The BBC’s disinformation team has discovered that a pro – Russian media outlet with UK registration is sharing millions of Arabic-speaking individuals with false information.
Yala News asserts to provide objective news, but a BBC analysis has revealed that it actually works out of Syria and that the majority of its content directly replicates stories on Russian state-backed media websites.
The main organization of Yala News, Yala Group, is well-known on social media. About 20 of them are glossy, professionally-made Facebook profiles. Every couple of hours, polished videos are posted, concentrating on topics that its three million Arabic-speaking followers are likely to find interesting, such as celebrity interviews, comedy sketches, and international politics.
Yala News’ impartiality and independence are attested to in the evaluations. But if you pay careful attention, you’ll notice a pattern: stories with a decidedly pro-Russian slant, many of which are almost exact replicas of those seen on Russian state media the same day.
Its articles gained popularity soon after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Here’s an illustration: On March 10, 2022, Russian state television broadcast a bizarre and entirely fictitious tale that claimed the US was using birds as bioweapons to spread deadly diseases as they flew into Russia.
The narrative was transcribed and made available on the state-sponsored Sputnik Arabic and Russia Today (RT) Arabic channels that afternoon. Some of the wording was the same when it was uploaded as a video on Yala News’ Facebook page two hours later.
The bio-bird tale is just one example. The BBC tracked Yala News’s most popular videos over a year with the help of experts in disinformation and discovered that almost all of its tales originated from Kremlin-owned and pro-Kremlin news websites.
These include untrue reports that the Bucha massacre was staged, President Zelensky appeared to be inebriated in a video addressing Ukraine, and Ukrainian troops have been running away from the front lines. These all began in state-run Russian media, and Yala News posted videos of the same stories a few hours afterward.
Yala News is serving as a “Kremlin loudspeaker” in the Middle East, according to Belén Carrasco Rodrguez, who studies Russian influence operations for the Centre for Information Resilience in the UK.
She claims that the timing of their tales and the similarities between them indicate that Yala may be “information laundering” for Russia, disseminating false information via a different source to avoid being identified as coming from the Kremlin. Russia has a history of engaging in such behavior.
Because of Yala’s appeal to Arabic viewers, she speculates that Kremlin-affiliated sources may be using it to advance their agenda.