The end of 2020 has witnessed a major increase of false and misleading content being spread in Latvia. The analysis has shown an alarming development: in December, those articles have reached 4.5 times larger audience than last month. Analysis by Debunk EU has shown that the surge of disinformation was related to Latvia’s internal and foreign policy, mainly resulting from State Security Service accusations and arrests of the Russian speaking journalists for breaches of international sanctions.
Throughout December 1-31st 2020, Debunk EU detected 225 articles identified as disinformation related to Latvia. Compared to the previous months, with an average of 13.9% of disinformation, December presented an increase in the number of articles where misleading articles constituted 25.8% of the content investigated.
Alarmingly, the disinformation scope has also increased, and disinformation reached 146 million potential contacts - approximately 4.5 times more than in November. Clearly, the narrative ‘Enemising Russia’ still highlights disinformation spread about Latvia in December. The articles on Russophobia were mostly accompanied by the narrative’s ‘Anti-Baltics and Poland’ sub-narrative on human rights violations in the respective states.
Throughout December, misleading content presented Latvia as:
Small, insignificant and irrational country,
Russophobic country pursuing anti-Russian policies,
Violating human rights,
Dependent on NATO,
Dependent on economic ties with Russia,
Rehabilitating Nazism and Fascism.
Disinformation flow and peaks were triggered by one main event covered in various Russia’s media sources and reembraced by different actors. Latvia’s Security Services carried the field of procedural actions with suspicions of international sanctions violations by conducting searches and detaining several Russian speaking journalists affiliated with Sputnik Latvia and Baltnews. The State’s Security Services had information that the corresponding journalists tried to bypass the EU sanctions set on Dmitry Kiselyov, general director of media holding “Rossiya Segodnya”.
Kremlin-funded media reacted on this event enormously – with almost 200 articles - promoting Latvia’s image as it is Russophobic country striving to eliminate alternative media and violate freedom of expression.
Moreover, multiple state officials – Maria Zakharova, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Embassy of Russia in Latvia, Vice President of Russia’s Journalist Union, various Russian activists in Latvia, and journalists – affirmed the story with their comments. This, together with representation of the situation in the largest Russian media platforms, increased the potential reach of this content.
Other articles discussed Latvia as a failed state, undermined country’s fight with the Covid-19 caused pandemic and portrayed Latvia’s inclusiveness in NATO misleadingly. December also presented active disinformation flow from Latvia-based disinformation platforms: for example, one of mainampasauli.news articles in the top 10 list by greatest social interactions. This particular platform covered a significant share of the misleading articles on COVID-19 virus and its caused pandemic.
While analysing the data, it became clear that three pro-Kremlin sources, sputniknews.ru, ria.ru, and baltnews.com, were responsible for almost half of the widespread disinformation publicity about Latvia in December (48.2% of the analysed articles).