‘Global league’ of democracies needed to counter cyberthreats



Credit: Nieman Lab

A global league of liberal democracies is needed to protect against cyberthreats, says Toomas Hendrik Ilves, president of Estonia from 2006-2016 and a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. Such an initiative would be based on “a broad recognition of the common nature of the threats and the political will to bring interested nations together to map out how to guarantee the defense of liberal democracies,” he writes for The Washington Post:

NATO’s own Cooperative Cyberdefense Center of Excellence in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, which is still more of a think tank than an operational center, is open to non-NATO democracies. Together with the Riga-based Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, another NATO initiative, and the recently-opened European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki, the conceptual bases for international digital defense now exist.

Credit: StopFake.org

“A conference open to like-minded countries — those that Freedom House ranks as ‘free’ — would be a good start,” Ilves adds. “Until defense of democracy in the digital era is taken up by governments collectively, both in NATO and outside the alliance, liberal democracies will remain vulnerable to the cyberthreats of the 21st century.”

Facebook has said ads bought by Russian operatives reached 10 million of its users. But does that include everyone reached by the information operation? Couldn’t the Russians also have created simple — and free — Facebook posts and hoped they went viral? And if so, how many times were these messages seen by Facebook’s massive user base? The Washington Post asks:

The answers to those questions, which social media analyst Jonathan Albright studied for a research document he posted online Thursday, are: No. Yes. And hundreds of millions — perhaps many billions — of times.

“The primary push to influence wasn’t necessarily through paid advertising,” said Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “The best way to understand this from a strategic perspective is organic reach.”

“This is the first time that a major internet company is trying to grapple with the possibility that its platform was used by a foreign government to influence a U.S. election,” said Nate Persily, a Stanford professor who studies election law. “There is no playbook for this. They know that they made mistakes,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

Russian influencing strategies are like a swarm of bees: they consist of many small factors that don’t match one particular frame, notes VSquare, a new site launched by investigative journalists in the Visegrad states. Its project report presents an analysis of Russian propaganda influencing, which turns out to be the main weapon used in a quiet information war.

There are echoes of Soviet times in the way Russia has been courting far-right activists in the West. A new book looks at how and why it does it, Bradley Jardine writes for Coda. In “Tango Noir: Russia and the Western Far Right,” Anton Shekhovtsov (right) identifies three main elements in the Russian disinformation strategy:

  • The first is “nudge propaganda,” using fringe activists from the far-right and other groups to promote Russian interests.
  • The second is “narrative laundering,” in effect creating and spreading fake news, with the original source obscured. When it works, conspiracy theories are “laundered” into mainstream discourse.
  • The third main tactic is selective sourcing. RT’s coverage of riots that broke out in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, in 2013, were a case in point. Its reports focused on the story of a man wielding a machete who was not of Swedish origin, which the country’s far right turned into a signature cause. And more than half the people RT interviewed for a segment entitled “They Don’t Want to Integrate” turned out to have far-right links.


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