How to counter autocrats’ information warfare


The U.S. and other Western democracies appear woefully unprepared to blunt or deter Russian propaganda, says the University of Houston’s Chris Bronk. The Russians have all sorts of domestic information controls, but we largely don’t. That does not mean other elements of civil society – academics, activists, and technologists – can’t begin to identify and flag propaganda floated through gray sources, however, he writes for The Hill:

How might this work? My colleagues and I have been studying not disinformation but Internet censorship by repressive regimes for more than a decade. We scrape massive troves of data from open platforms such as Twitter and collect news stories looking for the suppression of information. One branch of our research is a chronicle of Turkey’s slide from liberal democracy to a repressive one-party state that jails academics and journalists.

Today, we are applying our techniques to better understand how Moscow and its proxies attempt to subvert elections across Europe and beyond, adds Bronk, previously a software developer, Foreign Service Officer, and fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“If government can’t develop effective counter-propaganda strategies in the short term, others may attempt to do so. Facebook is certainly thinking about the issue,” he notes. “Congress, the IC, the DoD, and the State Department should be working to craft counter-propaganda techniques and tools to protect our highly interconnected information society.”

Russia and China are effectively using tools as old as propaganda and as current as viral social media messaging to sow distrust abroad and split alliances to gain their way, three expert witnesses told the House Armed Services Committee, USNI news reports:

  • Frank Hoffman of National Defense University said Wednesday these “gray zone measures” and also called hybrid warfare, would include aircraft buzzing warships and turning reefs into militarized islands was in a way “a return to Cold War tactics.” Other autocratic regimes employing these measures include Iran and North Korea….“Putin’s got a lot of checkers games going on simultaneously,” Hoffman said in answer to a question…
  • “Moscow has deployed its whole of government approach … to weaken NATO,” Christopher Chivvis of the RAND Corporation added. The approach, s linked to Moscow’s military modernization, is population-centric, persistent and works from a premise of not getting into outright conflict the United States and NATO.
  • China also is not seeking outright conflict with the United States in this struggle, but under President Xi Jin-ping, it uses a “salami-slicing approach” aimed at what it believes are weak spots to get its way in the Asia-Pacific, Andrew Shearer of the Center for International and Strategic Studies said.

Credit: War On The Rocks

For many years, FPRI Fox Fellow Clint Watts has been tracking jihadis online; in 2014, he stumbled across Russian trolls and in 2016 initiated a series of essays on his research, warning of the Russian attempt to erode trust in democratic institutions.

How Russia Dominates Your Twitter to Promote Lies (and Trump, too), Daily Beast, August 6, 2016

Trolling for Trump: How Russia is Trying to Destroy our Democracy, War on the Rocks, November 6, 2016

How Russia Wins an Election, Politico Magazine, December 13, 2016

Can the Michelin Model Fix Fake News?, Daily Beast, January 22, 2017

Is Trump Russia’s Manchurian Candidate? No, and Here’s Why, Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, March 6, 2017

Fake News and Russian Information Operations, Main Line Briefings, March 9, 2017


Print Friendly, PDF & Email