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Disinformation that can kill: coronavirus-related narratives of Kremlin propaganda

Disinformation Can Kill
There is only one priority now: all national, European, and international resources are focused on containing the COVID-19 outbreak. The virus is spreading fast; hundreds of thousands are ill, thousands are dying. Lives depend on accurate and timely information. As Josep Borrelll, head of the European External Action Service, said at a press conference earlier this week: “Disinformation is playing with people’s lives. Disinformation can kill.

This dangerous game has gone on for two months now. The first piece of disinformation we recorded on the coronavirus appeared in Russian state-funded Sputnik News on January 22nd. The narrative was in place from the beginning: the virus is man-made; a weapon created by NATO. With minor variations, we see the same claim repeated ad nauseam this week. The US constructed the virus; the Pentagon did it; the ruling elites… The purpose of this supposed fiendish scheme is to introduce world tyranny and secure American hegemony; third world countries – indeed anyone living south of the 40th parallel! – are the target of the Evil West.

Sowing Distrust

On the one hand, pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets claim that the outbreak is a hoax. On the other, they indulge apocalyptic scenarios, suggesting that due to the pandemic the Schengen system has collapsed, NATO will dissolve, the EU is paralyzed, the Baltic states are doomed, there are no doctors in Lithuania, and Ukraine is in free fall. The entire project of “globalization” is over! The coronavirus is the EU’s Chernobyl. But then the whiplash comes again: The virus is not dangerous at all. It can be cured with saline in four days, what’s the problem?

The problem is that the virus, in fact, cannot be “cured with saline”. Anyone following this advice risks not only their own health but also the health – or worse, the lives – of other people.

Almost half of this week’s disinformation cases are devoted, in one way or another, to the COVID-19 outbreak. An overarching goal of this campaign is to sow distrust wherever possible: in the healthcare system (it’s controlled by Big Pharma to introduce mandatory vaccination!), national institutions (like in Sweden, where they are controlled by oligarchs), the EU (it’s just failing all in all), and the World Health Organisation (it’s an instrument of the government – what government, you ask? The shadow government!).

Meanwhile, the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem parrots official claims about the situation in Russia being “under control” without going into much detail about this alleged achievement. The country has not fallen for the mistake known as “democracy”.

We Stand Together

The COVID-19 outbreak is a global challenge that needs to be addressed at all levels of society: we have a responsibility as individuals to make sure we don’t spread the virus and take care of each other. Municipalities, regions, and states all have obligations to secure medical services, take care of the weakest and most vulnerable among us, and maintain public order. Academia and the wider research community, the private sector, the EU, the UN, and other regional and international bodies all have their designated responsibilities and functions. In the end, the effectiveness of the global response boils down to trust and cooperation.

The Kremlin’s disinformation machine is seeking to undermine this essential solidarity at a time when disinformation can well and truly kill.

Stay up-to-date on EU measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak here. We stand together.

Other topics this week:

Stay healthy; don’t be deceived.


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