Is Propaganda Protected Free Speech?

Jul 24 2019

On June 28, 2019, Free Russia Foundation hosted a conference Finding Practical and Principal Approaches to Countering the Kremlin’s Influence Campaigns While Upholding Sanctity of Free Speech at the Hague, Netherlands.

On June 28, 2019, Free Russia Foundation hosted a conference Finding Practical and Principal Approaches to Countering the Kremlin’s Influence Campaigns While Upholding Sanctity of Free Speech at the Hague, Netherlands.

See the full agenda
Download the speakers’ bios

At the conference, FRF unveiled a new report by the Congressional Research Service Limits on Freedom of Expression, which examines the scope of protection extended to freedom of speech in thirteen selected countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. This report focuses on the limits of protection that may apply to the right to interrupt or affect in any other way public speech. It also addresses the availability of mechanisms to control foreign broadcasters working on behalf of foreign governments.

Panelist for this conference included moderators Leon Willems, Michael Weiss, Kristina Vaiciunaite, and Daniel Mitov, as well as, many other human rights activists, legal experts, authors, journalists, media experts, etc. who weighed in on the concept of protected free speech and worked together to articulate measures for countering disinformation.

The event was punctuated by the keynote remarks delivered by David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Speech, and Richard Hoogland, D66 Board member International Cooperation.

Panel One

Panel one featured presentations by Leon Willems, Roman Dobrokhotov, Vasily Gatov, Luke Harding, Thomas O. Melia, Peter Pomerantsev, and Olga Romanova who discussed practicalities of finding a balance between protecting free speech and combating disinformation campaigns by Russia. Speakers highlighted the limits of fact-checking. According to the new evidence from neuroscience research, audience rejects the corrected information once the disinformation has previously been delivered. Instead speakers suggested contracting propaganda with personalized positive stories that affect emotions rather than the rational mind. It is also critical to follow strict guidelines of providing accurate information and avoid acting like Russian sources. Finally, there was a consensus on the panel that media too shares a responsibility as an agent of democracy for what types of narratives it highlights regularly (negative over positive).

Panel Two

Speakers of the second panel included victims of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Marina Litvinenko, Alena Balaba, Tatiana Gerasimova, Martin Kragh, Ilona Sokolova, and Liz Wahl. The discussion examined real cases of individuals targeted by Russian-state sponsored disinformation campaigns and the effects it had on them personally and the defense strategies they used against it. The speakers discussed the role the Kremlin played in labeling those who disagree with its policies as traitors and how that has dehumanized them and put a target on their back. Martin Kragh shared stories of victims of disinformation who had to deal with loss of jobs, threats against their lives and the lives of their families.

Panel Three

Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, Oleg Kozlovsky, Jeremy Lamoreaux, Joanna Szymanska, Nathalie Vogel, and Ilya Zaslavskiy spoke on the tactics and mechanisms of disinformation, and examined ways to protect social media platforms and the impact of inauthentic digital content. The discussion included evaluation of the current EU Commission’ approach to disinformation such as defining the disinformation narrowly as verifiably false information designed to mislead the public for political or commercial reasons and its inclusion in the code of conduct. Although the collaboration efforts among the EU member states against propaganda have been remarkable, panelist agreed on the critical need to expand coordination beyond the countries in the EU. Oleg Kozlovsky highlighted the importance of raising public awareness of the disinformation campaigns, particularly among the children and following the example of Finland, which recently introduced strategies for reading newspapers in the curriculum.

Panel Four

The fourth panel speakers Ralf Fuecks, Jelger Groeneveld, Padraig Hughes, David Kaye, Miriam Lexmann, Scott Martin, and Marko Mihkelson discussed legal and policy mechanisms for combating state disinformation. While for the nations within the European Union the mandate to uphold freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, dominates the discussion: there are certain limits and legal precedents where speech is either infringed upon or not well defined. The speakers in this panel, all legal and human rights experts, addressed the clash of enumerated individual speech rights against the boundaries of collective rights of a state actor; and discussed cases where states and other governing bodies such as the U.N. and the E.U. had established limits on hate speech, defamation and libel, and articulated anti-obscenity laws; because of these established limits and precedents it can be used to limit the harm rendered by state-sponsored propaganda. Finally, the panelists articulated legal recourse options available to those targeted by disinformation campaigns. Padraig Hughes, for example, weighed in on the litigation around defamation without harming free speech tenets, which is more nuanced than legislating. David Kaye raised the issue of legislating transparency such as the rules and nature of enforcement. Miriam Lexmann brought attention to the underlying problem and incentive of disinformation which is that disinformation is a business model: It does not serve local interests but rather seeks to reap profit. Similarly Scott Martin discussed that disinformation bases itself off of an economic model but he calls for regulation to deal with these issues, specifically international regulation.

The conference was followed by a closed working lunch moderated by Melissa Hooper, to gather and solidify concrete policy recommendations. The discussion focused on finding recommendations on how to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts. The attendees articulated strategies for countering state-sponsored propaganda all while having to maintain a balance between upholding free speech and limiting the damage of disinformation campaigns. They then evaluated whether the existing law can be used to establish limits on damaging speech and the need for new remedies to curtail the purveyors of propaganda.

