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Princesses, Bridges, and Mass Shootings: Disinformation Agents Take Advantage of Recent Events to Sow Discord

What do the Princess of Wales, a collapsed bridge in Baltimore, abortion, the shooting in Moscow, and U.S. immigration issues all have in common? Answer: all of these topics have been used in recent disinformation campaigns intended to sow discord or distrust in media and institutions. 

Here's our roundup of the latest conspiracies to swirl around the Internet. 

Russian Group Spread Disinformation About Princess of Wales, Experts Say. Perhaps one of the seemingly strangest moves that a Kremlin-connected group has recently made was to spread false rumors about Catherine, Princess of Wales, and her health.

Prior to Catherine’s video message where she disclosed her recent cancer diagnosis, the days were filled with rumors, speculations, and conspiracies about her noted absence from the public eye following an abdominal surgery in mid-January. The hashtag #WhereIsKate became a beacon for online detectives, memes, jokes, and conspiracy theories.

“Now security experts analyzing social media data say there were hallmark signs of a coordinated campaign sharing and adding to the false claims and divisive content, both in support of and criticizing the Princess of Wales. The researchers say this is consistent with the previous patterns of a Russian disinformation group,” the BBC reported.

Researchers from the Security, Crime, and Intelligence Innovation Institute at Cardiff University found that the accounts identified were also involved in generating or disseminating content that opposed France’s support for Ukraine, and that this group is historically focused on eroding such support, according to the BBC.

“Their messaging around Kate appears wrapped up in their ongoing campaigns to attack France’s reputation, promote the integrity of the Russian elections, and denigrate Ukraine as part of the wider war effort,” said Martin Innes, professor and director of the institute, to the BBC. The group’s approach involves encouraging confusion around existing issues and further stirring doubts, which in turn makes it harder for readers to identify real information from clickbait or disinformation.

The royal family’s preference to not voice complaints, and therefore remain largely silent about Catherine’s public absence, only added more fuel to the digital fire. “If your silence leaves an information vacuum, others will rush to fill it,” The Washington Post noted.

Russia Amps Up Online Campaign Against Ukraine Before U.S. Elections. As part of an effort to sow discord within nations supporting Ukraine, Russian disinformation campaigns have been increasing their activity. And these efforts have been getting increasingly sophisticated at disguising their influence efforts to encourage isolationism in other nations—pushing others to stop supporting Ukraine.

“In recent weeks, Russian state media and online accounts tied to the Kremlin have spread and amplified misleading and incendiary content about U.S. immigration and border security,” the Associated Press reported. “…For Russia’s bid to conquer Ukraine, this year’s U.S. election stakes couldn’t be higher. President Joe Biden has pledged to fully back Ukraine. Republicans have been far less supportive. Trump has openly praised Putin and the former president has suggested he would encourage Russia to attack America’s NATO allied if they don’t pay their fair share for the military alliance.”

Antiabortion Disinformation Ads Ran Rampant on Facebook. Hundreds of ads with misinformation about abortion were running on Facebook and Instagram in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

A research report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and MSI Reproductive Choices found that these ads were often placed by foreign antiabortion organizations, such as Tree of Life Ministries and Americans United for Life.

“Between 2019 and 2024 in Ghana and Mexico alone, researchers found 187 antiabortion ads on Meta’s platforms that were viewed up to 8.8 million times,” WIRED reported.

Moscow Theater Shooting Fans Flames of a Disinformation War. Although a group affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on a Moscow concert hall, top Russian officials have accused Ukraine and the West of involvement in the attack.

“IS has released video of the atrocity, but Vladimir Putin and two close allies have claimed the jihadists were helped by Western and Ukrainian intelligence. …The scenario is all the more unlikely because the U.S. had warned Russia of an imminent attack 15 days earlier,” the BBC reported.

Online Conspiracies About the Baltimore Bridge Collapse Are Out of Control. Conspiracy theorists on social media platforms X and Telegram have pointed the finger at a lot of things for allegedly influencing the bridge collapse in Baltimore, including (but not limited to) specific individuals (President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs); groups (Black people, the CIA, Hamas, ISIS and Islam, Jewish people); nations (China, India, Iran, Israel, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine); organizations (the United Nations and the World Economic Forum); the modern scapegoats (COVID vaccines, DEI, foreign aid, immigrants, lockdowns, and wokeness); and at least a couple of unusual suspects (aliens and kids television channel Nickelodeon).