How to defend against Russia’s information warfare


Poland, like many European countries, has been targeted by Russian propagandists with disinformation campaigns. Experts say the effort is aimed at the country’s political discussion. They say many false accounts were opened on Polish Facebook, and other sites, in 2014 during a period of protests in neighboring Ukraine. Russian propagandists are focusing on inciting Polish nationalist, anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian feelings, VOA reports:

Robert Gorwa is a team researcher with Oxford University’s Internet Institute. He says its studies “found PiS to have developed an “extraordinarily effective online resurgence.” Gorwa said the research showed higher levels of so-called bots, or automated accounts, on Polish Twitter than expected. He said the examination also found there were more than twice as many suspicious PiS or nationalist accounts than extreme liberal ones. The nationalist accounts also posted more often than those of the opposing side.

“We are seeing targeted social media hate and harassment campaigns by Ukrainian troll factories. Now the troll farms are being used against anti-corruption journalists and activists,” said Tetiana Popova, a former Ukrainian deputy minister for information policy.

The Coda Community teamed up with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting to examine Russian influence on Germany’s New Right (and it has launched a new membership program that comes with all sorts of perks and aims to build a community around topics that Coda covers, including disinformation.)

Russia’s active measures are not a substitute for declining military power, as some speculate. Nor are their use a sign of Russia’s declining economic or military power. They were and are essential assets of the Russian state that are integrated within important power structures (the security services, military, and propaganda agencies), notes Eric Chenoweth, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe and primary author of the Democracy Web, an extracurricular resource of the Albert Shanker Institute.* They remain essential to projecting power in pursuing the Russian Federation’s geostrategic aims, namely: (1) solidifying and expanding Russian dominance in Eurasia; (2) restoring Russia’s international position to that of the Soviet Union before its collapse; and (3) in so doing re-establishing (and re-asserting) Russia as a Great Power that helps determine global developments and alignments, he writes:

To achieve these aims, Russia has carried out aggressive foreign policies challenging the post-Cold War international framework in which the U.S. has been dominant. Well before Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and intervention in Syria, it had violated the sovereignty of many neighboring countries, created “frozen conflicts” aimed at keeping post-Soviet countries under its control, and used energy policies to make neighbors and EU/NATO alliance countries more dependent on Russia and thus (it was hoped) pliable to its interests. But to fully achieve his aims, Vladimir Putin seeks to change the world order from an international rules-based system to one determined by Great Power relationships that divide spheres of interest.

Russian disinformation can be defeated without the establishment of a shiny new initiative cased in the language of Cold War 2.0, argues Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. Instead of “rapid information operations,” the United States should work to systematically rebuild analytical skills across the American population and invest in the media to ensure that it is driven by truth, not clicks, she writes for The New York Times:

The fight starts in people’s minds, and the molding of them. In K-12 curriculums, states should encourage a widespread refocusing on critical reading and analysis skills for the digital age. Introductory seminars at universities should include a crash course in sourcing and emotional manipulation in the media. ….Training like this has a proven track record. In Ukraine, IREX, a nongovernmental organization, trained 15,000 people in critical thinking, source evaluation and emotional manipulation. As a result, IREX measured a 29 percent increase in participants who double check the news they consume. Another neighbor of Russia, Finland, has been resistant to Russian influence in part because of its media education program, which begins in childhood.

The American government should also work to level the information playing field, increasing its investment in public broadcasters and demanding a hefty financial commitment from companies like Facebook and Twitter — the unwitting agents of Russia’s information war — to support the proliferation of local, citizen-focused journalism. If social networks are unwilling to be the arbiters of truth (despite 45 percent of American adults’ getting news from Facebook), they should at the very least provide grants to reporters who cover the local issues that most immediately affect people’s lives and donate advertising to small outlets that cannot compete with national media giants.

“Finally, under no circumstances should the United States attempt to restrict freedom of the media,” Jankowicz contends. “The United States might label RT or Sputnik a foreign agent, but it should never ban them. It also need not reinvent the wheel by creating an American version of RT.” RTWT

*NB the Shanker Institute’s forthcoming Democracy in Crisis Conference

Thursday, Oct 05, 2017 | 3:00pm

Thursday October 5 to Friday October 6,2017

Washington Court Hotel, Atrium Ballroom

525 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001

The conference is free but registration is required


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