A democratic antidote to Russia’s information warfare


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Russia is employing information warfare to exploit social divisions and tragedies such as the Las Vegas mass shooting, Aaron Aupperlee writes for the Tribune-Review:

The Alliance for Securing Democracy, an initiative to guard against Russian and other efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions in the United States and Europe, monitors 600 Twitter accounts that are linked or affiliated or supportive of the Russian government. In the aftermath of major events, those accounts post tweets and stories that amplify topics more apt to tear America apart than bring it together in the face of tragedies, devastation or turmoil.

“Anytime there is any kind of socially divisive issue out there, they tend to hop on that,” said Bret Schafer, who is with the Alliance. “We’ve seen their ability to get behind a message and push it up into the more general discussion.”

Fake news and disinformation are real and they are dangerous, observers suggest, laying bare the vulnerabilities of liberal democracy in globalized, digitally networked societies.

Russian propagandists scored a victory in Spain this weekend after “boldly injecting fake news and disinformation” into the debate over Catalonian independence and apparently influencing the election results, according to information warfare experts:

The divisive nature of Sunday’s chaotic poll, in which voters backed the Catalonia regional government’s disputed referendum to declare independence from Spain, featured Russian state-backed news outlets and social network robotic accounts leveraging the mayhem to push the Kremlin’s larger anti-Western and anti-democracy themes.

“What is so troubling is that the Russians used the same playbook and nobody seems to care,” information warfare expert Molly K. McKew told The Washington Times. “It’s the constant drumbeat: ‘Minorities are disadvantaged, the West has nothing to offer, democracy doesn’t work.’”

Understanding how the Kremlin’s ‘controlled chaos’ works is challenging because the Russians themselves are not following any playbook, but rather improvising and seizing opportunities, analysts suggest.

Robust democratic institutions are part of an effective antidote – one of the four components that make Finland more resilient to hybrid warfare, says analyst Charly Salonius-Pasternak. Russia’s actions in Ukraine reminded many that states use a mixture of tools to achieve their political objectives. Yet Finland is structurally relatively resistant to hybrid campaigns due to a foundation created over decades, he writes for The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (right):

First, Finland is fundamentally a stable and functioning state. On measures of democracy, the rule of law, anti-corruption, free speech and the media, education, and socio-economic equality, Finland scores well. In the Fragile State Index (compiled annually by the Fund for Peace and consisting of over one hundred individual measures), Finland is ranked year after year as the most sustainable country. Trust in the authorities is also high. According to recent surveys, 96% of the population trust the police, with rescue services, courts, the public school system and defence forces not far behind. This also gives Finnish political leaders a solid foundation on which to build a foreign and security policy based on cooperation, dialogue and deterrence.


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