Invasive Propaganda or Different Perspectives? A Deep Dive into RT

By Patrick Newell

While much of the focus on Russian influence in the United States has been pointed at bots, trolls, and fake news, Miami students heard a different and perhaps equally important take on media effects from Dr. Megan Metzger as part of the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post Soviet Studies’ ongoing lecture series “Russian Media Strategies at Home and Abroad”. Metzger received her PhD from NYU and is currently working as a research scholar and Associate Director for Stanford University’s Global Digital Policy Incubator Program. Her lecture centered on the Russian-sponsored media company RT, with particular attention paid to its role as an information broker for a global audience.

Dr. Metzger began by providing background information on RT. Originally branded Russia Today, the organization’s initial goals were to provide a Russian perspective on international news while also improving the image of Russia abroad. Since its creation in 2005 it has developed a large online following with 3.4 million subscribers on YouTube. While its initial goals may seem understandable, its purpose shifted to what the current editor-in-chief described as an “information weapon” (quoted in Nimmo). This new objective, alongside changing power dynamics and new knowledge of the importance of media exposure has led Dr. Metzger to conclude that it is critical to understand the role RT plays in the current media atmosphere.

In order to do this, Metzger used Twitter data to track the spread of RT’s message. By analyzing retweets of RT news stories she was able to come to several important conclusions. First, Dr. Metzger asserted that RT is able to position itself successfully as a media broker. In other words, it can get its message out to a fairly large audience and potentially be seen as a trusted source. RT had an especially large reach in Ukraine and the Arab world, with Metzger claiming that, “RT Arabic was the most shared source in the Arabic language dataset”. She attributed this success to a number of elements. It appears that RT has a small loyal audience that shares articles even when the source was not providing a Russian regional perspective (Metzger, 10). These people may be drawn to RT’s efforts to show the viewpoints of those who feel unrepresented in other traditional media. Another factor is RT’s ability to flood the information market during what Metzger described as “high salience events”. These are events that are important to Russian foreign policy such as the Euromaidan protests. Metzger’s findings paint a picture of a media organization that is very effective at sharing the message of the Russian Government.

Dr. Metzger was also able to share some preliminary research findings that may help to understand the goals of this “information weapon”. In analyzing retweets of RT during the 2018 U.S. midterm election, she stated that the people sharing the news source were mostly concentrated in strongly partisan districts. This could indicate a media strategy focusing on dividing voters and creating confusion, as has been suggested by other scholars (Nimmo). When asked what the US response should be to this potentially damaging organization, Dr. Metzger seemed reluctant to propose any drastic solutions. She suggested providing context regarding the source rather than outright censorship, calling back to concerns regarding the maintenance of a free press.

Dr. Metzger’s lecture provided a detailed look into the way RT functions within the media landscape. By understanding the forces driving its success, perhaps the U.S. can find a way to combat potentially damaging or dangerous information. However, she was wary of any rash action as there are many aspects of RT’s influence that are not yet understood. In dealing with this organization, it seems wise to tread lightly.

Patrick Newell is a sophomore majoring in Political Science with a minor in Russian.

Works Cited

Metzger, Megan. The Russian State, RT, and Information Online. 24 Aug. 2018.

Nimmo, Ben. “Question That: RT’s Military Mission.”, Medium, 8 Jan. 2018,

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