Armenian News Network / Groong
June 17, 2021
By Hovik Manucharyan, co-host of the Groong podcast.
Since August 2020 Groong has been monitoring more than a 100 news/political YouTube channels relevant to Armenia and have documented the alarming rise of a number of anonymous content creators, feeding fake news to unsuspecting audiences. To understand how we categorize channels, please see this.
Monthly viewership of Armenian YouTube content by category.
According to our monthly update for May 2021 such channels (categorized as “Suspicious” in the chart above) now have more than 45% of the share of all view traffic. An average video from a “suspicious” channel can receive orders of magnitude more views than content on more legitimate channels, such as news broadcasts.
A video, less than a day old, on
“Perfect TV” with more than 35K
views (average for Perfect TV).
News broadcast from “Armenian Public TV”,
one of the most popular legitimate channels
in Armenia with 12K views.
By and large, the “suspicious” channels seem to feature a common political message, largely supporting acting Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Perfect TV is one example, but there are dozens of similar channels featuring similar design elements and, in some cases, even reusing content from each other. In fact, Pashinyan has at least on one occasion shared Perfect TV content on his Facebook page.
Pashinyan’s Facebook post on September 1, 2019 sharing Perfect TV content. Image Credit: Gegham Vardanyan (media.am)
The content on “suspicious” channels is low quality, frequently featuring an anonymous narrator reading the content while images related to the content float in the background. In a few cases, the content seems to be original, however, in many cases the narrators simply read Facebook posts of pro-Pashinyan activists and frequently we’ve observed reuse of content among channels.
In one example of content re-use and the type of propaganda that can be “enjoyed” on these channels is a video whose thumbnail seems to indicate that it is a recording of a phone conversation between Kocharyan and Aliyev, a common baseless narrative of vilifying Kocharyan as being in cahoots with Azerbaijan’s leader. Two different “suspicious” channels (“ArmNkr News” and “8rd news”) used the same audio content and the same thumbnail image, but ultimately produced two different videos with differing background video. In reality, the audio content itself has no mention of any conversation between Aliyev and Kocharyan at all. Incidentally, according to reporting by Antifake.am, at least one of these channels is owned by Shavarsh Sarukhanyan, who along with Nikol Pashinyan was involved in the well-known break-in of the Public Radio building in Yerevan during April 2018.
Anti-Kocharyan video on ArmNkr News: https://www (dot) youtube (dot) com/watch?v=X7dI9mONX5M
Content is reused on “8rd news”: https://www (dot) youtube (dot) com/watch?v=eThT_G3rxOw
While the Perfect TV phenomenon is generally known in Armenia and frequently cited by analysts as a form of pro-government propaganda, there is little investigative journalism from credible sources on the topic.
When in early 2020 a fake Facebook page going by the name of “Diana Harutyunyan” spread a fake news item about Iran, Pashinyan’s government immediately arrested the individual believed to be responsible, under the auspices of national security threat. Yet with regard to the “suspicious” channels above, spreading fake news such as alleging that the US is giving nuclear weapons to Armenia (https://youtu (dot) be/1ecM5hLkhd0) or that “Iran will take Syunik” (https://youtu (dot) be/EN7zvYRd8To), the government has not reacted consistently. Each of the videos linked above has an order of magnitude more views than a traditional Armenian news program on YouTube.
Indeed, there is embarrassingly little or absolutely no coverage of the phenomenon by media monitors or investigative journalists. One well-known Western-funded fact-checking outfit “Facts Investigation Platform (fip.am)”, which is frequently criticized by opposition for supporting the Armenian government, has no mention of “Perfect TV” in Google search results. Similarly we weren’t able to find any mention of “Perfect TV” on azatutyun.am or armtimes.am (a newspaper owned by the Pashinyan family).
Most of what has been published in the press is from opposition sources and a few local and international NGOs:
● «Perfect TV»-ն ամսական 25 հազար դոլար է վաստակում (Hraparak)
● You Are What You Share (media.am)
● Armenia's YouTube political content boom (Jam News)
The most comprehensive investigation of this phenomenon was done by antifake.am, criticized as a pro-opposition outlet. Despite the critique, the Antifake has discovered credible links between the fake news channels and supporters of Pashinyan.
The Armenian Government’s response to such allegations has been denial. The government-run fact-checking outlet, infocheck.am, responded to allegations that Perfect TV is linked to Pashinyan by stating “Perfect TV is not fake and it is not run by Nikol Pashinyan”. In order to prove that the channel is not fake, and to clear Pashinyan’s reputation, infocheck.am did an interview with the Vigen Sukiasyan who claimed that the channel belongs to him and shared a screenshot of the channel’s About page from 2018 where Sukiasyan’s name is visible.
About page of Perfect TV from 2018 as distributed by infocheck.am
However, at the time of this writing the About page (https://www (dot) youtube (dot) com/channel/UC8kOchMgfcXZTDtgQ67LM9Q/about) does not contain any information about the content producer. An average Armenian YouTube user cannot easily determine who owns this channel. Furthermore, we have not found similar articles on infocheck.am about dozens of similar “suspicious” YouTube channels that we track.
Screenshot of Perfect TV’s About Page on June 15, 2021.
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