Wikileaks a ‘fully owned subsidiary’ of Russia’s ‘social media blitzkrieg’


Wikileaks is an arm of Russian intelligence and a new Cold War is descending on Europe through the weaponizing of information, Hillary Clinton claimed yesterday, The Times (London) reports:

The former US secretary of state said that the Kremlin was using the internet to foment trouble, boost the “ripples of right-wing nationalism and populism” and break up the European Union and Nato. Britain too, she said, was in danger from the Russian state’s propaganda machine as it embedded itself in the country.

She cited advertisements placed on the London Underground in recent days by the state-financed television channel Russia Today [see below], which mock claims that it is involved in disinformation campaigns. It uses slogans such as: “Missed the train? Lost a vote? Blame it on us!”

“Assange has become a kind of nihilistic opportunist who does the bidding of a dictator,” she said. “WikiLeaks is unfortunately now practically a fully owned subsidiary of Russian intelligence.”

Russia has backed a number of Far-Right groups in the West, notes Anton Shekhovtsov, a visiting fellow at Austria’s Institute for Human Sciences, and author of Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir. But it is a mistake to view these relations as a one-way type of relationship, [to suggest] that the Kremlin is manipulating them, or that it was behind all those initiatives, he tells Think Progress:

First, there were a lot of initiatives coming from the far-right, and second, unfortunately the knowledge of Russian politics, of how Putin’s Russia functions, is generally too low in Western media. One thing that they don’t realize is that the Kremlin makes only very important decisions – but many of these relations that have been developing since 2008, or 2011-12, these relations were operated not by the Kremlin but by people who wanted to produce a result coming from those relations that they could sell to the Kremlin.

The Kremlin has invented social media blitzkrieg, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Max Boot and its success is only encouraging them to continue their information war, adding that the German Marshall Fund of the United States has created a website [left] to track the Kremlin’s disinformation. This is scary stuff, he writes for Foreign Policy:

The United States, as a democratic society, is uniquely vulnerable to this kind of manipulation — all the more so when the proliferation of social media makes it so easy to aim bespoke lies at any audience that you want to influence. It’s tempting to conclude that the United States needs to give tyrants such as Putin a taste of their own medicine, but that won’t work because autocracies such as those in Moscow and Beijing censor the internet. The only thing the United States can do is play defense, by forcing social media companies to become much more transparent about who is conveying what messages.

A new paper put forth by the Democracy Fund and Omidyar Network “identifies six key areas where social media has become a direct threat to our democratic ideals,” including in increasing polarization, spreading disinformation, and conflating “popularity with legitimacy.” And two researchers at the Institute for the Future were trying as early as 2012 to sound the alarm that social bots could be manipulated “for social ill — to spread falsehoods or skew online polls,” the Alliance for Securing Democracy adds.

Fact-checkers and analysts of propaganda have a limited and specialized audience, but important, truthful stories told well will naturally resonate with the public and organically dispel propaganda narratives, note the National Endowment for Democracy’s Will Wright and Dylan Myles-Primakoff. Supporting the journalists reporting these stories should be the top strategic priority for countering Russian disinformation, they write for The Hill:

Despite a concerted campaign of financial pressure, legal persecution, and sporadic violence against Russia’s independent media, a small but active core of brave and talented journalists continues to investigate key stories in the public interest. On topics ranging from the Russian government’s semi-covert military, financial, and political support to separatists in eastern Ukraine, to massive corruption at the highest levels of the Kremlin, to state violence against Chechnya’s LGBT population, to the inner workings of the very disinformation machine at issue, Russian journalists have demonstrated courage and resourcefulness in providing domestic and international audiences with resonant reporting on contemporary Russia.

In Russia, politics are seeping into entertainment television more than at any time since the Soviet Union broke up, media watchers say. Since Putin came to power 17 years ago, the Kremlin’s media management has only sharpened in style, bringing both state and private operations under its influence, Russia-based analyst Amie Ferris-Rotman writes for Foreign Affairs. It has succeeded in transforming Russia’s under-financed, chaotic television industry into a glossy, carefully choreographed version of the truth, she notes in an article published in partnership with Coda Story.

Monitoring of pro-Kremlin disinformation also reveals that many of the themes set out in Russia’s most popular state TV news programs find their way into European outlets, StopFake notes.

Russia’s neighbors in Baltic and Nordic countries turn to education as much as military hardware to counter Moscow’s hybrid threats, analyst Reid Standish writes for Foreign Policy:

Latvia’s ministries of defense and education are working out how to beef up the country’s school curriculum to emphasize media literacy and critical-thinking skills at the lowest levels to inoculate future citizens against misinformation….. The goal ….is to raise awareness of the whole spectrum of threats facing Latvia across the entire population….Finland ….is also beefing up resources outside the barracks, launching a public diplomacy program to train government employees about what disinformation is and how fake news goes viral. The Nordic country has also looked to boost its already close ties with NATO, opening an EU and NATO-linked center in Helsinki in early October dedicated to researching how governments can push back against information warfare. RTWT

In contrast to the discrimination narrative cultivated by pro-Kremlin media, a survey of Latvian ethnic minorities conducted this summer reveals that ethnic relations have significantly improved since 2015, notes Mārtiņš Kaprāns, a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, University of Latvia. Only 8 percent of Russians now residing in Latvia, express negative opinions about ethnic relations, while only 16 percent see their chances of developing their language and culture in Latvia as bad, he writes for CEPA‘s StratCom Program:

In light of findings that show somewhat positive trends in societal integration, the pro-Kremlin media outlets’ recent aggravation of ethnic issues may suggest that Moscow is testing well-known ethnic triggers (non-citizens, status of the Russian language, etc.) to escalate a feeling of discrimination and injustice among local Russian-speakers. Likewise, this may signal a toughening of Moscow’s strategy ahead of Latvia’s October 2018 national elections.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email