In Defying the Odds, we discuss social media, fake news, and Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign. The update -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.
The historic impeachment proceedings against President Trump are big news in Russia. And there is little question which side the government — or the influential TV networks it controls — is on.Clint Watts at the Foreign Policy Research Institute:
Asked about the impeachment hearings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov coyly replied: “It’s none of our business, we would prefer not to comment.” But he then immediately contradicted himself by attempting to discredit the inquiry: “Let’s just say that there are a lot of far-fetched things, various scandalous stories, where Russia was mentioned, where, in fact, there are very few — negligibly few — facts that have any relation to truth and reality. We’re not going to comment on everything happening right now with the impeachment.”
Kremlin-funded Russian state television has openly sided with Trump throughout the Ukraine scandal and even during the events that led up to it. For months on end, Dmitry , the host of a Sunday news show called “Vesti Nedeli” (or “The Weekly News”) on state-controlled television station Rossiya-24, encouraged Trump’s push for a Ukrainian investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son, as well as the groundless theory that Ukraine — not Russia — interfered in U.S. presidential elections in 2016.
To understand Russia’s upcoming influence and interference activities, I offer an alternative approach: read and listen to what Russia says publicly first before scouring piles of social media data in search of their trolls. Whether it’s 2016 or 2020, the Kremlin doesn’t hide its opinions on who it’d like in the White House. Analysis of overt foreign propaganda provides essential reconnaissance for searching out covert social media influence. Collation of Kremlin talking points about candidates also helps to distinguish international disinformation from domestic disinformation and misinformation.
To understand where, why, how and for whom Russia might interfere in the 2020 presidential election, the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s (FPRI) Foreign Influence Election 2020 (FIE 2020) Project has assembled a research team to read, analyze and report on what Kremlin state-sponsored news outlets say with regards to the 2020 U.S. election and the presidential candidates.
The FIE 2020 Project’s first batch of analysis examines the following question:
“What does Russian state media say about the Democratic candidates?”
The research team analyzed 1,711 Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News articles from January 1 to November 10, 2019 that pertained to the 2020 presidential election (705 RT stories, 1,006 Sputnik News stories). Those 1,711 stories hosted 2,772 mentions of either the president, Republican candidates or Democratic candidates for president in 2020. More than half of those mentions referenced President Trump, which will be analyzed in a separate upcoming post. The team also logged an additional 319 mentions of former presidents and presidential candidates, which will be analyzed separately as well. Mentions were evaluated as “neutral,” “favorable” of the candidate or “unfavorable” of the candidate. (For more on the FIE 2020 methodology, see here.)
Russian outlets clearly do not like former Vice President Biden
- Of the 331 times Biden surfaced in RT and Sputnik News, 53% of the mentions were negative.
- Biden received the most mentions of any Democratic candidate and is the only candidate in the entire presidential field to receive more negative mentions than neutral mentions, or than neutral mentions and positive mentions combined.
- For Russia thus far, Biden is to 2020 what Hilary Clinton was to 2016.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is the overwhelming favorite of Kremlin news outlets
- Since January 1, 2019, Gabbard has been mentioned 61 times, ranking sixth in total mentions just behind O’Rourke.
- Gabbard is the only candidate assessed to receive more positive mentions (28) than negative mentions (6), and more positive mentions (28) than neutral mentions (27).