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Since Donald Trump’s election last November, stories about a Russian influence on western elections were brought by many stakeholders. The role of Russian media outlets such as Sputnik or Russia Today were also discussed. Let’s go back to the facts. Is this influence growing ? Who is spreading their news ? Did these media replace traditional media in some communities ? First answers with Brandwatch and Visibrain.

This study was first published in French by Nicolas Vanderbiest on his blog Reputatiolab. You can find a more complete version there. We apologise for any inaccuracy in this translation.

Learnings

Sputnik and Russia Today

Sputnik does not publish much about the Presidential Elections. On the contrary, Russia Today does it with some success because 145,017 people were reached by its publications. This figure is yet to be put in perspective because less than 15 000 people had interactions with both the Russian media outlets.

Russian propaganda representatives

Russian propaganda representatives gather around François Fillon, Marine Le Pen and François Asselineau (conspiracy, Frexit support) communities. It is interesting to note that, despite his support to the Russian foreign policy, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon community is totally missing here.

Russia Today and Sputnik do not replace other media

« Western » media are still shared a lot by the most active accounts identified, at least for Mr Fillon et Mr Asselineau communities. Regarding Mrs Le Pen, her supporters seem to almost only follow with « Eastern » media.

A shared enemy : Emmanuel Macron

These 3 communities clearly share the same goal: to drive negative propaganda towards Mr Macron. « Macron » is the most tweeted word in their publications and all the main stories propagated are negative articles about him. The only difference that can be identified lies in the candidate each community is supporting.

Sputnik and Russia Today

French version

The first step of my investigation was to analyse the content published by Russia Today and Sputnik’s accounts. To be able to do so, I collected 2.5 month of online activity to see the content published and the users reached.

Sputnik

Activity around Sputnik and its retweet gathered 57,337 different people. The net follower gain on the period is minimal for Sputnik.
Sputnik publishes mostly about Russia, Syria, USA, Ukraine. There is no clear focus on the French elections.
65 % of the people interacting with Sputnik are detected as Men. But what is more striking is that the gender algorithm, which is based on a firstname database to determine the gender, was able to statute in less than 10% of the total population. We clearly deal there with a lot of people using nicknames to hide their real identity.

Russia Today

Regarding Russia Today, its audience is three times larger than Sputnik: 145,017 different people were reached during the period.
 
The issues that RT has been adressing to this audience are directly linked to the campaign and the elections. Its favorite targets are Hollande, Fillon and Macron.
 
Just like Sputnik, more than 95% of its audience is publishing under nicknames.
 

Isolate the most active RT/Sputnik fans

French Version

The second step of my work has been to gather frequent users in the RT and Sputnik communities. 14,792 accounts were active with both of the media outlets. If you only select people having 10 interactions with Sputnik and Russia Today, we decrease this number to 6006 profiles. I did focus on these profiles and study how they were following each other. The bigger a node is, the more he’s followed in this ecosystem of RT/Sputnik active users.

We see there are 3 communities involved.

The color goes with the community they belong to

A community very close to Sputnik and Russia Today

Francois Asselineau and his party (UPR)

It’s mostly structured around UPR activists, who are very active online. We can see the traditional media are also part of this community, which is the sign that these activists also follow mainstream media, unlike the far-right communities.

A republican community

François Fillon

A certain number of accounts here are officially supporting François Fillon.
 
A xenophobic/far right community

Marine Le Pen

Accounts here are clearly supporting Marine Le Pen.

Influenceurs

Inside these communities

We looked at the most followed people inside these communities. We find well-known stakeholders from the self-called « patriosphere » but also mainstream media, showing to what extent they also are a source of information inside these alternative communities.

 

Valeurs Actuelles

@Valeurs
  • Following: 1203
  • Followers: 80600
  • Reputation score: 2403
  • Description: Le magazine de la droite qui s’assume. Actualité, politiques, économie, culture.

Stalker69

@_Stalker69_
  • Following: 19800
  • Followers: 28500
  • Reputation score: 2364
  • Description: « Le Stalker (ou traqueur en VF) est une unité de combat très mobile et capable d’attaquer à distance »

Le Figaro

@Le_Figaro
  • Following: 492
  • Followers: 2,59M
  • Reputation score: 2352
  • Description: Actualités, économie, politique, culture et divertissements. Premier quotidien et site d’information généraliste en France.

