Oxford Internet Institute, part of the University of Oxford.  The research team define ‘state backed media outlets’ as organisations that are either directly funded by the state or are editorially managed by their governments. The outlets include international broadcasters and news agencies that have a major web presence.  The team collected data between 18 May 2020 and 5 June 2020.  Followers of state backed media outlets includes all Twitter accounts and Facebook pages/groups sharing content.  Engagement includes all potential reactions on Twitter.

About the Computational Propaganda Project

Computational Propaganda project research studies are published at https://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/publications/

About the Oxford Internet Institute

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. Drawing from many different disciplines, the OII works to understand how individual and collective behaviour online shapes our social, economic and political world. Since its founding in 2001, research from the OII has had a significant impact on policy debate, formulation and implementation around the globe, as well as a secondary impact on people’s wellbeing, safety and understanding. Drawing on many different disciplines, the OII takes a combined approach to tackling society’s big questions, with the aim of positively shaping the development of the digital world for the public good. https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/