US military tracks coronavirus information by Russian news agencies

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The US military is preparing for a possible Russian misinformation about the spread of an outbreak of coronavirus, as it became known to the magazine Newsweek from documents of the US Department of Defense.

Military planners are actively monitoring disinformation campaigns involving profiles that the Russian government stands or manages. According to documents, during the period from January 28 to February 3, the hashtag “coronavirus” on Twitter was most often used by major Russian news agencies.

The speed with which coronavirus information spreads across social networks has caused concern for the World Health Organization (WHO). Her officials said they were trying to reduce the scale of the “information epidemic.” Such campaigns, although not uncommon, impede an effective response, officials said.

However, the documents received by Newswick indicate that the US military is closely monitoring social networks in the hot election year, as the US cyber command is awaiting further Russian intervention in the 2020 presidential election. It is expected that its scale may exceed the intervention of the Kremlin in 2016.

As follows from the slides prepared for the PowerPoint briefing and marked as “declassified” by military planners, the US Armed Forces Northern Command tracks the “information environment” on Twitter, including Sputnik, RT (formerly known as Russia Today) accounts owned by the ministry defense of the Zvezda channel, as well as their profiles in Russian, English, Spanish, French, German and Turkish. The documents provide data on the coverage of the most popular profiles, as well as the most popular hashtags, key phrases and stories.

One slide shows how Russian President Vladimir Putin, with outstretched arms and open palms, transmits Moscow’s message to the world through social networks such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Some US officials transferred the files to Newsweek on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose them.

“For current assessments, approaches, or operations, these documents are not indicative,” said a spokesman for the Northern Command. “It would be inappropriate to draw any conclusions based on them.”

Sputnik declined to comment, but asked the Pentagon to convey “best wishes.” The TV channel “Star” did not answer.

“We cover all segments of the American audience and hope that they will like our content on all platforms, but we believe that it would be prudent to spend US military resources not on computer screens, but on real preparation for coronavirus,” an e-mail from RT.

The outbreak of a new coronavirus that arose in Wuhan, China, has affected 28 countries and territories around the world, including Russia. She dominates social networks thanks to the monitored profiles of the Russian government.

According to Johns Hopkins University, 565 people died as a result of the outbreak and more than 28,000 people became infected. The vast majority of victims are located in mainland China, where quarantine is introduced in large cities in Hubei Province in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

The observed profiles mentioned the outbreak 567 times, with the CoronavirusChino hashtag being used in 91 cases. Other popular hashtags are Brexit (151 times), Russia (116 times), Trump (70 times) and China (70 times).

Coronavirus also topped the list of the most common key phrases – in total, the phrase was used 528 times over the specified period. In second place is Trump (222), and in third is Brexit (135). Other key phrases are fueling the theme, for example coronavirus outbreak (119 outbreaks), Wuhan (Wuhan, 110 uses) and CoronavirusChino (87 uses).

The public is concerned about security issues, and the director of the WHO department for epidemic and pandemic diseases, Dr. Sylvie Briand, says the organization is working hard to clarify the information available and prevent panic. In her opinion, this task rests with WHO technical risk communication teams and social networks that monitor the situation and debunk “myths and rumors”.

The military documents list the 10 most popular tweets published by tracked Russian profiles, with the posts with the most likes and retweets regarding the outbreak of coronavirus.

The first post with 17,500 likes and retweets was: “Russia is closing the border with China in the Far East due to an outbreak of coronavirus.” The second, with 6,500 likes and retweets, read: “The first two cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Russia, both are Chinese citizens.”

Two other coronavirus publications spell out comments by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who suggested that the epidemic could have a positive effect on the economy (4,600 online interactions) and cites the “deadliest day in China,” when a new record was set for the number of new casualties per day.

Over the indicated period of time, the most active Russian profiles were RT in Spanish (1,658 tweets), Sputnik Turkey (1,122 tweets) and English-speaking Sputnik (1,046 tweets).

The highest number of likes and retweets per week was collected by the Spanish-language website RT (232,700 likes and 113,300 retweets), on Sputnik Turkey (134,300 likes and 19,000 retweets) and the English-language channel RT (7,500 likes and 39,900 retweets).


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