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INTERNATIONAL > Ukraine Crisis

Russian Embassy in Japan plays a role in spreading disinformation on Ukraine

  • May 20, 2022
  • , Mainichi , p. 3
  • JMH Translation

By Kanamori Takayuki and Hatta Kosuke

 

The disinformation that “Ukraine has a U.S.-led institute for biological weapons” has been repeatedly posted on social media for several years even though the U.S. and European countries have explicitly rejected it as “ridiculous” and “a conspiracy theory.” In the week before and after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there were nine million tweets citing such claims among Japanese tweets alone. Who is spreading this disinformation that is in line with Russia’s justification for the invasion?

 

In late February 2022, when the Russian invasion began, an information analyst at Sola.com, an internet security company based in Sendai, noticed a social media post stating that “Ukraine has a U.S.-led biological weapons laboratory.” Analysis revealed that nearly 20 influential accounts with more than 10,000 followers were the starting points of the disinformation.

 

Since 2021, Sola.com has focused on Japanese accounts that are spreading unconfirmed information and conspiracy theories and has analyzed the tweets’ contents and dissemination paths.

 

According to Sola.com’s analysis, the account of the Russian Embassy in Japan was one of the starting points on Japanese social media for spreading claims justifying the Ukraine invasion. The account posted tweets that likened the Ukrainian government to “Nazis” and criticized Japan for “supporting the Nazi government twice in less than 100 years.” The account of the Russian Embassy in Japan, which posts content in Russian and English in addition to Japanese, is one of the “most influential” of all the Russian government accounts in the world, which are thought to total nearly 100.

 

Using an analysis tool provided by the German Marshall Fund, it was found that the Russian Embassy in Japan tweeted 732 times in the 30 days up to May 18. The tweets were retweeted over 80,000 times and received nearly 220,000 likes. The tweets’ virality exceeded that of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some people believe that the Russian Embassy’s Twitter account is playing a role even outside the Japanese-speaking world.

 

Timothy Graham, a senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology, Australia, who specializes in social media analysis, points out that “the Russian government’s Twitter accounts work in tandem to disseminate disinformation.” Graham analyzed tweets from 75 major Russian government agencies, including that of the Russian Embassy in Japan, for a week following the invasion of Ukraine. Graham confirmed that these accounts had a tendency to retweet posts with the same content at about the same time. The total number of followers on the 75 accounts exceeds 7.3 million. (Abridged)

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