As the coronavirus has spread throughout the world, so too has the disinformation and misinformation surrounding the epidemic. Iran, China and Russia have attempted to influence the discourse about coronavirus through their respective state-sponsored media outlets since the start of the outbreak, albeit through varying frames and narratives.
One narrative all three countries highlight is the notion that the United States is weaponizing the crisis for political gain and thus worsening its spread globally. While all three countries’ state-sponsored outlets pushed explicitly anti-U.S. sentiments, Iran and Russia appeared to push far more conspiratorial content than China. In the disinformation ecosystem, each country’s state-sponsored media played off the others to promote shared preferred narratives.
PressTV also pushes the theme that Iran and China are superior to the U.S. in battling the coronavirus, both logistically and morally. PressTV heralds Iran’s response to the coronavirus in spite of U.S. sanctions in stories, while criticizing the U.S.’s management capabilities in others. Other narratives suggest the U.S. is lacking in its response:
Claims the U.S. system is insufficient and unprepared
Criticisms that U.S. sanctions are hurting Iran’s ability to contain and battle the virus internally
Criticisms of the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus and playing up politicalinfighting over President Trump’s coronavirus response
While Iranian state media appears to act as a larger content creator of coronavirus disinformation, Russian state-sponsored media amplifies these Iranian conspiracy theories, including the IRGC’s suggestions that the virus is a U.S. bioweapon.
Other narratives promoted on Russia’s RT and Sputnik News include:
These stories tend to amplify panic over U.S. financial stability by capitalizing phrases in headlines, like “WORST WEEK”
One RT op-ed suggests the coronavirus’s impact on financial markets might bring about the re-invention of communism and end the global capitalist system
Financial themes of market collapse and economic instability have been a traditional avenue of Soviet subversion via active measures campaigns during the Cold War. We should expect a large uptick in this form of messaging from Russia based on today’s major market setback.
China publishes the most content related to the coronavirus, but strikes a distinctly different tone than Iranian and Russian state media. Coronavirus content narratives pushed by the Chinese state-run media include: