July 15. 2024. 8:04

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Study: Russian embassy in Sofia most impactful in spreading propaganda

In the Balkan region, Russian embassies are very active spreading propaganda on Facebook, but the Russian embassy in Sofia has by far the biggest impact on society, a study presented in Brussels on Thursday (30 March) revealed.

Although the Russian embassies in Romania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece post more on Facebook than the Russian embassy in Sofia, the latter is an absolute champion in triggering interactions – likes or commentaries on the social platform, Goran Georgiev, an analyst with the Centre for the Study of Democracy told an audience of experts.

The conference, titled “Democracy that delivers – Strategic re-engagement with the Western Balkans”, gathered officials from the EU institutions, diplomats and communication experts. The event was organised by the Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy with the media partnership of EURACTIV Bulgaria.

Georgiev presented slides showing that the Russian embassy in Bucharest has had 7,193 posts over 2021 and 2022, while for the same period, the embassy in Skopje had 3,943 posts, followed by Podgorica with 1,827, Athens with 1,698, Sofia with 1,572, Tirana with 902, Sarajevo with 511, Belgrade with 270 and Zagreb with 90.

However, another slide reveals that in terms of interactions, the embassy in Sofia obtained 2,333,550 interactions, which according to Georgiev, is equivalent to every second Bulgarian with a Facebook account having reacted once at a post of the Russian embassy over the two-year period.

All over the Balkans, Facebook has an almost monopoly as the preferred social media of the populations, he said.

The second-best in triggering interactions is the embassy in Athens, however, with a much lower number, 769,760. Third is the embassy in Bucharest, with 516,678 interactions with the Russian embassy account. The other Balkan embassies are at much lower levels.

US embassy rides high in Albania

Georgiev also compared the Facebook activities of other global payers in the respective capitals, such as the European Union representations and the embassies of France, Germany, the US and the UK.

While in Bulgaria and in Greece, the number of interactions involving the Russian embassy is by far the largest, in Albania, the US embassy has almost the monopoly of interactions, the second being the EU, and Germany, Russia, the UK and France have a marginal role.

In Romania, the EU has triggered the largest number of interactions, followed by the US and Russia.

Interestingly, the largest number of interactions in Serbia involve the EU representation.

Asked to explain the reasons for the posts of the Russian embassy in Sofia translating into the largest number of interactions, Georgiev pointed out that the mainstream media often quote and even embeds online the posts of the Russian ambassador in Sofia.

“Bulgarian mainstream media, but also mainstream media in the region basically amplify pro-Kremlin information, they publicise the statements by Putin, by Lavrov, Zakharova, without any contextualisation, without any sort of qualification”, he said.

Antoinette Nikolova, Director of the Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI), a Brussels-based NGO, said Serbia was the best example of how Russian propaganda is being spread.

She pointed out a recent study conducted by BFMI which found that Russian disinformation was welcome on mainstream media, where it gained “credibility” before being disseminated widely across social media.

According to Nikolova, pro-Russian disinformation goes hand in hand with pro-government disinformation, used by state actors to manipulate public opinion and distort information about their own activities and those of their opponents.

She also stressed that the Russian propaganda industry had its official representations in Serbia, reminding that a few months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Serbia invited Russia Today to open offices in the country, while last October, Russia Today launched ‘RT Balkan’, a regional multimedia website and TV channel .

“Sputnik” also has a Serbian service, and the editor-in-chief is the representative of Russia Today, Nikolova said, adding that part of their staff worked in Russia as employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. She said that they now produce content that was offered for free to the local TV stations.