Summary: In our research, we found no evidence that adversarial state-sponsored influence operations started or incited domestic protests that have rapidly turned violent since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Rather, adversaries are relishing in the distrust and discord of internal domestic issues faced by the US by highlighting the racism, police brutality, and internal strife of the US.
Russia has published over 1,600 pieces about the unrest, primarily geared towards English-speaking audiences (38%). Russia has attempted to stoke grievances on both right and left. Dozens of pieces conflated protesters and rioters, amplifying stories about attacks on shopkeepers, and portraying the riots as direct threats to the livelihoods and families of the audience. Simultaneously, Russian sources have portrayed Martin Luther King as pro-riot, American police as uniformly violent, and American society as broken by race. Russian media responded with indignation at former National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s suggestion they stoked tensions, publishing 34 pieces denouncing her. In Russian (20%), state outlets portrayed the United States as a whole in the grips of chaos and without leadership. Despite the very negative topic (reporting from Russia has a sentiment of -0.45), Russophone audiences seem to revel in the news, responding with a sentiment of +0.07, highly unusual for negative stories.
China, which has faced widespread criticism for its handling of protests in Hong Kong as well as its treatment of ethnic minorities, has deployed its digital media properties to portray the Communist Party as comparatively noble-minded in treating unrest and diversity. China has published over 500 pieces on the unrest, 80% in English. A particularly popular tweet, reshared across multiple accounts and platforms, sliced side by side video of the Hong Kong protests and American protests, portraying American police as exceptionally violent. More narratives portrayed the United States as fundamentally racist, contributing to a longstanding campaign highlighting examples of prejudice against Chinese nationals in America.
Iran published over 150 pieces on Floyd-related protests and riots, and Iranian officials released statements condemning the “brutal crackdown”. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif issued a statement calling “for the entire world to wage war against racism.” Iran faces regular criticism for executing Kurdish, Arab, and Baloch political leaders. Iranian media has also amplified attempts by American leaders to delegitimize the protestors, whether blaming political rivals, foreign powers, or domestic extremists. Iran has overall portrayed America as overwhelmed by chaos and violence and on the verge of collapse.