It’s not often you can see examples of Russian propaganda on social media so clearly but this is an exception. The hashtag #RussiavsISIL is showing up on the tag analysis site Hashtagify as being tweeted primarily by organisations with “Sputnik” in the name.
Sputnik, of course, is the name of Russia’s foreign language media outlets. Since Russia began bombing in Syria in September 2015 in support of the country’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad, Moscow has gone to great lengths to stress its fight against Islamic State, or ISIL. You could say Russia has more or less marketed its actions in Syria to western nations as a move against ISIL.
Reports on the ground, nevertheless, show Russia bombing positions that have nothing to do with ISIL. This report says less than one third of the deaths from Russian bombing are IS militants. But it’s important to Russia to promote the message (in English and other foreign languages) that Moscow is all about fighting ISIL. So the information warfare arm, working in conjunction with Russia’s military, kicks into gear. Hence the hashtag #RussiavsISIL.
Evidently the hashtag has proven less viral than hoped, or it wouldn’t be clear that Russian media organs are doing all the tweeting of it. Then again, the Russians wouldn’t pursue this media strategy if it weren’t paying dividends of some kind.