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Research Questions

  1. Where are foreign actors directing COVID-19 malign information?
  2. What is the emotional signature of foreign malign information efforts?

Researchers conducting this exploratory study used news and blog data to understand efforts by foreign countries to spread malign information regarding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Indo-Pacific region. Malign information is content that is provocative, inflammatory, possibly deceptive, or even untrue, and is disseminated or boosted for the purpose of advancing foreign countries' strategic goals. The authors used RAND's proprietary lexical analysis platform, RAND-Lex, to explore whether news and blog data could provide some initial insights on the reach of, content of, and tactical strategies used in foreign malign information about COVID-19 in the Indo-Pacific.

Using NewsAPI, a database of global news and blogs, the authors developed a data pipeline and analytic flow that allows analysts to (1) identify key features of foreign malign information efforts and (2) track down specific foreign malign information campaigns. The researchers discovered several key features of foreign malign information on COVID-19 in the Indo-Pacific and identified an example malign information campaign.

Key Findings

  • From November 2019 to August 2020, unreliable foreign channels pushed an outsized (per capita) amount of COVID-19 content towards small South Pacific islands, such as Fiji and the Solomon Islands.
  • Known unreliable channels that engaged in COVID-19 messaging in the Indo-Pacific used emotional 'hooks', such as anger, to make their content stand out.
  • Foreign malign information campaigns targeted Indo-Pacific diaspora members living in Western countries, sometimes by repurposing and amplifying original Western content.

This research was prepared for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and conducted by the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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