Lessons from Europe’s fight against Russian disinformation


In most of Europe, where hoax news stories and Web sites with bogus articles are muddying the digital pipeline of reliable information, political leaders have publicly reaffirmed their faith in the mainstream media and urged them to do a better job exposing imposters, notes The Washington Post’s Dana Priest. With the help of journalists and researchers, the European Union’s East Stratcom Task Force has published thousands of examples of false or twisted stories in its weekly Disinformation Review, he writes for The New Yorker:

Viewing the professional media as a strategic asset, the pipeline through which credible information travels, had never occurred to me in my thirty-five years as a reporter. But it is certainly the view of authoritarian governments and those transitioning to authoritarianism. ….In every nation on Earth where the government is moving from a participatory to an authoritarian form of rule, seizing the information pipeline is a prerequisite for staying in power.

Last week at the Aspen Security Forum, four top intelligence and national security officials said they were absolutely convinced that the Russians were behind the effort to influence the U.S. election, The New York Times reports.

“There is no dissent,” said Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence. The Russians “caught us just a little bit asleep in terms of capabilities” the Kremlin could bring to bear to influence elections here, in France and Germany. The Russians’ goal was clear, he said: “They are trying to undermine Western democracy.”

Moscow and Beijing have consistently converged on an approach to global internet governance that puts sovereignty of national domains above the principle of freedom of information, notes Alexander Gabuev, chair of the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Russia in Asia-Pacific program. On the domestic front, both governments are happy to share best practice on limiting dissent online, he writes for The FT. Beijing has reverse-engineered draconian Russian law on non-governmental organisations, while the Kremlin’s experts are busy studying China’s “Great Firewall” [the subject of a recent report from the National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance].

Will democrats and civil society groups eventually be obliged to resort to forms of censorship evasion characteristic of life under Communism?

Underground publishers in the USSR broke rules in ingenious ways – such as hiding books in fake binding and making records on X-ray film, writes Benjamin Ramm:

The term samizdat (‘self-published’) was coined in opposition to gosizdat(‘state-published’), a word stamped on every official publication. Samizdat encompassed a wide range of informally circulated material, and took various forms: political tracts, religious texts, novels, poetry, speeches and music. A related term is tamizdat(‘published over there’) – material smuggled into the USSR, such as ‘x-ray’ phonograph records of prohibited music, including rock’n’roll and compositions by banned émigrés. These soon appeared on the black market.


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