Facebook is letting Russian and Chinese state-controlled media push the false Ukraine-US biolabs conspiracy theory
Right-leaning Facebook pages have also pushed the false theory, earning hundreds of thousands of views on videos
On Facebook, Russia, its ally China, and right-wing media outlets and personalities are pushing pro-invasion propaganda and disinformation, including the latest false theory that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was undertaken partly to target U.S.-linked labs working to create bioweapons.
Facebook and other social media companies have taken some actions to restrict Russia’s ability to spread disinformation about the invasion, which includes blocking Russian state media from advertising on the platform. But Facebook is allowing Russian government accounts and state media accounts to remain on the platform and push propaganda with organic posts, while also allowing Russia’s ally China to monetize this propaganda via ads.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, RT — one of Russia’s state-controlled media outlets — has posted at least 12 times pushing the conspiracy theory or related claims, according to data compiled from CrowdTangle. These posts have earned at least 30,000 interactions. Notably, four of the posts are videos that were added on March 8 and 9 falsely claiming U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland confirmed that the U.S. was developing bioweapons in Ukraine. These videos earned nearly 200,000 views and only one of the videos has a label noting that there is “missing context.”
Beyond the videos, there is only one other post from RT about the labs that is labeled as “missing context.”
The other posts from RT that push the conspiracy theory include:
Russia’s propaganda efforts have been bolstered by its ally China and right-wing media in the U.S. also pushing the conspiracy theory. Media Matters has already reported on Meta, Facebook’s parent company, earning revenue on ads promoting the conspiracy theory, including one that was run by Chinese state-controlled media. Since our initial report, at least two additional ads from Chinese state-controlled media have pushed conspiracy theories about U.S.-Ukraine biolabs.
Since the invasion, right-leaning Facebook pages have posted 336 times about the conspiracy theory and have earned almost 500,000 interactions on these posts. In fact, right-leaning pages account for nearly 60% of posts about the conspiracy theory that were posted by politics and news Facebook pages, and they have earned nearly 60% of total interactions.
Many of these posts are from right-wing media outlets and personalities, including six of the 10 posts with the most interactions. The post from right-leaning pages with the most interactions is Fox host Tucker Carlson’s post with video of him pushing the theory on his show. (Carlson has pushed the theory on his show multiple times.) His Facebook video has over 310,000 views.
Facebook boasts that it has taken action to curb Russian propaganda about its invasion of Ukraine, but the platform is still allowing the propaganda to thrive, including in ads that even earn revenue for Facebook and the other parties.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics from January 1 to August 25, 2020.
For an explanation of how we compiled pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here.
The resulting list consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.
Every day, Media Matters also uses Facebook's CrowdTangle tool and this methodology to identify and share the 10 posts with the most interactions from top political and news-related Facebook pages.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts for the pages on this list that were posted from February 24 through March 20, 2022 and were related to the Ukraine-US biolabs conspiracy theory. We reviewed data for these posts, including total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares). One post that was a false positive was removed from the final dataset.
We defined posts as related to the Ukraine-U.S. biolabs conspiracy theory if they had any of the following terms in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: “Ukraine bio-lab,” “Ukraine bio lab,” “Ukraine biolab,” “Ukrainian bio-lab,” “Ukrainian bio lab,” “Ukrainian biolab,” “bio-lab in Ukraine,” “bio lab in Ukraine,” “biolab in Ukraine,” “Central Reference Laboratory,” “level-3 bio-safety lab,” “Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program,” “Odessa-based laboratory,” “biowarfare lab,” “Victoria Nuland,” “biological research facilities,” “bio-lab,” “biolab,” “bio lab,” “biolabs,” “bio-labs,” “bio labs,” “biological lab,” “biological labs,” “biological research,” “bio-safety,” “biosafety,” “biowarfare,” “bioweapons,” “bio-warfare,” or “bio-weapons."