‘Biolabs’ boom shows that Russia’s disinformation networks are still functioning

Check this out from crisis informatics researcher Kate Starbird:


Notably, if you look at the quote tweets and replies on the October 2021 tweet thread, you see that thread getting more attention in February and March of 2022 than at the time it was originally tweeted.

That’s in line with what the NBC News article Starbird points to found as well. Welton Chang, the CEO of cybersecurity company Pyrra Technologies, identified a Feb. 14 post containing the graphic “Exclusive US biolabs in Ukraine, and they are financed at the expense of the US Department of Defense,” as the first mention of biolabs on Gab. That post got little attention, and the few other “biolabs” posts on Gab and other far-right social networks didn’t take off either—until Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine.

That same “US biolabs” graphic then took off, propelled in particular by a QAnon Twitter account that has since been banned. “The biolab conspiracy theory has taken over as the prevailing narrative on pro-Trump and QAnon websites like The Great Awakening and Patriots.Win,” NBC News reports.

Mentions of the bioweapon lab narrative in Russian doubled on March 6th,” according to Zignal Labs, a company that tracks and analyzes social and other media. On March 9, Carlson went on an extended rant alleging that the bioweapon lab claims were true.

The “biolabs” claims are coming from multiple levels at this point, in other words. Russia and now China are pushing them—in Russia’s case building on years of similar claims—and are joined by media figures like Carlson with large platforms, but also by networks of conspiracy theorists.

With participatory disinformation, we often see ‘elites’ set a frame or seed a narrative — and then audiences/participants work to assemble ‘evidence’ to fit that frame or narrative,” Starbird tweeted in an important thread tracing this process.

”For the first few weeks of this horrific invasion, it seemed like Russia’s influence operations were failing. They still are. But they do seem to be making some headway with the usual suspects and soft targets,” she concluded the thread. “The Russian disinfo machine still seems to be able to point and say ‘hey look over there’ and a number of people will turn and then head over to pursue a conspiracy theory that distracts from horrific bombings of civilians in Ukraine. Just like they did in Syria.”

Related stories:

Ukrainian bioweapons labs? Wait until Tucker Carlson hears about U.S. universities

‘R’ is for Russia

Russian media has an edict from Putin: Rewrite the war narrative, or face 15 years in prison

Tulsi Gabbard called ‘Russian asset’ after tweeting about ‘biolabs’ in Ukraine

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