Heavy coverage of the explosion in Beirut was substantial enough to break through the coronavirus news cycle, reflected in the fact that #Beirut was the third most-used hashtag by Russian, Iranian, and Chinese state media and government accounts last week, despite the explosion occurring mid-way through the week. Russian government and diplomatic accounts and state media highlighted Russia’s humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, and Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polanskiy posted a characteristically aggressive tweet calling on the United States to end sanctions on Lebanon. In Russian state media, there was also some attention paid to President Donald Trump’s insistence that the incident was an attack and later claims from the Lebanese president about possible “external intervention” causing the explosion. Iranian government and state media also provided extensive coverage of the blast, with the former offering condolences and the latter criticizing Israel’s response to the tragedy and pushing conspiracy theories about possible U.S. and/or Israeli involvement in subsequent protests. In addition, Iranian messengers used the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to attack the United States over its nuclear policies. Tech policy developments also took center stage last week, with Russian government officials and state-funded media criticizing Twitter’s decision to label all government and state media accounts. Chinese state-funded media and government officials directed their ire last week at President Trump’s executive order that effectively bans TikTok from the U.S. market, calling the decision “undemocratic” and evidence of the U.S. using national security concerns to advance “economic imperialism” (this topic is discussed in detail in a recent ASD blog post). Finally, Russia continued to tout its successes in developing a coronavirus vaccine, which coincided with a disinformation campaign in pro-Kremlin media falsely claiming that four Ukrainians had died after taking a U.S.-made coronavirus vaccine.
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