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 Russia accounts tweeted 16,095 times from November 30 to December 6, generating 131,186 retweets and 427,447 likes.
War in Ukraine
A series of Ukrainian drone strikes that hit airbases within Russia prompted only a modest number of tweets by Kremlin-linked accounts. Within that limited coverage, though, were claims that the drones belonged to NATO, that Ukraine was seeking to drag the United States into war, and that Ukraine was playing a “dangerous game.” State media accounts were more focused on framing the Russian military as resilient and successful. Nearly 100 posts celebrated President Vladimir Putin driving over a repaired bridge in Crimea, which had previously been attacked by Ukrainian forces. RIA Novosti even highlighted anonymous commentors on Le Figaro articles to claim that people in France were “delighted” with Putin’s drive. The Russian outlet also showcased Russian forces taking “advantageous lines” in Ukraine and capturing Ukrainian forces. Kremlin-backed accounts jumped on a deleted tweet by Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, that said that Ukraine had lost 100,000 soldiers throughout the war. The Ukrainian government claims the number of casualties is lower. Building off von der Leyen’s tweet, some Russian state media argued that Ukraine’s losses were closer to a quarter million.
Oil Price Cap
The Group of Seven (G7), EU, and Australia’s decision to cap the price of Russian oil sparked a barrage of criticism from Moscow-affiliated accounts, who posted more than 600 tweets that included the words “cap” or “oil” last week. State-backed outlets amplified the Kremlin’s insistence that it would not accept the price cap and Moscow’s threats to quit supplying oil to countries that enforce the price ceiling. Russian accounts argued that the price cap violated rules set by the World Trade Organization. They also said that it would “accelerate inflation and recession in the West.” Sputnik Mundo claimed the price cap wouldn’t impact Russia’s “special military operation,” while RIA Novosti said it would have a “bad effect on Ukraine” and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that “not all countries will survive” the price ceiling. RT en Español at times minimized the price cap, arguing that it was set too high to even be considered a ceiling.
Russia-affiliated accounts were thrilled by Elon Musk’s decision to provide journalist Matt Taibbi with Twitter’s internal communications about the platform’s move to restrict access to a story about Hunter Biden’s laptop ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Despite Taibbi showing that Twitter independently decided to limit the spread of the Hunter Biden story, RT tweeted that it was now “impossible for Democrats to deny their censorship practices,” and Sputnik inaccurately claimed that the FBI was exposed in a cover up. Sputnik host George Galloway said that the so-called “Twitter Files” showed the “incontrovertible truth that the American election was stolen” by Twitter rather than by Russia or China. Galloway also shared a post that said the Twitter Files were just the “tip of the iceberg of corporate-state collusion to manipulate public opinion” and argued that the US public faced a “psy-op on [the] Ukrainian war” every day. Another Sputnik host, Lee Stranahan, retweeted a post that called for all Twitter employees involved in the Hunter Biden decision to testify before congress. RT also amplified complaints about Twitter by former President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers.
Dividing the West
Russian state-directed media highlighted divisions between Western states and within them throughout last week. RT en Español and others jumped on the EU’s frustration with US subsidies for green energy technologies. NewsFront, a site linked to the Russian intelligence, warned that the dispute threatened to split the transatlantic alliance and argued that the “fight for money” reflected a “crisis in the liberal world order.” In addition to the usual complaints about NATO expansion and support for Ukraine, Russian accounts showed people protesting the alliance in Italy and Greece, underscored that there were disagreements within NATO about how to handle China, and noted that Germany would miss its spending target. State media also showcased Hungary’s veto of EU aid for Ukraine, asserted that Poland was going to invade Ukraine, and warned about Italian secession.
Monitored Chinese accounts tweeted 16,522 times from November 30 to December 6, generating 73,700 retweets and 287,116 likes.
The Death of Jiang Zemin
The death of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin was the story most covered by Chinese diplomats and state media last week. Almost 7 percent of all tweets published by monitored Chinese accounts monitored contained the key phrase “Zemin.” The first and fourth most frequent key phrase, as well as the seventh most frequent hashtag were related to the deceased statesman. In addition, three of the top ten most retweeted tweets from last week praised the former leader, with Xinhua announcing the death in a neutral tone and the People’s Daily mourning, in a since deleted tweet, “our beloved comrade Ziang Jemin.” Many diplomats, including Pakistan-based Zhang Heqing, the ambassador to Cuba, and the Embassy in France, lionized Jiang’s memory as “immortal.” Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying, the Chinese Mission to the UN, and others highlighted international recognition of the former leader’s passing.
The EU featured more prominently than usual in Chinese messaging last week, likely due to Xi Jinping’s meeting with European Council President Charles Michel. The EU was the fourth most mentioned country of special territory in tweets from Chinese diplomats and state media, behind only China, the United States, and Russia.
On the surface, coverage of Michel’s visit was about promoting better EU-China relations, with the ambassador to the UN commenting that both interlocutors represented “two major forces for world peace” and the current ambassador to the United Kingdom noting the “steady growth of China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership.”
However, much of the EU-related coverage last week clearly sought to drive a wedge between Brussels and Washington and focused on sources of transatlantic tensions. The former ambassador to the United Kingdom concluded his summary of the Xi-Michel meeting by underlining China’s support for “the EU’s strategic autonomy”—Beijing’s way of advocating for less European alignment with the United States. And following Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s denouncements of US supposed war profiteering in his Friday press conference, several Chinese diplomats, including the consul general in Belfast, the consul general in Osaka, Pakistan-based Zhang Heqing, and Beijing-based Zhou Li, all pushed similar talking points on Twitter. The Global Times summed up the overall Chinese sentiment by claiming that “a rupture in the transatlantic alliance is to be very much welcomed.”
The consul general in Osaka’s amplification of a story accusing the National Endowment for Democracy of organizing the anti-Covid protests from two weeks ago and the former editor-in-chief of the Global Times’ prediction that unrest had ended in China were the only two outliers to even mention the protests.
However, “COVID” was the second most mentioned key phrase in tweets from Chinese diplomats and state media as they attempted to present the relaxation of sanitary rules throughout the country as spontaneous, rather than an effort to mollify protestors. The MFA, Xinhua, and the Global Times all attacked the United States’ death toll and hailed China’s zero-Covid policy as a success. At the same time, China Daily announced that Covid controls were being “fine-tuned in cities”; China Science, a People’s Daily affiliate, advertised a new vaccine that showed “good protection from the Omicron variant”; and the consul general in Belfast praised “the safety and efficacy of the [Sinopharm] vaccine.”
Explore the Hamilton 2.0 Dashboard.