Covid-19 News and Information from State-Backed Outlets Targeting French, German and Spanish-Speaking Social Media Users

Authors: Katarina Rebello, Christian Schwieter, Marcel Schliebs, Kate Joynes-Burgess, Mona Elswah, Jonathan Bright, Philip N. Howard

In this data memo, we examine French, German and Spanish-language distribution of coronavirus (COVID-19) news and information originating from media outlets backed by the governments of China, Iran, Russia and Turkey. We measure the total distribution networks of these state-backed media outlets on Facebook and Twitter, and compare how social media users are engaging with that content. Over the three-week period of this study, we find that:
• most of the state-backed outlets from China, Iran, Russia and Turkey generating content in French, German, and Spanish reaches tens of millions of social media users around the world, though through smaller distribution networks than the major news outlets operating in those languages;
• state-backed outlets producing coronavirus-related content in French, German and Spanish can achieve higher average engagement per article than prominent news sources such as Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País;
• the coronavirus coverage being produced and distributed by state-backed media outlets on social media varies by language and source country, for example:
– Russian outlets working in French and German consistently emphasized weak democratic institutions and civil disorder in Europe, but offered different kinds of conspiracy theories about the pandemic;
– Chinese and Turkish outlets working in Spanish promoted their own countries’ global leadership in combating the pandemic, while Russian and Iranian outlets generated polarizing content targeted at Latin America and Spanish-speaking social media users in the United States.

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