Sunday, March 22, 2015

Europe is belatedly waking up to Russia’s information warfare

Aux armes, journalistes!

The Economist
Mar 21st 2015

WHEN Russia was preparing to annex Crimea a year ago its television broadcasts, portraying the protesters who had recently overthrown Ukraine’s regime as a neo-Nazi rabble, softened the peninsula’s defences as effectively as any artillery assault. One month later, when Russian-backed rebels overran Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, one of their first acts was to seize control of the television centre and replace Ukrainian broadcasts with previously banned Russian ones.

The Kremlin’s propaganda machine has been a key component of the “hybrid warfare” that Russia has waged in Ukraine, and has helped shore up Vladimir Putin’s support at home. But it spreads much further. It spills into east European countries via television services that offer viewers tasty blends of entertainment garnished with sprigs of fake news. It extends westward in the form of outfits like RT (formerly Russia Today), a Kremlin-backed news outfit which broadcasts in English, Spanish, French and German, or neatly designed supplements placed in the New York Times or Daily Telegraph. Sometimes it is smuggled directly into respectable domestic publications, as gullible or time-starved editors unknowingly reproduce Russian misinformation. Meanwhile Kremlin-backed trolls poison online discussion forums and social networks.

Countries in the front line of Moscow’s “weaponisation of information”, in the words of Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss, two analysts, have long sought to draw attention to the problem. The European Union is at last listening. Heads of government, meeting in Brussels as we went to press, were expected to ask Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign-policy chief, to produce a plan to counter Russia’s “disinformation campaigns” by June. Before that the EU will launch a task force (working name: Mythbusters) charged with monitoring Russian media, identifying patent falsehoods and issuing corrections.

(More here.)

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