Media and Information


Media and Information

Authoritarian influencers leverage propaganda, disinformation, censorship, and sway over content delivery systems to undercut the integrity of the information space.



State dominance over political expression and communication is a fundamental component of authoritarian control. Increasingly, authoritarian leaders that restrict media freedom and manipulate discourse in domestic settings also seek to curate information flows abroad as a form of modern censorship.

Digital-era changes to the information ecosystem have allowed narratives crafted by authoritarian regimes to gain traction far beyond their countries’ borders. Social media and the internet have lowered barriers to entry, enabling new actors to operate as information gatekeepers. Independent media outlets, meanwhile, have become increasingly vulnerable to economic coercion as they struggle to sustain themselves in an unfriendly business environment.

Sharp Power Influence

Authoritarian influencers take advantage of this already challenging information environment to flood the international media market with often coordinated, state-sponsored content: 

  • State media outlets that lack accountable and transparent governance structures—like RT (Russia Today), Sputnik, Press TV, CGTN, and Xinhua, among others—privilege authoritarian narratives and sideline independent perspectives.
  • Content-sharing and coproduction agreements between state-backed and independent news outlets act as a conduit for insinuating regime-friendly content into local reporting.
  • Journalist trainings and exchanges organized by authoritarian powers emphasize the regimes’ achievements and educate foreign journalists on how to report from the official perspective.

Authoritarians also employ trolling, online harassment, and forms of digital disinformation at scale to silence political dissent, shape election outcomes, and undermine democratic institutions. New technologies developed by a thriving commercial sector that offers disinformation as a service are used to demoralize, distract, and divide publics.

Information is a weapon—and one that can be used against us. This is an uncomfortable truth for open, democratic societies. We like to think that our media ecosystem is self-sustaining.

Edward Lucas

Firming Up Democracy’s Soft Underbelly: Authoritarian Influence and Media Vulnerability

Democratic Responses

Civil society can counter authoritarian sharp power in the media and information space. Familiarity with how authoritarian powers influence the information circulating in print publications, radio broadcasts, television programs, and social media feeds is a crucial first step.

Norms and Standard Setting
  • Media outlets should enhance operational transparency by publishing details about commercial relationships, acknowledging partnerships and information sources, and implementing procedures for receiving public complaints about inaccurate information.
  • The media sector should resist authoritarian efforts to define the boundaries of free expression and association by affirming its commitment to democratic standards, like accountability and human rights, and letting these principles guide engagement with authoritarian actors.
Cross-Sector Collaboration
  • Social media platforms should identify more meaningful ways to work with researchers, journalists, and civil society organizations, for example, to identify emerging threats and problematic accounts tied to authoritarian actors. Platforms should ensure that content producers and independent voices critical of authoritarian influence have an avenue for appeal when encountering online harassment or other censorship efforts.
  • Democracy and rights-focused organizations should incorporate the specific challenges posed by authoritarian media influence into future initiatives, with coordination and support from funders.
Education and Awareness
  • Civil society can help address persistent political-literacy gaps about modern forms of authoritarian influence. Surge capacity for local civil society expertise will help address sharp power inroads in established and emerging democracies alike.
  • An understanding of authoritarian influence should be mainstreamed into nongovernmental work on media freedom, free expression, and internet freedom. A comprehensive mainstreaming strategy can build on existing initiatives and should include investigation and research, actions by media outlets, initiatives led by journalists’ unions and media owner associations, and civil society efforts. 

Media and Information

The reporting and analysis catalogued in the Portal illustrates how authoritarian powers influence the media sector and information space in every region of the world.

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Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Publication Date: November 13, 2023

High-Tech Chinese ‘Border Scanners’ Raise Transparency, Privacy Questions In Serbia

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, Serbia

Author: Sonja Gocanin

View Resource: High-Tech Chinese ‘Border Scanners’ Raise Transparency, Privacy Questions In Serbia

China has donated border surveillance technology to Serbia under the stated goal of combatting smuggling and human trafficking across the Serbia-Bulgaria border. The donated technology, manufactured by CCP-backed Nuctech, may provide Beijing access to the personal data of EU citizens.

Source: Center for European Policy Analysis

Publication Date: November 12, 2023

Russia’s Hand Seen in Moldovan Local Elections

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Europe, Moldova

Author: Marija Golubeva

View Resource: Russia’s Hand Seen in Moldovan Local Elections

Candidates from Moldova’s Chance party were banned from the November 2023 elections for accepting laundered Russian funds. Through strategic investments, Russia has employed regionalization and strategic ambiguity to sow distrust in Moldova’s central government and democratic institutions.

Source: New York Times

Publication Date: November 2, 2023

In a Worldwide War of Words, Russia, China and Iran Back Hamas

Authoritarian Country: China, Iran, Russia

Affected Region: Global

Author: Steven Lee Myers, Sheera Frenkel

View Resource: In a Worldwide War of Words, Russia, China and Iran Back Hamas

Russia, China, and Iran have launched information campaigns to amplify messaging from Hamas’s online propaganda efforts. Outlets including Russia’s Sputnik India and RT en Español have echoed anti-western rhetoric and coopted anti-imperial messages to influence audiences across the Global South.

Source: Coda Story

Publication Date: October 25, 2023

Inside the Brain of a Kazakh Smart City

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Eurasia, Kazakhstan

Author: Bradley Jardine

View Resource: Inside the Brain of a Kazakh Smart City

A small village in Kazakhstan has deployed Chinese surveillance technology ahead of government plans to create smart cities nationwide. Analysts have raised concerns over China’s access to the private data of Kazakh citizens and collaboration with China to target protesters and minority groups.

Source: Institute for Strategic Dialogue

Publication Date: October 24, 2023

Capitalizing on Crisis: Russia, China and Iran use X to Exploit Israel-Hamas Information Chaos

Authoritarian Country: China, Iran, Russia

Affected Region: Middle East and North Africa, Israel, North America, United States, Global

View Resource: Capitalizing on Crisis: Russia, China and Iran use X to Exploit Israel-Hamas Information Chaos

State-linked social media accounts from Iran, Russia, and China have used the Israel-Hamas conflict to spread disinformation and anti-Western rhetoric. This disinformation includes manipulated videos, false claims about US involvement in the conflict, and dangerous demonization of Israeli civilians.

Source: Newsweek

Publication Date: October 22, 2023

Iran Joins Middle East Propaganda War on China’s TikTok

Authoritarian Country: China, Iran

Affected Region: Asia-Pacific, China

Author: Aadil Brar

View Resource: Iran Joins Middle East Propaganda War on China’s TikTok

Iranian narratives on the Israel-Hamas conflict have proliferated on the popular Chinese short-video app Douyin. Iran has spread pro-Hamas and antisemitic propaganda to 1 million followers on Douyin, which Chinese state media has reposted.


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Media and Information
Media and Information

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