Pro-Russian influencers in battle formation

Pro-Russian influencers have been active on social media since the beginning of the conflict with Ukraine.

Misinformation can pay off in social networks, as a study by the independent organization Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which specializes in analyzing social networks, shows. The organization has identified twelve influencers in eight western countries who “spreading pro-Russian disinformation discourse”. These influencers have amassed more than two million followers across the internet, the most since Russia began invading Ukraine on February 24.

Among them are two French women. The best known of them is Anne-Laure Bonnel, who presents herself as an investigator. “Military support and US presence in Ukraine since 2014??? The proof in pictures! The US has been arming Ukraine for years. The dark side of a war…”, she tweetsSo, for example, on May 30, his account was followed by more than 72,000 people – he had only 26,000 at the beginning of the war. In 2015 she produced a documentary film about the Donbass region, filmed exclusively on the Russian side of the border, which was in fact criticized by several journalists present on the spot. its correspondent World in Moscow, Benoît Vitkine. “It was carried around the Separatist areas by… officials from the same areas. They are the ones we heard in the film questioning the witnesses, not the journalist. (…) False things that kept being dismantled, fables made up by Russian television and magically shoved under her nose by Anne-Laure Bonnel’s guides.” he explained in March 2022. Criticism to which the investigator responded to our colleagues publication.

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For her part, Christelle Néant is the founder of the pro-Russian news site Donbass insider and has been living in this region of Ukraine for six years. She is a regular presence on the RT channel (ex-Russia today, funded by the Kremlin and now banned in Europe). “continues to defend Moscow’s position and expose the ‘lies’ of the West” as the media ratings site wrote in March Freeze frames. The one who says that “Neo-Nazi battalions work for Kyiv” is followed by more than 40,000 people on his YouTube channel and 26,000 in his Telegram group.

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donations and advertising revenue

The phenomenon affects the whole world: the United States, Canada, Italy and Spain are affected. The gain in popularity of these influencers is sometimes staggering. One of the most prominent examples is that of Alina Lipp, a 29-year-old German, former member of the German Greens, who was almost unknown on the internet until recently. His Telegram channel only had 2,000 followers early February. Today she heads a community of more than 141,000 members, for which she publishes in German and Russian. For example, it shows various shots in which we see a man with a swastika tattooed on his chest. “ Phone photos of a killed Ukrainian soldier. But there are no Nazis in Ukraine ‘, ironically the legend.

On platforms like YouTube, at least three influencers manage to generate revenue from this activity. For example, according to ISD, Spaniard Liu Sivaya earns up to $2,000 a month thanks to advertising in front of her videos. These influencers also benefit from the donations of their audience during live broadcasts “can bring in between 20 and 700 euros per stream”, again according to the ISD. They have made themselves known too often after the start of the conflict: like this “70% of the subscribers of [l’influenceur américain] Patrick Lancaster started following him after the war broke out and 47% of his views were realized after the invasion.”write the authors of the study.

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The content of these influencers was shared not only by well-known pro-Russian and pro-Chinese Facebook groups, but also by accounts close to the Russian or Chinese government, such as the Russian embassy in Paris. These relays allowed them to reach new audiences estimated at more than 18 million users. However, the connection between these states and the influencers is unproven. The relatively time-distributed sharing points to uncoordinated actions by support groups, which see these reports as an additional means of influencing public opinion.

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