How to combat disinformation without falling into trap of counter-propaganda


The recent decision by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to ban popular Russian social networks VKontakte (VK) and Odnoklassniki, on May 15 (see EDM, June 7), provoked serious debate both inside Ukraine and abroad, the Jamestown Foundation reports:

Aside from social networks, Poroshenko’s May 15 decree bans Russian Internet search engine giant Yandex, some information technology (IT) programs, as well as anti-virus software (including Kaspersky and Doctor Web) that have allegedly been undermining Ukrainian information and cyber security.

How to combat pro-Kremlin propaganda without falling into the trap of doing counter-propaganda? Counter-propaganda would be an ill-suited means for Western democracies to fend off the effects of disinformation activities, argues Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, the Director of the French Institut de recherche strategique de l’Ecole militaire (IRSEM). He makes 25 proposals for countering pro-Kremlin disinformation without succumbing to propagandistic methods:

  • Clearly distinguish between disinformation, propaganda and public diplomacy to avoid the argument that “everything is propaganda”. While every country can defend their points of view, the author argues, the “intentional falsification of information” must be condemned.
  • Do not demonize Russia, but focus on fighting disinformation.
  • Raise awareness of the importance of the issue.
  • Recognise there can be information activities that straddle the preconceived divisions between information warfare and military action, including cyber-attacks, political communication, election interference and disinformation.
  • Strengthen the research on this issue from all sides, including ministries, universities, think-tanks and the press.
  • Recognise the limits of a purely state-driven response to disinformation. It will always be suspected of being biased. Civil society must also be involved…..RTWT

Disinformation operations are Russia’s weapon of choice. We have seen hundreds cases of disinformation successfully spreading into the mainstream media and influencing domestic politics, note analysts Jakub Janda and Veronika Víchová. The European Values Think-Tank’s Kremlin Watch Program has looked into Russia-linked interference operations in the UK, the Netherlands, United States, France, and Germany and identified thirty-five ways governments can mitigate hostile foreign interference, they report. 

Elections are more than casting and counting votes; campaigns and the ways societies are informed about them also matter. A comprehensive assessment of the state’s strengths and weaknesses against hostile foreign influence is the first step, and the Czech National Security Audit can be used as a framework, they write:

Governments are much better off admitting they cannot tackle the threat of election interference alone. They need the support of the media, private sector, and civil society. Those actors—if independent and strong—can sometimes expose Kremlin proxies faster and better than governments. …Civil society and open-source research organizations can make a difference. When sufficiently funded, they can build capacities for real-time monitoring of disinformation campaigns and rapid digital forensics investigation to identify origins and the nature of the penetration. For example, the work of Bellingcat and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab is exemplary. 


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