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Noticeable growth of disinformation in January as Lithuania is portrayed as politically failed state

January has brought a significant, almost twofold increase of disinformation cases targeting Lithuania. This alarming trend was also reflected by the growing potential reach of false and misleading content, which has also doubled since the previous month. Moreover, analysis showed that misleading information commonly seeks to represent Lithuania as “politically failed state”, having incompetent government which conducts erroneous decisions and is incapable to cope with COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

On January 1-31st 2021, Debunk EU detected 513 articles that were identified as disinformation related to Lithuania. Compared to previous period, this constituted approx. 47.41% increase in total amount of cases observed throughout the month. An increase in disinformation reflects growth of the potential reach – Debunk EU analysis shows that misleading information spread by pro-Kremlin and non-systemic Lithuanian language media in January has potentially reached around 112 million contacts all around the world which is near two times more than in December 2020.

Share of disinformation in January 2021
Share of disinformation in January 2021, @DebunkEU data

Issues related to Lithuania’s foreign policy this month tended to dominate the negative information flow, largely resulting from Lithuania’s reaction to protests in Russia after detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and also the stance on ongoing protests in Belarus. Domestic policy and economy of Lithuania were among the most targeted sectors as well.

‘Problematic information’ under the narrative ‘Country is a politically failed state’ increased around the Freedom Defenders Day celebrated on January 13th which triggered pro-Kremlin disinformation about Lithuania court’s ruling against Russian citizens who were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their involvement in the Soviet aggression in 1991. Moreover, Lithuania was accused of distorting historic facts concerning these events and persecuting political dissidents.

The second most prevalent narrative ‘Country’s health system is not able to cope with the disease’ was triggered by the first stage of COVID-19 vaccination in Lithuania. The pro-Kremlin media not only sought to show that Lithuania cannot ensure effective vaccination but also to discredit Western (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) COVID-19 vaccines.

Considerable amount of disinformation appeared after Lithuania decided to ban entry to Lithuania for Russian pop-singer Philip Kirkorov considering his performances in Crimea as justifying Russia's illegal annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine. The decision was presented negatively in Russian media followed by accusing Lithuania of pursuing anti-Russian policy in inappropriate and absurd ways.

Subnarratives by share of articles January 2021
Subnarratives by share of articles January 2021, @DebunkEU data

Analysis disclosed that disinformation flow in three pro-Kremlin media outlets – and, - constituted more than half (55.3%) of all detected ‘problematic information’ in January. Russian prevails dominant language in disinformation cases concerning Lithuania. Although disinformation distributed by non-systemic Lithuanian media outlets constitutes minor share of detected cases, articles in Lithuanian reached most social interactions on Facebook.

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