RT Arabic’s popularity in the Middle East has only increased since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ISD’s Executive Director for AMEA, Moustafa Ayad, tells media outlet DW. While it has traditionally done well in the region, especially in comparison to Arabic offerings by Western media, since February it has gained millions of followers while pushing pro-Kremlin accounts of the war. However, what is proving more concerning are the amount of Facebook pages and unofficial online organizations driving engagement around reposted RT content and pro-Kremlin stories, Moustafa explained.
“The Arabic language pro-Kremlin digital ecosystem is a mixture of official state media and unofficial, branded media organizations”, he said. “It’s important to look beyond state-affiliated agencies to the impact of Facebook-only media outlets which are sharing, repurposing and rebranding RT and Sputnik content. These are entities that exist solely on social media platforms, are typically not accredited news agencies, but play a role in spreading pro-Kremlin content”.
It appears that locals in countries with authoritarian countries who have state-sponsored media outlets of their own tend to turn to social media for news reports.
ISD found evidence of this in what we have called the ‘Kremlinistas of Twitter’. These accounts were posting pro-Kremlin narratives in Arabic behind profile pictures of conventionally attractive women.
These supposedly unaffiliated accounts and outlets get twice as much engagement as any official media, Moustafa stressed.