Both Russia and China appear to have employed information manipulation during the COVID-19 pandemic in service of their respective global agendas. A new RAND report describes the types of COVID-19-related malign and subversive information efforts with which sources linked to Russia and to China ostensibly targeted U.S. audiences between January 2020 and July 2020.
The authors suggest that Russia engaged in apparent malign and subversive information efforts, such as disinformation and propaganda, on the topic of COVID-19. The diversity of the messages and sources could appeal to various audiences and seem designed to appeal to those across the U.S. political spectrum. Emphasizing divisive content, these information efforts appear to have sought to sow distrust within the United States, amplify existing sociopolitical divides, damage the U.S. image, and pollute the information space. Achieving these objectives appears to serve the overarching strategic goal to discredit, weaken, and destabilize the United States.
The analysis indicates that a variety of China-linked media sources disseminated diverse COVID-19-related content that could be categorized as disinformation or propaganda. The overall uniformity of messaging across the varied landscape of China-linked information sources and its evolution over time suggests that the Chinese Communist Party continued to prioritize elevating China’s image as its primary strategic goal during the pandemic.
The researchers considered how characteristics of the two countries’ malign and subversive information efforts could shape their future activities and reached the following conclusions: