As the Great Power Competition becomes a key focus of the US government, interest in Russia’s influence on the West is at an all time high. Election interference and fake news have become common topics of conversation, and many are keeping a watchful eye on Russia’s President Putin to see what his next move will be. While many studies have been conducted on the perceptions of Russia’s influence over the US and the consequences of Russia’s actions surrounding the 2016 elections, fewer studies have looked into what Russian citizens feel themselves about the spread of misinformation within Russia and their feelings towards foreign influencers including the US and China. Additionally, recent incidents of unfavorable polling data to Putin being revised following the Kremlin’s intervention have thrown light on the lack of quality data from Russia.

In order to gather insights on the above topics, in June 2019 GeoPoll conducted a study in Russia with over 500 respondents from across the country, with respondents from 68 of the 85 Federal Constituents of the Russian Federation. The study was conducted by mobile web, and looked into knowledge of fake news and misinformation, trust in media sources, and countries that citizens feel influence Russia’s economy, politics, military, and culture. Results can be viewed in full in the dashboard below.

News Accuracy in Russia

Of TV, radio, and newspapers/magazines, TV is the most consumed news source, with 85% responding that they watch television, compared to 62% and 51% for radio and newspapers/magazines respectively. A majority of respondents believe that the news they are consuming via TV, radio, and print is either ‘neutral’ or ‘somewhat accurate’ when asked about accuracy levels, however it is interesting to note that TV, with the largest audience, has the lowest percentage of those who believe it is neutral or accurate, at 71%, compared to print readers, of which 78% believe newspapers and magazines are neutral or somewhat accurate.

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When looking at the accuracy of domestic vs international news on Russia, we found that a plurality (38%) believes that domestic coverage is more accurate, however the results are quite split, with 22% stating that both sources are equally inaccurate, 21% that they are equally accurate, and 19% stating that international news is more accurate.

Social Media and Fake News in Russia

70% of respondents indicated that they consume news on social media, with Russian social media network Vkontake being the most used network, followed by YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Of those who use social media for news consumption, 76% believe that the news they view is either neutral or somewhat accurate.

Social media bots and trolls and their involvement in spreading fake news via automated or anonymous accounts have been examined in the past, and in this study we looked at the percentage of social media users who believe they have seen content from bots or trolls. We found that a majority of users, 51%, report seeing news stories from bots/trolls on social media in the past week, with males being more likely to report seeing these stories. Additionally, 72% believe that people unknowingly read news stories on social media from bots or trolls. This demonstrates that, while most of the audience believes they themselves could identify a bot/troll account, they acknowledge the prevalence of bots and trolls and believe that many do fall for the false stories they spread, showing that there is awareness of the problem in Russia.

We also asked about respondents own behavior regarding sharing news on social media, finding that only 28% of respondents ‘always’ read a story before sharing it on social media, with 30% combined reporting that they ‘sometimes’ ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ read stories before sharing them. A surprisingly high percentage given the sensitivity of fake news, 17%, admitted that they knowingly share false news on their social media accounts.

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In terms of reading fake news in general, almost equal numbers believe they have seen false news about the Russia government or Western governments, with 45% reporting they have seen false or misleading news regarding the Russian government, and 44% stating they have seen misleading news about the governments of Western countries. Respondents hold the Kremlin responsible most often for false/misleading news about both Russian government and Western governments. Unsurprisingly, opposition groups in Russia are believed to be more responsible for false news about Russian government compared to false news about Western governments, but interestingly Western countries are held almost equally responsible for false news about the West and Russian governments.

Foreign Influencers on Russia

The study asked several questions on perceptions of foreign influence on Russia, finding that the US is the leader in influence on Russia’s economy, politics, military, and culture, though has a less strong grip on culture influence, with 20% of respondents stating China most influences their culture. In terms of influence on their economy, the US remains at the top, with 52% of respondents indicating the US is the biggest influencer, but China also shows a strong influence on Russia’s economy, with approximately a third of respondents believing China is the biggest influencer on the economy, possibly due to recent reports of China and Russia coming closer together due to the United States’ actions on trade and foreign policy. Interestingly, females were more likely to state that China is the bigger influencer than the US in the economic, cultural, and military categories.

Despite the US dominating in terms of foreign influence, responses were more split when asked which countries respondents would want to have better relationships with: Here 29% indicated the US, 20% China, 19% Germany, and 9% the UK. Taken together, the Western countries still have a lead in this metric, but the closer split shows the country may not be in agreement on which nations they should align themselves more closely to.

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Overall, this study shows interesting findings on the prevalence of false news, especially that spread by bots and trolls, throughout Russia, as well as Russia’s perceptions of foreign influencers. Further studies in Russia will allow for more in-depth analyses on these topics and others of interest. To learn more about GeoPoll’s research capabilities around the world, please contact us today.