Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Kremlin Media’s Attacks on Big Tech’s Efforts to Combat Misinformation
Kremlin Media’s Attacks on Big Tech’s Efforts to Combat Misinformation

Kremlin Media’s Attacks on Big Tech’s Efforts to Combat Misinformation

July 22, 2020

Post by Collins Alexander

In recent months, Russian state-sponsored media outlets RT and Sputnik News have ramped up their criticisms of American tech and social media giants for alleged censorship on their platforms. These censorship narratives pertain to the 2020 election, the COVID-19 pandemic and conservative ideals more broadly, claiming that platforms like Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are advancing the interests of biased liberal agendas. Efforts said to be aimed at combating misinformation are actually a means to silence conservative voices

The concentration of criticism by Russian state-sponsored media on efforts to quell false information fits its previous strategy of promoting division among the American populace. Coverage aims to politicize the enforcement of terms of service by tech and social media companies. For example, Twitter’s flagging of President Trump’s tweet related to the protests in response to the death of George Floyd was portrayed as politically motivated. According to to Sputnik News’s story, Twitter’s response made the U.S. resemble a “propaganda show” and was nothing more than a “move as part of the ongoing tussle between Democrats and Republicans.”

RT and Sputnik assert that American social media companies are abusing their power by censoring those who are not in line with left-leaning beliefs, disproportionately targeting conservative opinions. After Twitter unverified and locked numerous accounts in May and June, RT noted that those targeted by Twitter were challenging the “ever-narrowing centrist-liberal mainstream.” And after Facebook removed British conspiracy theorist David Icke’s account for disseminating harmful information about COVID-19, which it claimed would promote noncompliance with public health guidelines, Sputnik highlighted Icke’s labeling Twitter as “fascist.” Sputnik also covered the removal of Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs film “Planet of the Humans” from YouTube, promoting Gibbs’s claim the removal was a “blatant act of censorship by political critics” in its headline: “‘Act of Political Censorship? Michael Moore-Produced Doc Removed From YouTube Over Copyright Claim.

RT and Sputnik also promote the idea that Facebook and Twitter are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand their censorship of content. In May, after Twitter announced that it would be labeling tweets with disputed or misleading information related to COVID-19, a Sputnik article about the announcement featured experts expressing opposition to official policies. Furthermore, Russian media does not disguise its own disdain for such policies. For example, one RT headline writes: “Twitter anoints itself arbiter of coronavirus truth with pledge to label even ‘disputed’ & ‘unverified’ claims as disinfo.”

Content removal by American tech platforms has not come without errors, and Kremlin media outlets have highlighted such missteps. A few examples include Facebook mistakenly deleting posts not in violation of company standards back in March and YouTube’s accidental removal of a chess video—Russian media highlights these and other examples to further discredit moderation efforts. 

Russian state-sponsored outlets will presumably continue to depict these integrity protection efforts unfavorably. Kremlin media’s “defense” of conservative voices aligns neatly with its strategy of championing “traditional values” as a political bridge into American audiences. Furthermore, Russia’s criticisms of American social media companies bolsters Kremlin denialism regarding its interference in American elections. We can only expect Russia’s criticisms of American social media platforms and tech companies to increase as Kremlin influence efforts online are shut down and efforts to divide Americans continue. Remember, authoritarian regimes and their media outlets can only use American social media to divide and subvert U.S. democracies if they can sustain their presence on American platforms unchecked.