The Facebook page of the Spanish-language Russia Today has more followers than the main page of the RT “media”
Spanish is the second language in the world by the number of speakers (according to some sources, it’s the third). It has official status in 20 countries all over the world, and about 463 million people use it as their first language. For example, even in the United States, almost 42 million people speak Spanish at home, which is 13% of the total population. In social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, Spanish is the second most used language after English. With this in mind, large media outlets maintain Spanish-language pages on social networks (for example, the BBC Mundo).
russian propaganda is no exception. Despite the fact that many media outlets affiliated with the russian government have been in the European Union and the United States, their platforms continue to operate in regions that are in no hurry to impose sanctions against disinformation. That is why russian propaganda in Spanish is spreading very actively. For example, the Spanish-language account of Russia Today has even more subscribers than the page of the RT “media”.
The loudest Spanish-language mouthpieces of russian propaganda are sponsored by the russian federation of the media RT en Español (17.9 million subscribers) and Sputnik Mundo (627,000 subscribers). In addition to the main page of RT en Español, its affiliates are RT en vivo (165,000 subscribers), RT Latinoamérica (178,000 subscribers), RTdocumental (41,000 subscribers), RT Futuro (359,000 subscribers), RT Play en Español (more than 6 million subscribers), RT Blog (24,000 subscribers). An interesting find is the Russian Today page (111,000 subscribers), which is allegedly not affiliated with RT and has a different name, but was created recently, in June 2022, after the EU countries blocked Russia Today in March. It uses RT's visual identity and publishes content only on that channel. Most likely, this page is one of the "backup" pages created in order to bypass the blocking of the main RT pages, where possible. In addition, we included into this category of pages under analysis the Russia Beyond ES, with 700,000 subscribers. Facebook provides additional information for it: “This media is controlled by the state of russia.”
The category of Spanish-posting russian media includes RT en Español (407,800 interactions), Sputnik Mundo (185,000 interactions) and Russian Today (158,400 interactions) as the expected leaders in terms of audience engagement during the period under analysis. Others are the RT-related pages that publish posts in a specific segment and/or format. The smallest audience was attracted by RT Blog — only a little more than 1,000 engagements.
Of the 2,167 analyzed RT en Español posts, 243 mention Ukraine (11%). The five most popular posts look as follows:
- news about criticism of FIFA by Ukraine due to the fact that the organization did not allow President Zelensky to speak during the finals of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar (almost 8,000 engagements, 983 comments);
- the reaction of the President of russia to the transfer of Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine (about 4,000 engagements, 429 comments);
- Oleksiy Arestovych's comment that "the US leader who announces the termination of support for Ukraine will hardly be able to stay in the White House for more than 15 days" (1,645 engagements, more than 200 comments);
- criticism by former Bolivian President, Evo Morales, of the United States for providing weapons to Ukraine "while dozens of people die from cold in the United States" (1,643 engagements, more than 200 comments);
- Croatian President Zoran Milanovic's comment on the artificial nature of granting Ukraine the EU candidate status (more than 1,500 engagements, 72 comments).
In general, RT en Español replicates the narratives of the military and political leadership of russia about the “US war against russia”. For the most part, Ukraine appears as a state dependent on the “collective West” that constantly demands more weapons and financial assistance.
Sputnik Mundo also makes sure to mention Ukraine. Thus, 121 posts out of 879 are directly devoted to the Ukrainian agenda, which is 13% of the total. This is more than the share of publications about Ukraine among propagandists from RT en Español. For the most part, Sputnik Mundo posts are commented less than their RT “colleagues”, but the overall engagement, likes and shares of the posts are quite active. The leaders in terms of audience coverage are the following posts:
- Moscow assures that the restriction of oil prices will not affect the “special operation in Ukraine” (more than 1,000 engagements, 58 comments);
- dmitry medvedev called British politicians “hypocrites” when they claim that Ukraine is free to decide how and when to negotiate with russia, and also took the chance to state that the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) belong to Argentina, rather than to the United Kingdom (more than 1,000 engagements, 34 comments);
- statement by former US official Scott Ritter (a longtime apologist for putin and critic of US foreign policy, as well as the person convicted of sexual harassment of minors — ed.), that "Ukraine has severely exhausted human and technical resources, so it has no chance to resist russia" (more than 1,000 engagements, 74 comments);
- the kremlin's statement that “Zelensky is aware that the conflict in Ukraine could end tomorrow if he wanted to” (about 1,000 engagements, 104 comments);
- comment by “political scientist and analyst” Alfredo Jalife-Rahme (another notorious political commentator who is often invited to anti-American and pro-russian media platforms — ed.) that “the conflict between Ukraine and russia goes beyond the battlefield, a new world order is at stake” (935 engagements, 74 comments).
