You have the power to fund groundbreaking stories. With your financial support Canada’s National Observer can continue producing bold, critical journalism that urgently uncovers how disinformation clouds the national conversation in Canada. Will you become an annual subscriber for only $99.99?
We can now answer the question, “Was Russia involved in the 2022 truck convoy?” The answer is yes, even if it is unclear how influential it was in its attempt to amplify social divisions in Canada.
Russian state-funded propaganda outlet RT (formerly Russia Today), which has been called an “information weapon” by its own editor-in-chief, tried to exploit the three-week-long occupation of downtown Ottawa last year.
A propaganda outlet like RT is the most forward-facing component of Russian influence campaigns, which typically involve an assembly line of actors and organizations through which information and narratives are transmitted, shaped, manipulated and laundered. Propaganda starts with outlets like RT and moves to proxy websites, blogs and social media accounts.
But Russian propaganda sites weren’t the only outside influence in last year’s “Freedom Convoy.”
RT produced a higher volume of convoy-related coverage than any other international media outlet, but Fox News stepped up to produce the second-highest amount of coverage just as Russian propaganda decreased.
Fox News and other right-wing American media outlets also produced extensive coverage of the convoy that was often inflammatory, misleading, harshly critical of the Trudeau government and sympathetic to protesters. In terms of volume, from Feb. 7, 2022 through Feb. 17, 2022, Fox News devoted more than 16 hours of airtime to the convoy, according to watchdog Media Matters.
Another interesting trend was found when examining the timeline of convoy-related coverage across different international networks: specifically, when RT's coverage dropped off, Fox News’ coverage sharply increased. Previous reporting has documented a similar symbiotic relationship between the two networks, and this pattern in convoy-related coverage may be further evidence of that.
Fox News produced extensive 'Freedom Convoy' coverage that was often inflammatory, misleading and harshly critical of the Trudeau government, @rvawonk writes for @NatObserver #FreedomConvoy #Disinformation
One of the most widely shared pieces of misinformation during the protests in February 2022 came from a Fox News contributor. On Feb. 19, Sara Carter posted a tweet claiming Canadian police on horseback had trampled and killed a woman in downtown Ottawa. (A 49-year-old woman was hurt, sustaining a "strained shoulder" after contact with an RCMP horse.) Although the claim of a death was false, it was retweeted more than 11,000 times within the first three hours of being posted online by Carter.
Fox News’ obsessive coverage of Canadian politics continues to this day. Recently, Fox News host Tucker Carlson bizarrely suggested the U.S. should send troops to “liberate Canada from Trudeau.” This outlandish statement is notably quite similar to the tone of RT’s coverage, which portrayed the convoy protesters as victims of Trudeau’s government.
This is the second in a three-part series from Caroline Orr covering Russia's involvement in the truck convoy. Stay tuned for the final part. If you want to get notified when part three comes out, sign up for updates on this page
The difference between Fox News and RT, however, is that RT is a state-funded media outlet that exists to advance narratives aligned with the Russian government’s foreign policy interests and goals. While Fox News’ coverage appeared to be aimed at bringing a similar truck convoy to the U.S., Russian media’s coverage was focused on exacerbating and amplifying domestic grievances that fuelled the truck convoy in the first place.
Taken together, though, the extensive coverage of Canada’s truck convoy produced by Russian state media and right-wing American media suggests Canada is squarely in the crosshairs of a growing transnational far-right movement that has seized on pandemic-related grievances to recruit new members and expand its global presence. From this perspective, the convoy became a vehicle for various far-right and undemocratic ideologies and an example to follow for other fringe movements looking to bring extremist ideas and rhetoric into the mainstream by hiding behind causes such as anti-vaccine activism. While those using the convoy to advance their own agendas relied on veiled messaging and plausible deniability to achieve their goals, the message being sent to Canadians is quite clear: The world is watching, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Note: This article is based on Caroline Orr Bueno’s research published as “Russia's Role in the Far-Right Truck Convoy: An analysis of Russian state media activity related to the 2022 Freedom Convoy” in The Journal of Intelligence, Conflict, and Warfare.