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in South Africa, the Russian voice is spreading on social networks

While the ruling party in South Africa refuses to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there is one event that has angered the African National Congress (ANC): the disappearance of RT in the country, a consequence of the European Union’s decision to suspend the Russian state channel. Deprived of a signal by its European distributor, Multichoice, RT’s broadcasting platform in South Africa, no longer offers the channel since March 2.

In a press release, the ANC, which is very close to Russia despite its official neutrality, denounced a “act of censorship” and demanded that the EU provide a “legal justification” to her “draconian decision”. The radical left party Fighters for Economic Freedom, now openly rallied to Russia, but also the Forum of South African Publishers, defender of press freedom, also deplored the disappearance of the channel.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers The African continent in the sights of RT

If the precise audience of RT in the country is unknown, it seems however inversely proportional to the indignation raised. ‘It’s hard to believe South Africans were watching RT in droves before it was taken down’notes Professor Herman Wasserman, specialist in media studies at the University of Cape Town, in a column published on March 7 by the South African site News24.

“Influencer Campaign”

Conversely, social networks have established themselves as a far more effective instrument in relaying the Russian position in South Africa since the start of the conflict in Ukraine. Several studies highlight the central role played by hundreds of accounts identified in South Africa in the global dissemination of two keywords suspected by several researchers of masking an “influence campaign”.

In the days following the invasion of Ukraine, two hashtags emerged trending on Twitter in some regions: #istandwithrussia and #istandwithputin. They will be shared more than 300,000 times between February 24 and March 7. Mostly by Asian accounts – Indian in particular. As well as by African accounts, massively identified in South Africa.

Read also War in Ukraine: on the Internet, propaganda and cyberattacks claimed but unverifiable

In a note published on March 8, Carl Miller and Jeremy Reffin, specialists in the study of social networks at the Center for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM), a British research center, note that the account attributed to the girl of former South African President Jacob Zuma, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, is the first influential voice to significantly amplify the #istandwithrussia hashtag.

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