YouTube was essential to RT’s early success, helping the Russian propaganda network expand its audience across the globe. YouTube’s decision to ban Russian state media channels after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine thus marked a significant setback—one that RT’s Spanish-language outlet, RT en Español, appears determined to overcome. Since its channel with nearly 6 million subscribers was removed in March 2022, RT en Español has consistently tried to circumvent the ban by running its programming through channels associated with its popular shows. Many of those channels have been removed by YouTube, only to be spun up again. Sometimes the shows reappear with a new logo superimposed over RT’s, sometimes they carry no logo at all, and sometimes they use a new name that makes fun of YouTube’s moderators. Our analysis found six active channels on YouTube with overt links to RT en Español. Together, those channels have generated more than 38.6 million views and have more than 165,000 subscribers. While these numbers pale in comparison to its reach prior to the ban, RT en Español continues to circumvent YouTube’s restrictions and has begun to reestablish its audience with remarkable speed.
RT en Español’s Not-So-Hidden YouTube Channels
The six RT en Español-linked channels—Contrapunto, Sepa Más, Ahí les Va, Erick Fonseca Zarate, Cartas sobre la Mesa, and Impacto Directo—have taken different approaches to concealing their connection to Russian state media. Some of the larger channels, like Contrapunto and Sepa Más, have obvious ties to RT en Español. Up-and-coming channels are more cautious. But a small amount of investigative work strongly suggests a link between each of these channels and RT’s network.
Contrapunto’s channel has the largest audience and some of the most blatant RT connections. Since its creation in January 2022, Contrapunto has racked up more than 31.2 million views and 77,000 subscribers. Its first video of substance, which discusses US bio-laboratories and prominently features an RT logo, earned 26,000 views. Four videos have since earned over 100,000 views, including one viral video that has more than 850,000 views. The thumbnails of its videos generally featured RT’s logo until May 2022, after which point the logo was only occasionally made apparent before clicking on a video. Contrapunto is no longer listed as a program on RT en Español’s website, though it did appear there as late as January 27, 2023. The show seems to still be active. A video featuring Contrapunto’s host and logo was posted as recently as March 1, 2023, and its YouTube channel continues to post multiple videos a day, alongside YouTube “shorts” and “community” posts.
Sepa Más is another channel with obvious RT links. Between its creation on December 19, 2022 and the time of this writing on March 7, 2023, the channel has generated more than 3.4 million views and 27,000 subscribers. Sepa Más sports its own unique logo, but its RT ties are clear. At times, the channel will even drop its logo and post videos with the green “RT” logo displayed. At one point in January 2023, it posted four videos in a row that contained RT’s logo in the top right corner. Often, the reporters featured in Sepa Más’ videos carry microphones with RT’s logo, and show hosts are recorded holding RT-labeled notebooks. Even Sepa Más’ name, which translates to “know more,” is a play on RT’s slogan, “question more.” Sepa Más’ “community” tab also shares links to RT en Español and directs users to other Russian state media YouTube channels.
Sepa Más videos in which reporters are holding RT-branded microphones.
Ahí les Va’s connection to RT en Español is nearly as brazen. It has also quickly established a large reach, gaining more than 3.6 million views and 55,000 subscribers since its creation on September 27, 2022. YouTube has repeatedly taken down its channels, and Ahí les Va has turned that into part of its appeal. The channel’s most recent name—“¡Censúrame otra vez!”—translates to “censor me again!” It even tweeted about the fact that it was skirting YouTube’s restrictions when it set up the new channel. Despite its sarcastic name, Ahí les Va is being slightly more cautious than in the past, at least on YouTube. Its prior channel mentioned RT under the “about” tab. The newest channel does not, and Ahí les Va almost never posts videos that include RT’s logo.
Erick Fonseca Zárate’s channel has taken some, but not many, steps to distance itself from RT. Zárate hosts the RT en Español show La lista de Erick. After YouTube took down the show’s channel, Zárate began sharing each episode on his personal YouTube channel. He advertised the new channel on Twitter in March 2022. Nearly every video on the channel includes an RT logo somewhere in the frame. Zárate has only had limited success with this approach. His channel has earned a little over 275,000 views and 5,300 subscribers.
Cartas sobre la Mesa and Impacto Directo, both of which were created in late January 2023, have been the most cautious, and their viewership has so far been limited. Cartas sobre la Mesa was removed from YouTube in the middle of 2022 and pinned its complaint about that decision to the top of its Twitter page. When it created its new YouTube channel on January 24, 2023, Cartas sobre la Mesa’s videos had superimposed Sepa Más’ logo over RT’s. On RT en Español’s website, all the program’s videos feature RT’s logo until the day it launched its YouTube channel. From that point on, it has used Sepa Más’ logo. It also has avoided showing RT-labeled microphones or binders in its videos. Impacto Directo is much the same; though, instead of using the Sepa Más logo, it doesn’t use any logo at all.
Cartas sobre la Mesa’s video from December 20, 2022 on the left and a video from January 24, 2023 on the right.
Why It Matters
RT en Español has been and will continue to be a challenge for YouTube’s moderators. Its programs have been banned, sometimes repeatedly, only to return and rapidly rebuild their audiences. Russian propagandists value YouTube too much to drop off the site. They’ve proven unable to get similar traction on alternative platforms, including Odysee, where many state media shows have set up shop. Sepa Más earned more subscribers on YouTube in three months than RT en Español gained on Odysee in a year. Contrapunto, which has more than 77,000 YouTube subscribers, has only brought in around 450 followers on Odysee. While Russian propagandists will continue to use these alternative sites, they aren’t going to quit YouTube, leaving the platform with a responsibility to constantly search out and remove Kremlin-funded channels. Ultimately, it could be impossible to clear Russian propaganda from YouTube, but when channels are obviously linked to RT, they should be subject to the same restrictions as those applied to overt Russian state media channels.