Hamilton 2.0 is an interactive tool that monitors the outputs of Chinese and Russian state media and government officials across a range of social media platforms. The weekly report provides a summary analysis of the most salient topics and narratives promoted by state-backed actors during the specified date range.
Monitored Russian accounts tweeted 17,291 times from December 7 and December 13, generating 136,724 retweets and 436,623 likes.
War in Ukraine
Many of the most popular posts about Ukraine last week claimed that Kyiv was carrying out war crimes. RT said Ukraine had injured children while attacking apartments, a hospital, and a market. Russia’s Embassy in Japan tweeted about a woman who said her home had been destroyed by Ukrainian forces. State media also said Ukraine was stepping up attacks on Orthodox churches, refusing to let mothers bury sons who died in the conflict, and publishing children’s private information online.
Russian propagandists pushed back on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s three step outline for securing peace, which included Ukraine getting more military equipment, obtaining more economic support, and engaging in new types of diplomacy, such as a Global Peace Formula Summit. The Kremlin dismissed Zelensky’s plan as “three steps towards continued military action” and said it had “not heard anything” about Zelensky’s proposed summit. State media also blamed the United Kingdom for stopping Zelensky’s early efforts to push for peace.
There wasn’t a significant volume of Russian tweets denouncing the G7’s agreement to help rebuild Ukraine, though standard attacks on Western aid continued. Russia’s Embassy in the United Kingdom argued that London was comfortable “pumping weapons into #Ukraine” and “multiplying casualties.” The spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the United States planned to fuel the conflict through 2025 to profit from “corrupt schemes.” Other diplomats pointed to Western weapons going missing or being stolen.
“Putin” was the most used key term by Russian accounts last week as they amplified statements that the Russian president gave to the press. As usual, President Vladimir Putin railed against the West, blaming it for starting the war in Ukraine as well as for “illegal sanctions, color revolutions, and armed conflicts” around the world. Putin warned that the threat of nuclear war was growing and Russia would defend itself “with everything we have.” He also admitted to targeting energy infrastructure in Ukraine, which has left many civilians without electricity and water, arguing that the Russian missile strikes were retaliation for Ukraine’s attack on a bridge in Crimea.
Release of Brittney Griner
After largely ignoring WNBA star Brittney Griner for the 294 days that she was detained in Russia, Kremlin-linked media declared victory over the United States when she was released in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who had been imprisoned in the United States.
Russian propagandists gave Bout a hero’s welcome. They highlighted his support for the war in Ukraine, showed him joining an ultranationalist party, and speculated about his future as a politician. They framed the trading of Bout for Griner as a Russian “victory” and US “surrender,” at times amplifying US right-wing commentary that aligned with that view.
Kremlin-backed outlets used the prisoner swap to wade into US culture wars, with Bout himself giving an interview to RT where he said that the “entire planet will commit suicide” if “woke” ideology becomes more influential. Bout specifically attacked progressive ideas around gender, claiming that in the United States, children are taught that there are 72 genders. Some state media also played into US issues around race and sexuality, with RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan calling Griner a “drug-addicted black lesbian.”
Finally, Russian propagandists used Bout’s experience to criticize the US prison system. Bout’s lawyer said he was “surprised he survived.” The spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Bout was a “symbol of US legal disorder.”
Twitter and Elon Musk
Elon Musk’s account was among the most mentioned accounts by Russian state media and diplomats on Twitter and was the most embedded account in state media articles last week, as propagandists highlighted Musk’s embrace of right-wing grievances. Kremlin-linked accounts retweeted Musk’s attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci and the “woke mind virus.”
They also seized on the so-called Twitter Files—a series of tweet threads that detail the platform’s past content moderation decisions. Russian diplomats and state media highlighted that Twitter had limited the visibility of accounts that routinely violated platform rules, which is sometimes referred to as shadow banning. Kremlin-backed accounts called on Musk to “abolish the shadow ban.” State media also showcased details around Twitter’s decision to takedown former President Donald Trump’s account, framing it as a move that was forced on the platform by activists rather than by a desire to uphold company standards.
Russian accounts likewise amplified posts that called Twitter a “full-on Democratic Party activist machine” and claimed that the site worked with the FBI to manipulate the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election.
Kremlin-backed accounts also jumped on revelations that money laundering charges had been brought against current and former EU officials, who allegedly accepted bribes from Qatar. While most of Russian state-media’s commentary was factual, RT said the corruption scandal was a “disgrace that is apparently weakening Europe” and argued that Western media was attempting to downplay the incident.
Monitored Chinese accounts tweeted 17,459 times from December 7 to December 13, generating 100,564 retweets and 362,872 likes.
Last week, Chinese diplomats and state media paid close attention to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia to attend the first “China-Arab States Summit.” “Riyadh” was the most frequent key phrase in tweets from Chinese accounts monitored on Hamilton last week, and “Arab countries,” “ChinaArab2022,” and “China-Arab states summit” were also in the top ten. Similarly, hashtags “Arab,” “ChinaArabSummit,” and “SaudiArabia” were all among the top ten most frequent hashtags used in tweets from the Chinese network last week.
The main focus of Chinese messaging around the summit was to relay Xi Jinping’s various pronouncements and to express gratitude towards their Saudi hosts. The Chinese ambassador to the Kingdom praised a “full and honorable reception,” Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying highlighted a “spectacular welcome ceremony,” and the former consul general to Beirut, whose Twitter account has more than 132,000 followers, shared the video of Xi’s arrival at the Saudi royal palace.
The visit was also the occasion for many diplomats to reach out to the broader Middle East and Muslims in the region. Many Chinese diplomats including the ambassador to Malta, the consul general in Belfast, a Beijing-based diplomat who used to work in Israel, and others highlighted China’s support for Palestine. While those tweets stopped short of criticizing Israel, they explicitly referred to “historical injustices done to the Palestinian people.”
Many Chinese diplomats, including the ambassador to Somalia, the ambassador to Malta, and the consul general in Durban, highlighted Xi’s denouncement of “Islamophobia” that was often accompanied by statements about cooperation on “deradicalization.” The former consul in Beirut explained that “30 Islamic countries” sided with China over its treatment of its Muslim minority in Xinjiang and that the West was lying about Xinjiang “like they lied about WMDs.” The quip about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was one of the few attacks against the United States in the context of China’s broader messaging outreach toward the Middle East. Hua Chunying and the former consul in Beirut both highlighted a Chinese railway line “connecting Islam’s holiest sites.”
Zero Covid No More
With the Chinese authorities conducting a speedy exit from their previous zero-covid policies, “COVID” was the most popular non-Saudi related key phrase, and “COVID19” was the fourth most frequent hashtag in tweets from the Chinese network last week.
CGTN personality Liu Xin stated that “COVID is not something to fear” and that Chinese medicine could help fight it. News agency Xinhua ran several stories about centenarians in remote parts of China recovering from the virus after being hospitalized. The news agency also praised the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines and the life-saving “CHINESE philosophy of COVID-19 response.”
In parallel to this positive coverage of Chinese public health measures, some diplomats and state media accounts also portrayed the situation in democracies, and especially in the United States, as grim. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian shared a CGTN article decrying the supposedly unscientific US response to the pandemic. China Daily made a similar accusation with a chart of covid-related deaths in the world, ascribing China’s low death toll to its “sound policy based on science and facts.” The chart, topped by the United States, implied that other countries had not followed a sound policy based on science and facts. Finally, Xinhua attacked Western media’s criticism of China’s covid policies as anti-China bias.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.