In this study, the researchers systematically examined French, German and Spanish-language coronavirus reporting published by state-backed outlets from China, Iran, Russia and Turkey. A mixed quantitative and qualitative methodology was employed. The researchers measured the social distribution networks used on Facebook and Twitter, and the levels of engagement with content related to the coronavirus. Over the three-week period of this study, they found that state-backed media from China, Iran, Russia and Turkey are attracting tens of millions of French, German and Spanish-speaking social media users around the world. While most of these outlets have smaller distribution networks than prominent news sources such as Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País, some state-backed media operations can achieve higher engagement levels for the content they produce. Coronavirus-related reporting being distributed by these state-backed outlets reflects a combination of reputable and false or misleading information, some of which attempts to undermine Western democracies, bolster their source country’s successes, and fuel conspiracy theories. The variations in French, German and Spanish-language coronavirus coverage identified during the observation period ultimately underscored the distinctive goals and objectives of these non-English language media operations amid the global pandemic.
Authors: Katarina Rebello, Christian Schwieter, Marcel Schliebs, Kate Joynes-Burgess, Mona Elswah, Jonathan Bright, Philip N. Howard