LONDON: Videos from Russia’s state-controlled TV network RT are continuing to flood YouTube despite a ban, a new report reveals.
Dozens of professionally produced propaganda films have been identified on the platform by the news and information watchdog Newsguard, which has revealed how one year on from RT’s ban, Russia is continuing online disinformation campaigns, promoting a false narrative about the Ukraine conflict.
Madeline Roache, an author of the study which was published on Wednesday, said: “These key narratives in the Russian disinformation campaign seek to undermine Ukraine’s credibility and demonize Ukraine.
“They come as part of a bigger attempt to erode support for the country internationally.”
Since the ban Newsguard has discovered 250 uploads of 50 RT-created videos about the conflict, across more than 100 YouTube channels.
The videos have reportedly had more than half a million views in total.
According to the report, they perpetuate “egregious” falsehoods about Ukraine, such as the Maidan political upheaval in 2014 being a “Western-backed coup,” and Ukrainian authorities committing “genocide” against Russian speakers in Donbas.
Many films were also reportedly using harrowing footage to advance false pro-Russian claims about the conflict, while being promoted through an intricate web of accounts under YouTube radar.
Some of the videos, including one that claims the March 2022 airstrike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol was staged, were promoted by proxy accounts belonging to a British national living in Russia named Mike Jones, and by former US police officer John Mark Dougan.
YouTube banned RT and other state-affiliated channels from its platform in March 2022.
The Google-owned video platform said its teams had removed more than 9,000 channels and in excess of 85,000 videos related to the conflict.
It also said that it had blocked more than 800 YouTube channels and 4 million videos associated with Russian state-funded news channels globally.
However, despite YouTube’s efforts, RT appears to regularly upload full-length propaganda films in various languages, including English, French, German and Italian, and use the platform to spread disinformation and pro-Russia narratives.
RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan in April 2022 spoke openly about the network’s tactics, claiming that “without using our brand, we open a channel on YouTube, it gets millions of views in a few days.”
Researchers have also highlighted how Russia’s propaganda has evolved in recent months, shifting from defending the conflict to concealing its heavy losses and emphasizing how the West is suffering.
Authors of a similar report from the Digital Forensic Research Lab said: “This approach of producing ‘alternative’ explanations sows doubt among audiences that do not closely follow the war, while providing ammunition for Kremlin sympathizers who actively support it.
“These explanations create media noise so that people who do not follow the war closely develop the impression that the truth is contested, lessening the chance of them supporting Ukraine in the conflict.”