‘I take the side of Russia’: opinions in favor of Putin increase on the internet

“I’m on the side of Russia”: opinions favorable to Putin are multiplying on the internet

Shaped by certain conspiracy theories and Donald Trump’s stance toward Russia, some of the online discourse has become more pro-Putin.

A day before Russia invaded Ukraine, former US President Donald Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war strategy “rather smart”. His comments were posted on YouTube, Twitter and the Telegram messaging app, where they have been viewed more than 1.3 million times.

Right-wing commentators like Candace Owens, Stew Peters and Joe Oltmann also jumped into the fray online with pro-Putin posts justifying his actions against Ukraine. Oltmann, a conservative podcast host, said on his show this week, “I’m on the side of Russia right now.”

And in Telegram groups like The Patriot Voice and Facebook groups like Texas for Donald Trump 2020, users criticized President Joe Biden’s handling of the conflict and voiced support for Russia, with some saying they were more confident. to Putin than to Russia. Biden.

The online conversations reflect how pro-Russian sentiment has permeated Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, right-wing podcasts, messaging apps like Telegram and some conservative media. When Russia attacked Ukraine this week, that stance was extended, coloring online discussions with sympathy — and even approval — for the aggressor.

The positive discourse on Russia is an extension of the culture wars and grievance politics that have driven the American right in recent years. In some of these circles, Putin has the appeal of a strong leader and is seen as someone who gets what he wants and doesn’t let political correctness stop him.

“Putin embodies the strength that Trump claimed to have,” said Emerson T. Brooking, senior fellow in residence at the Atlantic Council, who studies digital platforms. “For these individuals, Putin’s actions are not a tragedy, but a realized fantasy.”

Support for Putin and Russia is now expressed online through a mixture of facts, observations and opinions, sometimes laced with lies. In recent days, commentators have been praising Putin and falsely accusing NATO of violating non-existent territorial agreements with Russia, which they say justifies the Russian president’s declaration of war on Ukraine, according to a review of the messages by the New York Times.

Others have been spreading convoluted conspiracy theories about the war, tinged with a pro-Russian tinge. According to one of the most popular lies circulating on the internet, Putin and Trump are working on war together. Another lie points out that the war is about ending global sex-trafficking elites.

According to an analysis by media analytics firm Zignal Labs, pro-Russian mentions in English on social media, cable TV, and in print and digital media have increased by 2,580% over the past week. , compared to the first week of February. These mentions appeared 5,740 times last week, compared to 214 in the first week of February, according to Zignal.

The stories flourished in dozens of Telegram channels, Facebook groups and pages, and thousands of tweets, according to analysis by The Times. Some of the Telegram channels have over 160,000 subscribers, while Facebook groups and pages have up to 1.9 million subscribers.

(The scale of pro-Russian narratives on social media and internet forums is hard to pin down because bots and organized campaigns make them hard to track.)

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The pro-Russian sentiment is a stark departure from the Cold War, when many Americans viewed the Soviet Union as the enemy. In recent years, this attitude has changed, in part due to Russian interference. Ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, Kremlin-backed groups used social media like Facebook to stoke American voters, creating more divisions and resistance to political correctness.

After Trump’s election, he often spoke favorably of — and even admired — Putin. It has seeded a more positive view of the Russian leader among Trump supporters, disinformation researchers have said.

“Putin has invested heavily in sowing discord” and he has found an ally in Trump, said Melissa Ryan, chief executive of Card Strategies, a consultancy that investigates misinformation. “Anyone who studies disinformation or the far right has seen Putin’s influence take hold.”

At the same time, conspiracy theories have spread online, driving deep divisions among Americans. One of them was the QAnon movement, which incorrectly postulates that Democrats are child traffickers and Satan worshipers who are part of an elite trying to control the world.

Now some Americans are viewing the Russian-Ukrainian war through the lens of conspiracy theories, disinformation researchers have said. About 41 million Americans believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to a survey released Thursday by the Public Religion Research Institute. This week, some QAnon followers claimed online that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was just the next phase of a global war on sex traffickers.

Lisa Kaplan, the founder of Alethea Group, a company that helps tackle online misinformation, said pro-Russian statements were potentially damaging because they could “further legitimize false or misleading claims” about the conflict in Ukraine. “in the eyes of the American people”.

Not all rhetoric online is pro-Russia, and Putin’s actions have been condemned by conservative social media users, mainstream media commentators and Republican politicians. However, some have criticized Biden’s handling of the conflict.

“Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is reckless and diabolical,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who was recently censured by his party for serving on the Jan. 6 Uprising Investigative Committee, slammed House Republicans for attacking Biden, tweeting that it “fuels Putin’s narrative”.

However, those with a pro-Russian stance have become more vocal online. Prior to the invasion, Gateway Pundit, a far-right website, published an article listing “fun facts” about Russia and Ukraine, including Russian arguments used to justify an invasion. The article spread to pro-Trump Facebook groups, reaching as many as 565,100 followers, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned analytics tool.

In a podcast on Wednesday, Stephen K. Bannon, a former Trump adviser, also praised Putin for “standing against political correctness.” He noted that the Ukrainian conflict “was not our fight”.

After the Russian attack began, some netizens justified Putin’s motives by mixing them with COVID-19 conspiracy theories. A Twitter account called War Clandestine said Putin was attacking US-operated biological labs in Ukraine. The idea was made more credible, the author said, by a conspiracy theory that the United States engineered the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in a lab in Wuhan, China.

Pro-American influencers like Mikel Crump and John Basham, who together have 99,200 followers, amplified the feed. Twitter later suspended the War Clandestine account and a second account from the same user for trying to circumvent the ban, but users continued to post screenshots of the thread.

Twitter noted that the user’s accounts had been permanently suspended for violating its abusive behavior policy and said it was monitoring pop-up content that violated its rules. Crump and Basham did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some pro-Russian commentators insisted they were right. Many blamed Biden, citing old conspiracy theories about his son Hunter and his work at a Ukrainian gas company when Biden was vice president and involved in diplomatic efforts in the country. There’s no evidence the Bidens were wrong, but conservatives seized on that narrative in the 2020 election.

Asked for comment, Oltmann, the conservative podcast host, said: “You really have no idea what’s going on in Ukraine. People support Russia because you didn’t do the right thing about Biden’s fraud and corruption. I pray for the people of Ukraine, but I also pray that the people who facilitated the nefarious communist agenda in the United States will pay for what they have done.”

In an email, Owens, the talk show’s conservative host, also said the war between Russia and Ukraine was Biden’s fault. “Ukrainians are dying because of the criminal connections of the Biden family and their insistence on fueling conflict in the region,” she said.

Putin’s growing appreciation was reflected in recent polls by The Economist and YouGov, which showed Republicans viewed him more favorably than Biden. Another recent poll by Yahoo News and YouGov found that 62% of Republicans thought Putin was a “stronger leader” than Biden.

That sentiment was echoed in an informal online poll on Wednesday, when a QAnon influencer asked Patriot Voice supporters on Telegram if they trusted Putin. Almost all of them answered the same thing: yes.

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