Two weeks ago, Global Americans launched a new initiative dedicated to tracking a worrying trend in the Americas: misinformation masquerading as objective news reporting, published by Russian and Chinese state-owned media in Spanish. The Global Americans project, “Lies & Distortions: Tracking Russian and Chinese Fake News in Latin America”, follows RT en Español and Sputnik Mundo from Russia and Xinhua and People’s Daily from China.
Our effort to call out insidious misinformation is novel, but it’s long overdue. In recent years, Russian and Chinese state-owned media have established themselves as prominent sources of information in the hemisphere.
For example, RT en Español has been more successful at getting new viewers than any other foreign channel broadcasting in the hemisphere. By the end of 2016, RT en Español was available in almost every Latin American country: 27 TV cable providers offer RT en Español as a separate channel to its subscribers, and the RT en Español YouTube Channel has almost 4.5 million monthly viewers and approximately 400,000 subscribers.
China has made inroads as well. A 2017 report from the National Endowment for Democracy details Chinese media presence in the Americas: “Xinhua has established 21 bureaus in nineteen countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. It claims that 200 regional media outlets subscribe to Xinhua, plus 200 non-media additional subscribers, including the Ministry of Culture of Peru.”
There’s an urgent need to hold Chinese and Russian state-owned media accountable, especially given their inroads in local media throughout Latin America. We don’t dispute these organizations’ right to free speech, but it is crucial to call them out when they publish blatant falsehoods and misleading information aimed at undermining democracy, human rights, and multilateral cooperation in the hemisphere. Our new service, Lies & Distortions, is an effort to do just that. After two weeks of monitoring the four websites, we’ve begun to notice some trends.
We’ve tracked 15 articles that contain either false or misleading information. By publication, here’s the breakdown:
State-owned news services publishing misinformation about the Americas (June 10-July 5)
The vast majority of the articles published by Russian-owned media unsurprisingly focus on either Venezuela or U.S.-Latin American relations. All four of the articles that we’ve tagged as “False” are from either RT or Sputnik. Articles published by Chinese-owned outlets are more subtly misleading, and tend to be about Chinese presence in the hemisphere.
Here are some of the most interesting—and worrying—claims we’ve seen:
- Sputnik Mundo published an article previewing the July 1st Mexican elections with commentary from a consulting firm that doesn’t exist.
- RT en Español claimed that the U.S. government is actively seeking regime change in Venezuela because of its oil reserves. The article’s “source”, Abby Martin, is no stranger to dubious claims—she believes 9/11 was part of a U.S. government conspiracy.
- Xinhua published an article that misconstrued remarks from the Foreign Minister of the Dominican Republic to portray the country’s economic relationship with China more favorably.
- RT en Español claimed the purpose of Vice-President Mike Pence’s recent trip to Latin America was to rally support for an invasion of Venezuela.
In the months ahead we plan on ramping up our monitoring efforts to include tracking republication of misleading or false articles in local media throughout the hemisphere—what has been referred to “proxy media.” Though these outlets already enjoy significant audiences in the hemisphere, their work is most effective at spreading misinformation when it appears republished in local media. When this happens, readers no longer have the benefit of actively choosing to read an article published by a state-owned media outlet, but instead are led to believe they are reading credible news because it’s contained in a credible media source.
As we continue to monitor misinformation published by extra-hemispheric state-owned media in the Americas, we are going to need your help. We’re an extremely small operation with limited resources, and we’re not going to catch everything. If you see something published by Chinese or Russian state media about the Americas that you think is misleading or false, send it to email@example.com and we’ll review it.