On June 28, 2019, Free Russia Foundation hosted a conference Finding Practical and Principal Approaches to Countering the Kremlin’s Influence Campaigns While Upholding Sanctity of Free Speech at the Hague, Netherlands.

See the full agenda
Download the speakers’ bios

At the conference, FRF unveiled a new report by the Congressional Research Service Limits on Freedom of Expression, which examines the scope of protection extended to freedom of speech in thirteen selected countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. This report focuses on the limits of protection that may apply to the right to interrupt or affect in any other way public speech. It also addresses the availability of mechanisms to control foreign broadcasters working on behalf of foreign governments.

Panelist for this conference included moderators Leon Willems, Michael Weiss, Kristina Vaiciunaite, and Daniel Mitov, as well as, many other human rights activists, legal experts, authors, journalists, media experts, etc. who weighed in on the concept of protected free speech and worked together to articulate measures for countering disinformation.

The event was punctuated by the keynote remarks delivered by David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Speech, and Richard Hoogland, D66 Board member International Cooperation.

Panel One

Panel one featured presentations by Leon Willems, Roman Dobrokhotov, Vasily Gatov, Luke Harding, Thomas O. Melia, Peter Pomerantsev, and Olga Romanova who discussed practicalities of finding a balance between protecting free speech and combating disinformation campaigns by Russia. Speakers highlighted the limits of fact-checking. According to the new evidence from neuroscience research, audience rejects the corrected information once the disinformation has previously been delivered. Instead speakers suggested contracting propaganda with personalized positive stories that affect emotions rather than the rational mind. It is also critical to follow strict guidelines of providing accurate information and avoid acting like Russian sources. Finally, there was a consensus on the panel that media too shares a responsibility as an agent of democracy for what types of narratives it highlights regularly (negative over positive).

Panel Two

Speakers of the second panel included victims of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Marina Litvinenko, Alena Balaba, Tatiana Gerasimova, Martin Kragh, Ilona Sokolova, and Liz Wahl. The discussion examined real cases of individuals targeted by Russian-state sponsored disinformation campaigns and the effects it had on them personally and the defense strategies they used against it. The speakers discussed the role the Kremlin played in labeling those who disagree with its policies as traitors and how that has dehumanized them and put a target on their back. Martin Kragh shared stories of victims of disinformation who had to deal with loss of jobs, threats against their lives and the lives of their families.

Panel Three

Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, Oleg Kozlovsky, Jeremy Lamoreaux, Joanna Szymanska, Nathalie Vogel, and Ilya Zaslavskiy spoke on the tactics and mechanisms of disinformation, and examined ways to protect social media platforms and the impact of inauthentic digital content. The discussion included evaluation of the current EU Commission’ approach to disinformation such as defining the disinformation narrowly as verifiably false information designed to mislead the public for political or commercial reasons and its inclusion in the code of conduct. Although the collaboration efforts among the EU member states against propaganda have been remarkable, panelist agreed on the critical need to expand coordination beyond the countries in the EU. Oleg Kozlovsky highlighted the importance of raising public awareness of the disinformation campaigns, particularly among the children and following the example of Finland, which recently introduced strategies for reading newspapers in the curriculum.

Panel Four

The fourth panel speakers Ralf Fuecks, Jelger Groeneveld, Padraig Hughes, David Kaye, Miriam Lexmann, Scott Martin, and Marko Mihkelson discussed legal and policy mechanisms for combating state disinformation. While for the nations within the European Union the mandate to uphold freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, dominates the discussion: there are certain limits and legal precedents where speech is either infringed upon or not well defined. The speakers in this panel, all legal and human rights experts, addressed the clash of enumerated individual speech rights against the boundaries of collective rights of a state actor; and discussed cases where states and other governing bodies such as the U.N. and the E.U. had established limits on hate speech, defamation and libel, and articulated anti-obscenity laws; because of these established limits and precedents it can be used to limit the harm rendered by state-sponsored propaganda. Finally, the panelists articulated legal recourse options available to those targeted by disinformation campaigns. Padraig Hughes, for example, weighed in on the litigation around defamation without harming free speech tenets, which is more nuanced than legislating. David Kaye raised the issue of legislating transparency such as the rules and nature of enforcement. Miriam Lexmann brought attention to the underlying problem and incentive of disinformation which is that disinformation is a business model: It does not serve local interests but rather seeks to reap profit. Similarly Scott Martin discussed that disinformation bases itself off of an economic model but he calls for regulation to deal with these issues, specifically international regulation.

The conference was followed by a closed working lunch moderated by Melissa Hooper, to gather and solidify concrete policy recommendations. The discussion focused on finding recommendations on how to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts. The attendees articulated strategies for countering state-sponsored propaganda all while having to maintain a balance between upholding free speech and limiting the damage of disinformation campaigns. They then evaluated whether the existing law can be used to establish limits on damaging speech and the need for new remedies to curtail the purveyors of propaganda.

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them, we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.