Claims that Latvia violates human rights dominate disinformation landscape in January
January continued to echo the trends noticed in Latvia in the end of 2020. The narrative on human rights violations dominated the disinformation panorama about Latvia false and misleading articles portraying the country as allegedly violating freedom of expression or limiting the media and trying to eliminate the circulation of alternative information.
In January 2021, Debunk EU detected 240 articles identified as disinformation related to Latvia. Compared to the previous months, with an average of 16.9%, January presented a steady increase in the number of misleading articles constituting 20.1% of disinformation from the content investigated. The disinformation scope gave impressive numbers. It reached around 116 million potential contacts — one-third less than in December 2020, however, approximately four times higher than in November 2020. Similarly, as in December, dissemination of disinformation about Latvia was evident in the most prominent pro-Kremlin media outlets.
Disinformation outbreak in December 2020 and January 2021 was linked to Latvia’s Security Services’ carrying out procedural actions with suspicions of international sanctions violations, by conducting searches and detaining some Russian-speaking journalists. This story gained completely new shades in January when Russia’s state-controlled media outlet started an online campaign #Своихнебросаем by interviewing the investigated journalists and reinforcing the idea of active human rights violations on the territory of Latvia. The numbers with the highest disinformation ratios per day started from the 12th of January shortly after this campaign began.
Despite Latvia’s equable presentation as a country violating journalist liberties, throughout January other disinformation narratives were present as well. Despite fewer articles discussing Latvia as a failed state, ‘problematic information’ distributors used the Covid-19 vaccination problems in Latvia as a tool to undermine the country’s ability to cope with the pandemic and its potential to recover afterwards. Moreover, disinformation outlets and actors continued to stress that Latvia is a Russophobic country and is also manipulated by other governments or organisations, such as NATO.
Two main techniques built more than half of misleading content about Latvia in December. The outlets used the hyperbolization method (32.3%) to exaggerate scope and/or statements. Through the association method (27.5%), i.e., using the words (often fault and irrational) of influential actors and experts, the content gained more credibility. While analysing the data, it became clear that one pro-Kremlin source, sputniknews.ru, stood out discussing 23.3% of overall disinformation about Latvia. However, in contrast to the previous months, January presented more significant amplification of misleading content in other often not apparent Russia’s outlets.