Kimjongunique

@KimJongUnique
  • Following: 3694
  • Followers: 21400
  • Reputation score: 2184
  • Description: Twitter officiel de Kim-Jong-Un, leader suprême de Corée du Nord. 35 ans de travaux forcés, si tu n’es pas mort de rire. Humour irresponsable et trash.

Le Monde

@lemondefr
  • Following: 441
  • Followers: 7M
  • Reputation score: 2117
  • Description: L’actualité de référence par la rédaction du Monde. Piloté par @martelclem @marieslavicek @bricelaemi. Snapchat, FB, Instagram: lemondefr

Mediapart

@Mediapart
  • Following: 1520
  • Followers: 1,9M
  • Reputation score: 1792
  • Description: es tweets de Mediapart.fr: le journal d’information politique et générale, d’investigation indépendant et participatif.

Sébastien Jallamion

@SJallamionjall
  • Following: 1472
  • Followers: 9214
  • Reputation score: 1668
  • Description: Président de l’association ANDELE (@andele1901), #Patriote et #Souverainiste. Membre du SIEL (@SIEL_Off)

Homme de bonne volonté

@hdebonnevolonte
  • Following: 15300
  • Followers: 15300
  • Reputation score: 1598
  • Description: « Le défi majeur de ce millénaire st anthropologique : c’est la nature même de l’homme qui est désormais la question-clé » @TDerville

Jpro732

@ JPRO732
  • Following: 6757
  • Followers: 13800
  • Reputation score: 1597
  • Description: 40 ans de république bananière, STOP! @MLP_offciel @louis_aliot @SIEL_Off @SARcomtedeParis @RenardDuNet

Jacques Sapir

@russeirope
  • Following: 4800
  • Followers: 29400
  • Reputation score: 1594
  • Description: Economiste, spécialiste de la #Russie et des questions monétaires #Euro. @EHESS_fr et @FondationMSH

The most active people

What are they discussion topics ?

To be able to analyse the most active people, I set up a Brandwatch panel with the 100 users who were the most active with RT/Sputnik (more than 265 mentions or Retweets of these two medias). This panel also analysed their global online activity, not only the one directly linked to the elections.

Their activity is simply enormous ; these 100 users being able to tweet until 180.000 times/week.
Most of their mentions are to support Marine Le Pen. We also find occurences with #EnMarche (which is the name of Mr Macron political movement).
But these #EnMarche tweets are far away from being positive for Mr Macron.
 
When you look at the most mentioned tweets, again we see Marine Le Pen, Russia Today and Sputnik.
 
And again, every mention about Emmanuel Macron is clearly negative.
 
 
The most shared stories derive from what we call « framed news ». Framed news propose a different version of the stories published by « western » media. Producing framed news is clearly an influence strategy, often serving Russian interests.

Breakdown by community

on the French elections

Then, using Visibrain, I also analysed the content published inside the 3 communities I identified.

The most « Russian » community around Sputnik, Russia Today and UPR/Asselineau

Online activity is also very strong there.
 
Macron is the most targeted candidate in the conversations.
We clearly see that we are inside Mr Asselineau supporters community because we see his name and campaign hashtag but also Frexit, which was one of his headlines during the campaign.
Clearly no surprise here, the most retweeted tweets are his own tweets.
In the most shared stories, Russia Today is clearly leading
Russia Today’s hegemony can also be observed in the most shared website domains:
 

Xenophobic/far right community – Front National

This community is twice more active than the UPR community.
 
This overactivity also targets Mr Macron. We also see « Marseille » a a keyword.
We also find here the story related to Mohamed Saou.
Again, anti-Macron content is leading in the most shared stories.
The most shared web domain is frdesouche.com (a « patriot » website publishing news on immigration). We also see mainstream and local newspapers like LeParisien or NiceMatin, but only because they published negative stories on Mr Macron.

The Republican – Fillon communit

No surprise here neither, Macron is also the most mentionned word.
Same thing in the most used hashtags, in the middle of the official campaign hashtags, #macron or #emmanuelhollande (mixing Emmanuel Macron and Francois Hollande names) are clearly leading.

The top tweets show negative comments against Mr Macron and Mr Mélenchon. However, it is funny to see that the first one is from a former Fillon supporter that had ties with the Fillon community during the primary but clearly changed side since then.

The most shared stories are also targeting Mr Macron and Mr Mélenchon.
Inside the Fillon community, the most shared web domains are Le Figaro, Valeurs Actuelles and Le Point (traditional right-wing media outlets). Russia Today and Sputnik are not visible in the top domains.