RT en Español and Sputnik Mundo still reach Spanish-speaking audiences, now with misinformation about biological research facilities in Ukraine. This latest wave of misinformation comes even after governments and social media platforms imposed restrictions on Russian-backed media — and after the conspiracy theory itself was debunked.
Right-wing actors in the United States have led a campaign pushing conspiracy theories about research labs in Ukraine, bolstering Kremlin-backed claims that these research labs, or “biolabs,” are facilities for the development of chemicals and biological weapons controlled by the United States. Video segments of Tucker Carlson amplifying biolab conspiracy theories have been repeatedly amplified in Spanish-language networks.
Conspiracy theories about biolabs in Ukraine have previously been linked to both Russian propaganda and the QAnon conspiracy theory. Although there are US-backed biological labs in Ukraine, there is no evidence that the United States is funding the development of biological weapons, according to the White House and President Volodymyr Zelensky. The UN also said it had no record of any biological weapons program in Ukraine.
Platforms like Facebook, Youtube and Telegram have imposed bans on Russian state-backed media in an effort to prevent the spread of misinformation that serves Russian propaganda efforts, but many of the efforts made by platforms and government institutions to limit the spread of the Russian state the media fall short of the Spanish-speaking public. It follows: Social media companies have a poor track record when it comes to removing and reporting misinformation in Spanish.
The story of the biolabs has had significant circulation in Spanish online spaces on Facebook and Twitter, and is also spreading on Telegram. RT en Español has garnered thousands of retweets and likes across multiple posts. On Facebook, Media Matters found that as of March 17, the top five Spanish posts about biological research facilities in Ukraine had a conspiratorial bias, claiming that the United States supports chemical and biological weapons. These posts generated more than 246,000 interactions combined. And Facebook is also profiting from ads spreading false conspiracy theories about alleged biolabs in Ukraine.
Sputnik Mundo and RT en Español continue to support the spread of conspiracy theories on social media:
On Twitter and Facebook, Sputnik Mundo accuses the United States of setting up the largest bioweapons testing center in Ukraine, alongside similar allegations alleging that the Russian Ministry of Defense presented evidence proving that the United States States were experimenting with bat coronavirus samples in biological labs.
RT en Español on Twitter and Facebook mostly echoed demands from Russian and Chinese state officials for the US to ‘come clear’ and give a full explanation of what biological research labs are doing in Ukraine. . Other messages claim that the United States was leading the development of biological weapons or testing deadly pathogens in Ukraine.
Although Telegram has banned Russian-backed media, a low-volume Telegram channel still carries stories from RT en Español and Sputnik Mundo pushing the biolabs narrative. Many of these posts amplify claims that are the same or similar to those detailed above.
Additionally, lies that Ukrainian biolabs are covert US-funded bioweapons operations are being fused with far-right conspiracy theories on fringe internet platforms, and this fusion is particularly aggressive on Telegram.
On Telegram, Russian propaganda boosted by America’s far-right is absorbed by QAnon conspiracy theories and fed to Spanish-language Telegram channels, where outlandish theories claiming COVID-19 is a bioweapon and Putin destroying pedophile rings by Ukraine have reached thousands of Spanish-speaking users.
The proliferation of right-wing fringe accounts, the pro-Putin drumbeat of conservative media, and weak platform moderation in Spanish-language networks have created ideal conditions for Russian propaganda to spread to large Spanish-speaking audiences.