U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today criticized “Russia’s continued use of hybrid warfare” and its attempts “to undermine Western institutions” in a reference to the mix of state-sponsored computer hacks and Internet disinformation campaigns that NATO allies’ intelligence agencies say is targeted at the West, Reuters reports.
His comments came a day after Russia designated Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America (VOA) as “foreign agents”, a move aimed at complicating their work in retaliation for what Moscow says is unacceptable U.S. pressure on Russian media, Reuters adds:
U.S. intelligence officials accused the Kremlin of using Russian media it finances to influence U.S. voters, and Russian state broadcaster RT last month reluctantly complied with a U.S. request to register a U.S.-based affiliate as a “foreign agent” under the Foreign Agent Registration Act……RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said in a video statement his organisation was committed to continuing its journalistic work in Russia, but was expecting “even more limitations on the work of our company”.
RFE/RL and Voice of America “cannot legitimately be compared to RT or Sputnik,” Freedom House scholar Arch Puddington (left) told WikiTribune:
Puddington said that though they are funded by Congress, they cover the United States, “warts and all, in an even-handed way.”
“If there is a bias, it is one that favors democratic standards and human rights over dictatorship and unaccountable government,” he said. Puddington said that Russia would like its propaganda tools to be seen as the equivalent of the U.S. news channels it restricted.
“This is an entirely new front in the war of ideas,” he said. “It should be the job of our political leaders, from the president on down, to remind Americans and the rest of the world that there is a real difference between propaganda and news, and that the difference is fundamental to the difference between dictatorship and democracy,” Puddington said.
In an interview with VOA, Congressman Eliot Engel, a ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called the move “ridiculous” but added, “that’s typical for a totalitarian state with a totalitarian leader.” He said democracy and free speech are “alien concepts” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Authoritarian regimes have become adept at using democracies’ openness against them, notes Shanthi Kalathil, director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. While Russia’s use of global social media platforms to flood democracies with disinformation is perhaps the most prominent recent example, this is by no means the only way in which authoritarian powers have sought to corrode democratic practices and institutions from the inside out, she writes for the Forum’s new Power 3.0 blog:
Modern authoritarianism now harnesses the features once chiefly thought to empower democracies—the interconnected economic and financial system, ubiquitous communication networks, international norms and institutions, global media, education, and culture. In doing so, these regimes have in some ways leapfrogged the capabilities of democracies, whose inherently porous, transparent, and networked qualities have been easily exploited.
The Kremlin’s move against the US-based media outlets is further evidence of its aggressive pursuit of information warfare, analysts suggest.
Russia runs misinformation campaigns to create confusion and cleavages among NATO allies, the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm told today’s “Preparing for the 21st century threats” forum in Cluj.
With the global proliferation of fake news threatening democratic institutions, “media literacy” training is more important than ever, notes Tara Susman-Peña (right) a senior technical adviser for media at the IREX Center for Applied Learning and Impact. Gains made by consumers on the front lines of Russia’s propaganda war with Ukraine demonstrate that with practice, it is possible to navigate the fog of a post-truth world, she writes for Project Syndicate:
In October 2015, experts from IREX – backed by funding from the Canadian government and the support of local Ukrainian organizations – launched a nine-month media literacy-training course called Learn to Discern (L2D – left). Through skills-based workshops and fake news awareness campaigns, we sought to equip citizens with tools to identify Russia’s fabricated stories. The results were encouraging. Program participants reported gaining a deeper appreciation of what is needed to consume news wisely. For example, when we surveyed people at the beginning of the course, only 21% said that they “almost always” crosschecked the news they consume, a troubling rate for a country where trust in media is low but consumption is high. After the training, the percentage surged to 81%.
Google’s decision to police publishers more aggressively [on issues from child exploitation to extremist content] comes at a time when Silicon Valley companies are wrestling with how to get a handle on unwanted content across a host of areas, including violent videos appearing on Facebook Live, hate speech, terrorism and Russian disinformation campaigns attempting to thwart the political debate, the Washington Post adds.
The Baltic state of Estonia more telling was an early target of the strategies outlined in 1998 by Russian military analyst Sergei P Rastorguev in his Philosophy of Information Warfare (right), the Guardian reports:
Rastorguev said that one of the most effective weapons in modern conflict was information – or more accurately, disinformation, like the fake news and social media posts that US audiences have been reading since last year’s presidential election, or the stories that whipped Estonian protesters into a frenzy in 2007. The core concept of cyberwar has to be understood as something broader than hacks or the defacement of websites. It is psychological manipulation, executed with targeted digital disinformation designed to weaken a country from within. Thus, no smoking gun will ever be found.
“The Russian theory of war allows you to defeat the enemy without ever having to touch him,” says Peter Pomerantsev, author of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. “Estonia was an early experiment in that theory.”