- The Spanish versions of Russian state-owned media have been heavily followed on social media.
- RT en Español offers baseless conspiracy theories to its Spanish-speaking audience.
- Experts say these media have had an impact on the discussion around the war in Latin America.
Spanish-language versions of Russian state-controlled media outlets like RT and Sputnik have garnered a large following on social media platforms, experts tell Insider, overtaking their English-language counterparts and spreading misinformation to people. millions of people.
The Kremlin-backed media has spent weeks pushing baseless conspiracy theories to the Spanish-speaking public about the invasion of Ukraine. Even though the engagement rate of these accounts has declined as major platforms take action against state-controlled outlets, experts say they have shaped the narrative around the war.
The largest Spanish-language Russian media outlet is RT en Español, which has more than 3.5 million followers on Twitter and 18 million on Facebook. Both accounts, which were already popular before the invasion, have more followers than their English-speaking RT counterparts.
On Facebook, RT en Español more than doubled RT’s English account. Sputnik News’ Spanish sibling, Sputnik Mundo, meanwhile has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook.
RT en Español and Sputnik Mundo are in the top 15 most shared domains for Spanish messages about the invasion on Twitter, according to a recent study by Esteban Ponce de León, research assistant at the Atlantic’s Digital Forensics Research Lab. Council.
“Once there is a new conspiracy theory,” these outlets “basically amplify the same theory in Spanish,” Ponce de León said. “The audience for these channels in Latin America is actually huge.”
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, RT en Español has consistently pushed baseless conspiracy theories at its Spanish-speaking audience. These include articles claiming that the Ukrainian army created a “staged recording” of civilian deaths in Moschun, a town near the capital kyiv, and that Russia was not involved in the massacre of Bucha, in which hundreds of Ukrainians died.
The outlet has also sought to stoke tensions between Latino communities and the United States, experts say, describing the latter as an oppressive force in the region. In February, RT en Español shared a post on Twitter with a headline about how the United States was a “real threat” to the world, part of what Andrew Gonzalez, geopolitical analyst at the Anti-Disinformation Society Washington-based Omelas told Insider. is a long-standing narrative for the Russian government.
When Russia released a list of “unfriendly” countries in March, it named the entire European Union, the United States and many other countries, but did not add any Latin American countries.
Engagement rate drops as bans force Russian outlets in Spanish to use other platforms
At the start of the Russian invasion, outlets such as RT en Español saw a massive spike in engagement, according to Gonzalez. The engagement rate, which takes into account likes, comments and shares, was then around 500,000 per day for all Russian media in Spanish, Gonzalez said.
But since then, he said, the engagement has slipped.
Over the past few weeks, these Russian outlets have started turning their attention to alternative social media platforms, Ponce de León told Insider. The move follows the outright banning of numerous state-backed media accounts and Facebook owner Meta. demote and block certain access to pages. Ponce de León cited RT’s accounts on messaging app Telegram and video-sharing platform Odysee as examples of the outlet’s efforts to expand its reach. On Odysee, RT en Español posts new videos every 15 minutes with updates on the invasion and other news.
But Gonzalez said those alternative platforms couldn’t match the crowd on mainstream sites, and those accounts didn’t have the audience size or engagement they enjoyed on other platforms.
“Over the past month, that peak has fallen to just over 175,000 ‘engagements per day,’ Gonzalez said, “and has come down significantly over the past week and a half to just a few thousand, maybe 8 to 10,000 maximum per day.”
Russian Spanish-language media impacted conversation in Latin America
Although Western outlets like the Spanish-language versions of CNN and the BBC are also popular in Latin America, Ponce de León said he believes pro-Russian content has seeped deeper.
“Given that Russian propaganda aims to push specific narratives, I think those are the ones that affect the region the most,” he said. “I think people are more drawn to those types of headlines and content and information as well.”
One thing that helps boost and legitimize Russian media in Spanish, Ponce de León added, is that they are retweeted by official Russian government social media accounts. RT en Español’s Twitter account was retweeted by verified accounts from Russian embassies in several Latin American countries, including Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
The influence of RT en Español and Sputnik Mundo on social media has significantly affected the discussion surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Latin American communities, said Ponce de León, who is based in Colombia.
“The real impact of Russian propaganda is shifting the conversation, not just on social media,” he said. “Right now, you can hear these stories on the streets, in coffee shops, in restaurants.”