Reverse-engineering Russia’s ‘neo-Bolshevik’ disinformation



It is no coincidence that today’s neo-Bolsheviks have all created their own “alternative media,” starting online and moving into the mainstream, specializing in disinformation, hate campaigns, racist jokes and organized trolling of opponents. (The old Bolsheviks used to call this propaganda, and they were brilliant at it), notes Anne Applebaum, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Both the politicians and the “journalists” lie out of conviction, because they believe that ordinary morality does not apply to them. In a rotten world, truth can be sacrificed in the name of “the People,” or as a means of targeting “Enemies of the People.” In the struggle for power, anything is permitted, she writes for The Washington Post.

We should look at Russian propaganda with critical and analytical eyes in an effort to reverse-engineer the Kremlin’s disinformation, argues analyst Patrick Hilsman.

Countries that want assurances from Russia are probably aware that Moscow’s strongest asset is its propaganda. ….While authoritarian governments have learned how to read Russian intentions from their propaganda outlets, democracies are struggling to cope with the unfamiliar threat posed by this new version of hybrid warfare. Some in Europe and the US are advocating the shutting down of Russian propaganda outlets, and some have even toyed with the dark prospect of mimicking authoritarian governments by outright censoring Russian government disinformation.

Kremlin Cash Behind Twitter and Facebook

huge leak of financial documents revealed by a group of about 100 media organizations on Sunday – the Paradise Papers, the latest in a series of leaks made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reveals that a major investor in Twitter and Facebook had financial ties to two Russian government-owned firms known as vehicles for the Kremlin’s politically sensitive dealings, the ICIJ’s Spencer Woodman writes:

DST Global’s founder, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, and other partners in the deals reaped large gains when they sold their stakes shortly after Facebook’s initial public offering in 2012 and Twitter’s in 2013. There is no indication that the Kremlin gained influence over Twitter or Facebook or received inside information about the firms as a result of investments associated with Milner. But the disclosure shows that years before Russia meddled in last year’s U.S. presidential election, the Kremlin had a financial interest in American social media.

In an interview with the Guardian, Daniel Fried (right), an assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under George W. Bush said that [revelations of] connections with “cronies of Putin” threatened to undermine U.S. measures to reign in Russian aggression. “I don’t understand why anybody would decide to maintain this kind of relationship going into a senior government position,” Fried said.

The digital revolution has completely transformed human interaction, notes Alina Polyakova, the David Rubenstein Fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and author of The Dark Side of European Integration. But our Silicon Valley giants, the authors of this great transformation, have been allowed to operate freely without much government regulation or oversight, she writes for The American Interest:

Russia’s disinformation operations have revealed just how easily these influential platforms can be manipulated to the detriment of our democracy. These companies have to get serious about proactively curtailing this manipulation on their own. But if in the process they fail to re-examine and tweak their business models, the harder hand of governmental regulation is probably inevitable.

Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced, according to FPRI Fellow Clint Watts. I propose ‘nutrition labels’ for information outlets, a rating icon for news producing outlets displayed next to their news links in social media feeds and search engines,” he said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism:

The icon would provide users an assessment of the news outlet’s ratio of fact versus fiction and reporting versus opinion. The opt-out rating system would not infringe freedom of speech or freedom of press, but would inform users as to the veracity of content and its disposition. Users wanting to consume information from outlets with a poor rating wouldn’t be prohibited, and if they are misled about the truth they have only themselves to blame. RTWT

The Digital and Cyberspace Policy program’s cyber operations tracker (below) is a database of publicly known state-sponsored incidents that have occurred since 2005, the Council on Foreign Relations reports. Know of an incident not listed in the tracker? Report it HERE.

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