- Social media has been a vital tool for coronavirus information, but also misinformation.
- Russia is using a US doctor for their own campaign.
- The Kremlin enjoys anti-US propaganda.
Thus far, the US is going through difficult times to prevent further spread of the coronavirus pandemic, including closures of non-essential businesses and even parks and playgrounds. The US administration announced the measures would continue at this time until April 30th. However, they could be extended depending on the virus trajectory. In Toronto, Canada all social functions and city events are cancelled until June 30th.
One of the hardest hit states is New York. It is at the point where a Navy ship with 1,000 bed capabilities is needed, to alleviate a shortage of hospital beds and intensive care units.
Since this been happening social media has been an integral part of people’s lives, as they look for news and posts. A lot of posts are spreading propaganda and misleading information pertaining to the virus. Some of them are deliberate posts to cause panic and create a disinformation campaign.
Facebook is in the forefront of such posts. Many users tend to gravitate to reading about the situation and virus. It boosts credibility when an ICU doctor himself is writing and sharing information on social media. However, this is when it gets interesting. There is almost a daily brief from an American doctor whose background seems to be somewhere from the former Soviet Block. He claims to work in a Brooklyn hospital and be involved in emergency work with severely ill coronavirus patients. According to his postings, he worked even during the Ebola virus. The posts are done both in Russian and English. The English posts have grammatical flaws, but it also could be the doctor’s first language is Russian. At the end of the day all that matters that he is saving lives working on the front lines. The profile is Evgeny Pinelis.
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After reading his recaps, I found something odd. The way they are written in one way, it shows the daily struggles and how difficult the job is and how many patients are dying and suffering. It makes you grateful about the front line health care workers, both doctors and nurses, who risk their lives to save others. We should be grateful for such wonderful people. On the other hand, the posts include the horror of people not being sedated while being intubated, which anyone normal would find quite disturbing. His recaps talk of the US system not having enough medical supplies and pregnant women with coronavirus. Also, he is begging relatives to sign do not resuscitate orders, so the ventilation systems could be used on younger patients who have a better chance to survive.
However, his posts do not attract Americans but purely Russian speaking nationals. It would be all fine and honest except few a key points. Suddenly his posts are shared all over Russian social media and even western Russian speaking forums in the US, Canada and even Europe. When someone is questioning the style of writing and certain details they are immediately attacked on his thread. The attackers specifically cite the doctor’s credibility and status, since his biggest fan is the head of the infectious hospital “Komunarka” in Moscow, Denis Protsenko. The Komunarka is the quarantine location with an ICU that is dealing with the severe coronavirus cases.
Also the same doctor who is sharing this information is the one who was on the news and videos with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. Of course, Dr. Protsenko does not post anything negative about Russian healthcare relating to coronavirus.
The US Facebook page is being used as anti-US propaganda by Russian and even Chinese sources that are in Russia. They are claiming that the US is failing and that people are dying while awake with intubation. They relate horror stories of people ripping out their devices and suffering in the US. There are also tragic images floating around which are not shared by the Facebook profile, but are shared by trolls and conspiracy theorists.
The question remains: if one is a doctor and working to save lives in US, why would you want to be used by Russia as a social engineering tool?
Fortunately, in the West and especially the US, there are very strong protections for freedom of speech. Yet, these posts are actually causing more panic than actually helping anyone in the US. I can see doctors sharing their stories and struggles amongst themselves or even just providing general safety tips, but this is not exactly what is being shared.
At this time, while Russia has severe penalties for spreading any type of hysteria or propaganda pertaining to coronavirus in Russia. But, are they using US Facebook posts as their propaganda fertilizer?