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Energy Crisis – Disinformation.Energy Bills. War in Ukraine

In theory, Romania had all the data to get through last year’s energy crisis without painful implications for citizens or the private sector. In March 2022, we already had the government’s commitment to cap prices for a year, along with other capping and compensation measures adopted during the year, while the industry was supported by an aid scheme in November.

What was the source of the chaos then? Although Romania has the capacity to cover its gas needs from domestic production, energy production remains difficult because of a lack of technical capacity. The lack of coordination and implementation of the announced measures has led to classic Romanian state scenarios, with supply companies complaining that the state is not settling their price caps. Why stability, when the Romanian state’s recipe is the same for all crisis situations? We are grabbing as much as we can, maybe it will pass before we even need to come up with a long-term plan.

In this context, inflation and price hikes have been felt in the lives of Romanians, with some of the highest tariff increases, despite the potential of domestic resources and EU aid. Incompetence and lack of clarity in the measures implemented have led to the best opportunity for speculation online, with misinformation narratives practically being served on a platter to influencers, politicians and the audience-hungry media.

What were they and what impact did they have?

The topic of the energy crisis was among the most popular topics promoted on Facebook with more than 8 million interactions and 157,000 posts between 2022-present, according to Crowdtangle. From legitimate concerns, to misinformation and creating mass hysteria, the exploitation of the crisis has been successfully carried out online. Romania TV is one of the most popular TV channels in Romania, but it is no less popular on Facebook where it has 1.4 million followers and is among the top accounts that have published content related to the energy crisis. It’s hard as a Romanian not to know about Romania TV or at least the controversial, misinformed and often conspiratorial content on this channel. Although it receives funding from traditional parties through state subsidies, that doesn’t stop the channel from showing sympathy for AUR and its leader, George Simion.

It seems that the main mission of Romania TV, 60m, știripesurse and other similar websites is to promote anti-Western content already on the face of it and to position themselves as a favourable bubble for far-right, conspiracists and nationalists who talk about sovereignty all day long. The danger? The audience of these channels is enormous, precisely because the average Romanian has legitimate concerns about his future in Romania, about how much the energy bill will increase, but more importantly, who is to blame! In this context, the government is silent and banging on and on with policies without continuity, while prices are rising and bills are becoming more and more painful.

The result? A society in which, at least on Facebook, the main sources of information are some that we can say with reasonable conviction are spreading disinformation and very rarely objective information. The temptation to turn a deaf ear to sensationalism and conspiracies seems to have eaten away at Romanians eager to blame someone for exorbitant bills they can’t afford. Are we blaming the people? Sure, we can do that, but the reality of ambiguous governance remains the main cause of the popularity of political extremes and the media channels that promote them.

The energy crisis and the anti-EU narrative

The European Union led by Ursula Von der Leyen has been heavily blamed for the energy crisis, the main arguments being that the green transition through the Green Deal, plans to save energy and the European energy direction are hindering Romania’s development and imposing unreasonable conditions on Romanians.

The main promoters of these arguments were Cristian Terheș, MEP and close to AUR, Ana Maria Gavrilă, former AUR MP and Romania TV. The method of promoting these messages is through inflammatory statements using altered information, such as the existence of energy quotas per household, the obligation of the Ministry of Energy to impose energy rules from Brussels, a much aggravated impact that rising bills have in Europe.

The stakes? Creating a state of alert, in which the citizen feels constantly lied to, in danger and in which the main enemy is the European Union itself, which exercises its power from Brussels through the Romanian traitor politicians.

Does it work? It depends on the angle from which we look at it. On the one hand, according to the latest poll commissioned by G4Media, more than 70% of Romanians would vote to stay in the European Union. On the other hand, Globsec published the Global Trends in 2022 report, according to which 49% of Romanian respondents do not believe that democracy exists or that it matters who governs us, nothing will change. This fatalism of fate combined with anti-West narratives led 41% of urban Romanians to say they would prefer our country to remain between the West and Russia as a geopolitical influence.

Obviously, this does not automatically mean empathy or closeness towards Russia, but it does mean that the fear and panic constantly promoted reaches the Romanian public. In a context where the most visible Facebook accounts are the anti-West ones, promoting misinformation narratives or outright fakes, we should not be surprised by Romanians’ inclination towards this insecure position towards our role in the region.

Political capitalisation of the energy crisis

As is the Romanian political habit, taking responsibility or prioritising solutions are unpopular practices. The energy crisis is no exception. At the top of the content creators on this issue is, once again, Marcel Ciolacu, leader of the PSD.

Both through paid advertising and constant postings on the subject, the energy crisis has been an intensely exploited topic, with the leader announcing that the party is prioritising people, sanctioning abusive suppliers, etc. The macho style of discourse on the PSD leader’s channel gives the impression that he is a man of the people, who in turn blames the leadership, as if forgetting his participation in the governing coalition.

For its part, the AUR party has been running out of energy to support its already popular narratives, such as the need for President Iohannis to step down, calls for protests in every locality and the urgency of political change in Romania. Again, the narratives here would not fall into the category of disinformation, but simply populism without substance, but with lots of form for citizens looking for scapegoats.

Category Conspiracy-Pleasures

Dana Budeau, Luiz Lazarus-Zeus TV, and didn’t just spread anti-Western narratives. They remained loyal to the audience formed during the pandemic that seeks an explanation beyond the limits of evidence, the conspiracy bubble in Romania. For example, with an average of 16 million monthly visits offers a category on the website to Dana Budeanu’s show,
What do the bubbles say? They predict the shutdown of domestic energy production at the behest of the EU, energy prices rising at an apocalyptic pace and a European plan to subjugate Romanians. We basically have the classic inflation-adapted narrative, but with an increased popularity due to the topic of general interest, the energy crisis.

Analysis of the website compared to other popular websites in Romania

What conclusions can we draw from online content about the energy crisis? First of all, we can see that the sources of traffic are mostly harmful sources that prioritise misinformation for the sake of sensationalism or an agenda of shadowy financiers. Objective information has been hard to access in the government’s decision-making chaos that has left room for much interpretation. Disinformation sources were not shy about filling this void with anti-EU narratives, conspiracies and anti-system messages, whatever that may be in Romania.


The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.



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