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Russia using attractive women to spread propaganda in Arabic, study finds

ANKARA, TURKIYE - FEBRUARY 1: In this photo illustration the logo of “Twitter” is displayed on a mobile phone screen in Ankara, Turkiye on February 01, 2022. ( Celal Güneş - Anadolu Agency )
In this photo illustration the logo of “Twitter” is displayed on a mobile phone screen in Ankara, Turkiye on February 01, 2022 [Celal Güneş - Anadolu Agency]

Autocrats, dictators and serial human rights abusers employ some of the most sophisticated techniques to execute their war propaganda, which in recent years has been waged through social media.

The latest example of such disinformation campaign was uncovered by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) which uncovered Twitter accounts posting pro-Kremlin narratives in Arabic by using attractive female to increase their followers.

The Twitter accounts have hundreds of thousands of followers and use similar tactics to spread pro-Kremlin disinformation. All have pictures of attractive females as the avatar. The women claim to be in the Kremlin diplomatic or media corps, posting in Arabic about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

ISD, which described the technique as "Propaganda Primping", claims that the tactic works. Revealing details of the accounts with the most followers, the institute said that male audiences across the Middle East and North Africa "eat it up." For example, Maria Raskolniov has 11,100 followers, and claims to be an editor in the "Arab press department of the Russian sputnik_ar Agency".

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The image in Raskolniov account is however Instagram beauty and fashion influencer Dzana Dzzyzzle, who has more than 617,000 followers on Instagram and originally hails from Bosnia-Herzegovina. ISD says that the Twitter account of Raskolniov is a front, and part of a set of women influencer accounts, some seemingly real and some blatantly fake, spreading pro-Kremlin narratives on Twitter in Arabic.

The accounts all follow a similar playbook, posting a mix of hyper-Kremlinism as well as images of "themselves" posing seductively, or in military regalia. Hyper-Kremlinism, says ISD, is referred to as fervent nationalism often expressed through edifying images of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or videos of Russian women signing patriotic songs, military parades.

ISD indicates that this playbook is a "tried and true modus operandi, not only of Russian nationalist accounts on social media, but also of hyper-nationalists in India, Egypt, Syria, and the United States, where the cult of a political personality, often an autocrat, populist, or dictator, fuses with patriotic sentiments and results in a fanatical display of jingoism".

Apparently, men from across the Middle East and North Africa respond to seductive posts, with comments featuring multiple kiss and rose emojis, and men claiming they would change their name for them. The pro-Kremlin women of Arabic-speaking Twitter are not just shilling for the state, said ISD, "they are also primping propaganda".

Media, ideology and the war in Ukraine

AfricaAsia & AmericasEgyptEurope & RussiaIndiaMiddle EastNewsRussiaSyria
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