Propaganda websites have mushroomed in the past year in Bulgaria, Source: Depositphotos

The “mushroom” effect: How Russian propaganda proliferates in Bulgaria

The “mushroom” effect: How Russian propaganda proliferates in Bulgaria

Sharing of misleading and false info content increasingly relies on bots and paid users

The Human and Social Studies Foundation, based in Sofia (Bulgaria) presented a report from a study that it had conducted last year, which showed the extent and methodology of pro-Russian propaganda in the Bulgarian context.

The report was presented at an event called “War PR through the eyes of the experts” held yesterday, 19 June, in the Bulgarian capital.

The analysis showed that some 370 websites had sprung up in the past year, mainly with the aim of spreading Russian and pro-Russian propaganda points and narratives among the Bulgarian public. There were two bursts in the surge of these kinds of narratives and media in the digital space of the Balkan country. One coincided, and in fact, was the result of the start of the invasion of Ukraine, and the other was at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023.

All in all, the amount of misleading narratives and media posts increased 20 times when compared to 2021! This sudden surge was likened to the phenomenon of mushroom proliferation after rain, which is why the researchers dubbed these websites – “mushroom websites”.

Facebook in Bulgaria is a fertile ground for the spread of disinfo

Facebook is the most used social media channel among Bulgarian, by far, which has also made it a popular field for the exploitation and testing of various propagandistic methods.

At the start of 2022, top site rankings include aggregators and real media. At the end of the year, media sites fell out of the top ten, meaning that in 2022, machine distribution prevailed.

At the beginning of the year, a small network of aggregators was formed, which reinforced the Russian point of view. By the end of the year, it was transformed into a powerful machine of mushroom sites, which increased the dissemination of each message by about 400 times. The sites from the machine probably work through the Share4Pay platform – it pays users to share on social networks ready-made information,” the authors of the study say.

The researchers also report exceptionally high activity on Facebook throughout 2022. The study counted 25,692 posts in groups and 19,987 in pages, with posts gathering more than 7.6 million interactions.

What’s notable is that propaganda messages thrive better in pages and groups, whose original purpose is not stated as informative or political, but rather as commercial or entertainment.

As for the themes of the different narratives, the fact that the Russian army has stumbled and has been bogged down in Ukraine is impossible to hide even to a pro-Russian public, so the narrative has started to shift towards representing Moscow as a victim of the West. In that vein, this strikes a chord with disenfranchised and marginalized social groups in Bulgaria, who else respond well to a message that Bulgaria is also a victim or a colony of the EU, NATO or USA.

The efficacy and vitality of propaganda seem to stem from such ability to always find tangential and associative emotional connections even when the hard facts on the ground aren’t favourable to supporting a certain point.



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