The Spanish government said it has intelligence suggesting Russian-based groups used social media to spread “misinformation” related to Catalonia’s independence referendum.
“Propaganda campaigns” intended to destabilize Spain came from Russian territory and Venezuela, two ministers said Monday in Brussels, where the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council is taking place.
“Yes, we have confirmed it,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfonso Dastis said when asked if the Spanish government had confirmed interference in the regional referendum originated in Russia.
However, the Spanish government could not “say with certainty” if the Russian government was behind it, Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal added.
Misleading headlines such as “EU officials supported the violence in Catalonia” and “Global powers prepare ground for war in Europe” spread across social media after Spanish troops clashed with voters in Catalonia’s October 1 referendum to declare independence from Spain. The referendum triggered a political crisis that led to the dissolution of Catalonia’s autonomous government and an international arrest warrant for its former leader. Several lawmakers face charges, including rebellion and sedition.
The traffic is linked to networks with headquarters or propagation points in Russia, Dastis said. Of all the social media accounts identified by Spanish authorities, only three were authentic.
“The rest were fake accounts set up with the objective of multiplying and propagating inaccurate information,” Dastis said. He added that he would “not find it strange” if similar misinformation campaigns take place around December 21 elections.
De Cospedal added that the government was able to pinpoint where the campaigns originated.
“What we know today in Spain is that many of the actions came from Russian territory,” Cospedal said.
Dastis also singled out Venezuela, saying about 50% of the accounts came from Russia and 30% from Venezuela,” Dastis told journalists after meeting with his European Union counterparts.
When asked about the Spanish claim of Russian interference in the October 1 referendum at a news conference following the European Union’s Foreign Affairs council, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs declined to comment.
Dastis called for more cooperation from European states and urged them to be “vigilant about any manifestation of this sort.” He said the content’s purpose was to “debilitate” the European Union.
“Spain is putting all its assets to defend itself from this,” the minister said. “We wish to strengthen and develop our cooperation with the strategic communication structures of other member states and of the European Union itself.”