Most of the russian media we analyzed are blocked in the EU countries and marked as “state-owned media”. These are Sputnik Mundo, RT en Español, RT en vivo, RT Latinoamerica, RT Play en Español, RT Futuro. They are managed by accounts with russian IP addresses. Despite the blocking, the Latin American region remains accessible to them, in particular Brazil, Mexico, and Peru. Some pages are also available in the US. For instance, despite the blocking of Russia Today, the Sputnik Mundo and RT en Español remain unblocked.
However, there are also pages created, apparently, only to bypass the blocking on the META platforms. In our sample, these are RT Blog, Rtdocumental, and Russian Today.
The moderators of these pages are accounts from Peru. They publish news from the Russia Today website and, of course, are not yet marked by Facebook as belonging to the russian state. Access to them is open, both to the audience of Latin American countries and to Europeans. However, these are not the only “mirrors” of blocked propaganda media. Our sample might have not included pages that were created recently, or those that do not publish posts often enough. That is why Meta should not stop with the pages already blocked in March. They should improve tools for countering disinformation and track the creation of pages that will duplicate the blocked RT and Sputnik Mundo.
An equally interesting segment of our analysis is the Spanish-language video blogs of individual public figures. A striking example of russian propaganda is a blogger Liu Sivaya, a russian lady with the real name Liubov, who has long lived in Madrid, and she runs her pages in Spanish only. She describes herself as a “political scientist and journalist,” and her social networks have long appeared on Ukrainian lists of russian propagandists. In our sample, her video blog has the largest number of subscribers (more than 120,000), and the content is completely devoted to the russian invasion of Ukraine. Her videos average over 15,000 views. Liu Sivaya actively relays the position of the political leaders of the aggressor state; she uses the hashtags # STOPropaganda, and pretends to counter disinformation from the “collective West” and Ukraine.
Her most popular posts include reports of her being given a Mexican journalistic award for her “contribution to freedom of speech,” a video from a trip to occupied Berdyansk where she recounts how russia brought “prosperity and peace” to the city.
Other blogs in our sample are mostly political commentators from Spanish-speaking countries, such as Inty Noticias. This is a video blog of the Spaniard Wilmer D. Remar, who, judging by his pages (including in russian social networks), is a long-time supporter of the policy of the russian federation. More than 100,000 people have subscribed for his Facebook, and the content mostly focuses on events in Spanish-speaking countries. He refers to Ukraine in the context of its “division” because of the war.
As to text blogs, a significant audience (about 100,000 subscribers) is attracted by the Ahí les Va page. It is administered from russia, blocked in European countries, and marked as the "state-owned media".
This resource presents itself as "news with humor" and mainly reproduces RT and RT en Español narratives. Some of the most popular posts write about “ineffectiveness” of EU sanctions on russian energy, and the demonization of the West.
On a separate note, it is worth considering the large media of Spanish-speaking countries. They are not traditional propagandists of russian propaganda like RT and Sputnik or blogs of russia's supporters. Such media in our sample include, in particular, teleSUR, Nexo Latino (HispanTV page), and NIUS. These media mostly publish a balanced content about the russian-Ukrainian war, but there are some excesses towards relaying the position of the russian federation. Because of this, their audience may get the impression that there is a certain “legitimacy” of russian aggression, or that the war in Ukraine is indeed a confrontation between NATO and russia. Examples of such ambiguous tone in the presentation of news include the message of the position of the russian federation regarding the “dirty bombs” in Ukraine, on the NIUS page, the video on the page of the Mexican news company NMás in the “no comment” format, from the russian Ministry of Defense, where they show, among other things, what a “cool” armored train was used during the invasion of Ukraine, or a story about putin, who “dared to challenge the West.”
Such singular cases of shifting focus in large media can be explained by the lack of sufficient representation of Ukraine's voice in the public space of these countries. Therefore, journalists use the narratives that are most accessible for them. As you can see, the countries of Latin America and their media space are still an unfilled niche, where it is necessary to strengthen advocacy for the interests of Ukraine.
Facebook pages of propaganda platforms affiliated with the russian government, despite blocking in the countries of the European Union, continue to operate in Latin America, and partly in the United States. In addition, we can see the creation of linked pages or mirror pages of Russia Today blocked resources, that are not currently blocked on Meta platforms. And yet this indicates the effectiveness of such a blockage. As mentioned above, social networks need to improve the tools for responding and countering the creation of additional pages related to Russia Today, Sputnik, and other russian propaganda platforms.
Pro-russian narratives permeate the large media of Spanish-speaking countries, which mainly provide balanced information, due to the lack of representation of Ukraine's interests and Ukrainian information policy. For example, in the countries of Latin America, russian propaganda fills the information space where there is no tangible Ukrainian voice available. This means that Ukraine should pay attention to audiences outside the EU, the United States, and Canada, and promote information policy in Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and other countries.
Olha Satsuk for Censor.NET