According to a study carried out by the George Washington University for the El Pais Spanish newspaper, Russia tried to influence the Catalonian independence referendum of 1 October via social media.
The report claims that RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik used accounts of Venezuelans to try and paint a more negative image of Spain in the days surrounding the independence referendum. The University looked at 5 million messages to come to this conclusion and warns of the “serious crisis of political and economic reputation in Spain and the EU.”
Mr Javier Lesaca, a visiting scholar at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, analysed 5,029,877 messages on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook that carried the words Cataluña, Catalunya or Catalonia.
“The most surprising thing about the investigation has been the discovery of an entire army of zombie accounts that are perfectly coordinated and that are dedicated to sharing content generated by RT and Sputnik in diverse digital conversations, which go from Syria and the United States to Catalonia,” Mr Lesaca stated.
“There is evidence to suggest that the pattern of digital disruption that has been detected in digital debates about the elections in the United States or Brexit has also been seen in Catalonia and that the authors of this disruption are the very same.”
Whenever RT would publish a story about Catalonia, it would automatically be shared on social media by those accounts and a hashtag would be linked to it, like #VenezuelaSalutesCatalonia. In the text would then be mentions of NATO, the EU and Julian Assange.
For Sputnik, the biggest story during the period was: “Maduro: Rajoy must answer to the world for what he has done in Catalonia.”
The report also concludes that in this manner “the Russian media conglomerates RT and Sputnik have participated in a deliberate disruption strategy in the global digital conversation about Catalonia.”