Multiple channels used same branding of restricted pro-Kremlin media, garnering thousands of subscribers and views in less than a month
By Daniel Suárez Pérez and Esteban Ponce de León
Nearly fifty YouTube channels have reuploaded videos from RT en Español and Ahí Les Va! (“There it goes”), an RT-affiliated channel, despite the platform’s banning of RT after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Among these are seven new channels utilizing RT branding, which have garnered thousands of subscribers in a matter of weeks.
YouTube, along with other social media platforms, suspended access to channels connected to Russian state-owned media outlets across Europe on March 1, 2022, later expanding it to other regions, including Latin America. By March 11, 2022, YouTube had blocked access globally to over 1,000 YouTube channels connected to Russian state-funded RT and Sputnik. Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, YouTube determined that the channels and more than 15,000 videos spread misinformation, hate speech, denied violent events, among other actions prohibited by its policies. RT en Español and Inna Afinogenova, a Russian journalist previously associated with RT and former presenter for Kremlin-backed channel Ahí Les Va!, confirmed that YouTube applied its ban against their channels targeting Spanish-speaking audiences in Spain and Latin America. On May 3, Afinogenova posted that she had resigned from RT because she does not support any war and did not want to be part of “the war propaganda.”
Spanish-language social media has become a significant space for conversations and narratives Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Twitter, for example, Spanish is the second most prevalent language discussing the war. Meanwhile, Spanish speakers are among the main targets of Kremlin-backed media internationally through its Spanish outlets RT en Español and Sputnik Mundo.
As Kremlin media began promoting their Spanish-language accounts on alternative social media video platforms such as VKontakte and Odysee, efforts to recuperate YouTube’s audiences continued, likely because the platform ranks second globally in terms of number of users, with only Facebook having a larger audience. Most of the new YouTube channels re-uploading Russian state media, however, have not regained the same reach and interactions that RT en Español and Ahí Les Va! previously gathered. These channels include newly created accounts and existing channels linked to Latin American fringe media. Some of the channels used similar names to match those to Actualidad RT and Ahí Les Va!
Over the course of its investigation, the DFRLab identified found forty-six YouTube channels that reuploaded and edited videos by RT en Español and Ahí les Va! between March 1 and April 5, 2022. Among these were seven new YouTube channels that had previously never posted.