From antivax to pro-Putin

After having widely disseminated infox and rumors on the COVID, many figures of the antivax conspiracy are now setting their sights on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, thus becoming active relays of the Kremlin’s propaganda and its informational war.

Silvano Trotta in France, Sherri Tenpenny in the United States, Mila Aleckovic in Serbia, Simeon Boikov in Australia… On the Facebook, Twitter or Telegram accounts of these most prominent plotters, the change is noticeable from the start of the Russian offensive on February 24.

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There are well-known conspiracy “narratives” there: Ukraine would be the “rear base of an international pedophilia network” and would host “secret American laboratories” preparing a new COVID within the framework of a “new world order”. . As for the conflict, it would have been “manufactured” to divert attention or even to allow the re-election of Emmanuel Macron.

Part of the “covido-skeptical conspiracy has clearly swung to the Ukrainian sequence”, confirms Tristan Mendès-France, French specialist in conspiracy. “It’s not a surprise: this complosphere is an empty shell that aggregates around the news of the moment”.

On social networks, conspiratorial antiphons linked to COVID are now available according to a Russian-Ukrainian partition. The targets, too, have not changed, like Bill Gates or George Soros, the objects of numerous infox dismantled in recent years by AFP fact-checkers.

Yesterday accused of planning the pandemic, the two American billionaires are today accused of financing biological weapons factories in Ukraine. Or to have programmed the war to divert attention and have a free hand to manufacture a new virus. Russia would only have intervened to stop this scenario…

We find in this story the propaganda of the Kremlin presenting the attack on Ukraine as a rescue of the Russian-speaking populations and a bulwark against a so-called “Nazi” regime.

“A number of anti-vax figures”, some of whom have made a name for themselves thanks to the pandemic, are trying to “exploit the global attention focused on the invasion of Ukraine”, decrypts Imran Ahmed, director general of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, referring to “opportunists”.

While he was unknown before the COVID, it is today to several tens of thousands of subscribers on Facebook, Telegram and VKontakte (the Russian Facebook) that Silvano Trotta relays his theories around a “false Ukrainian crisis “.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Sherri Tenpenny, an American osteopath who has multiplied the infox on COVID, lets her 160,000 or so Telegram subscribers understand that the Jews are behind the conflict in Ukraine, a war that would have triggered primarily to divert attention from other pandemic-related events.

Reignited by the conflict in Ukraine, pro-Russian overtones of disinformation are nothing new – they were already noticeable in COVID disinformation – and Moscow is considered one of the masters of disinformation via social media.

In May 2021, when influencers are contacted by a mysterious communication agency to denigrate Western vaccines, it is therefore not surprising that all eyes turn to Russia, even if Moscow denies it.

However, it is impossible to know whether the antivax switch to an explicit pro-Russian discourse was directly controlled and by whom, Russia not being by far the only power to act in this area and to advance its pawns.

What is certain, however, is that this disinformation – whether it relates to COVID or Ukraine – “stirs up the dissatisfaction of the populations” of Western democracies to destabilize them and therefore in fact serves the interests of Moscow, underlines Julien Nocetti, specialist in Russian information warfare at Ifri.

Moscow has been able to exploit the covido-skeptical and antivax accounts allowing “a form of infusion of these ideas, of these narratives”, continues the researcher, who sees in it a “a form of rooting”.

“Our fault in Europe and the United States in recent years” is to have “analyzed cases of Russian disinformation through a very specific crisis context” when it is a “vision much more strategic on the part of the Kremlin” and “long term”.

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