Prompt and coordinated action needed to fight disinformation, experts say

Mar 09 2018

The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, has presented a report outlining ways to counter disinformation.

Although disinformation campaigns are not a new phenomenon in the political toolkit, Russia’s recent tactics and manipulation of social media, have presented governments with new challenges. The solution is a coherent and coordinated response from society as a whole and prompt action by the trans-Atlantic alliance.

An Atlantic Council event on Wednesday, March 7, included the following panelists:

Ambassador Daniel Fried, Distinguished Fellow, Future Europe Initiative and Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

Dr. Jonathan Henick, Deputy Director, Global Engagement Center, US Department of State

H.E. David O’Sullivan, Ambassador of the European Union to the United States

Dr. Alina Polyakova, David M. Rubenstein Fellow – Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution

Ms. Corina Rebegea, Director, US-Romania Initiative and Fellow-in-Residence, Center for European Policy Analysis

 

Mr. Fried said the Western response to counter disinformation – which includes overt propaganda, social media manipulation and cyber hacking – must be aligned with democratic values and coordinated with the efforts of the governments, civil society and tech companies.

This type of societal collaboration should also be represented on the trans-Atlantic level, in the form of the “Counter-Disinformation Coalition,” which would be an informal coalition between the U.S. and E.U. governments and non-governmental actors who would develop common norms and best practices. “We are in this together”, said Fried, but acknowledging that Europe has been ahead of the U.S. on countering disinformation.

“It is time to stop admiring the problem and wringing our hands about it”, said Fried calling for prompt action.

Mr. O’Sullivan discussed the need for the public debate to expose disinformation tactics and misuse of social media, stressing the importance of a whole of society response” in building resilience to disinformation. “There is no silver bullet for governments to sort of pass a law which suddenly makes this problem go away”, said Sullivan.

Dr. Henick of the Global Engagement Agency, established in 2016 to lead U.S. efforts to fight terrorist and foreign propaganda, said that disinformation per se is not a new problem and various U.S. agencies have long been working on it. He dismissed recent claims in the press that his agency remains less active in countering Russian propaganda than was initially foreseen, due to low interest from the State Department and delayed financing. Henick said the shortly expected first $40 million tranches of a much-anticipated funding allocation will allow the agency to “redouble their efforts”, to invest in new technology and empower civil society actors with resources.

“We need to work with strengthening the independent media, to build up resistance, increase digital literacy”, said Henick, adding that debunking false information alone is not sufficient and that he did not support the counter-use of “troll farms”. “The solution to this problem is going to look nothing like the problem itself”, said Henick.

Dr. Polyakova said that, although Russia is at the center of the disinformation discussion, the recommendations provided in the Atlantic Council report are about building a long-term societal resistance to disinformation and interference. “Russia is a starting point, but this is really about much more than just one state actor. It is really about the resilience and resistance that we can build”, said Polyakova.

Ms. Rebegea said that while free speech is a basic right in the European Union, regulations also permit banning media outlets that spread hate speech. This was the case in Lithuania, which first banned Russian TV channel RTR Planeta for three months in 2015 on grounds of inciting hatred in their reporting on Ukraine.

“I think there are ways in which we can preserve democratic values and safeguards”, said Rebegea, “but at the same time to go against these bad actors”.

Among the measures of countering disinformation recommended by the Atlantic Council, is the need to clearly label Russian networks such as RT and their content as propagandistic by both the traditional and social media. Another measure is to stop spreading false news, for instance by having tech companies “mute” and “de-rank” untrustworthy and deceptive content and content from automated accounts. Ms. Polyakova said these measures would help prevent false information from “going viral”, whereas “no one knows where the information came from”. “These kinds of disinformation campaigns can be identified today and they [tech companies] can stop them at the beginning”, said Polyakova.

Some other recommendations outlined in the Atlantic Council report include:

  • the U.S. should create new governmental agencies with a focus on disinformation,
  • the U.S. needs to bring transparency to online political ads
  • Governments and tech companies should support, including financially, civil society organizations, such as StopFake, to expose disinformation.
  • Governments should implement programs on civic-education and training on media-literacy for the public, with support from civil-society groups and tech companies.

 

The report can be found on the Atlantic Council website.

By Valeria Jegisman

Although disinformation campaigns are not a new phenomenon in the political toolkit, Russia’s recent tactics and manipulation of social media, have presented governments with new challenges. The solution is a coherent and coordinated response from society as a whole and prompt action by the trans-Atlantic alliance.

An Atlantic Council event on Wednesday, March 7, included the following panelists:

Ambassador Daniel Fried, Distinguished Fellow, Future Europe Initiative and Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

Dr. Jonathan Henick, Deputy Director, Global Engagement Center, US Department of State

H.E. David O’Sullivan, Ambassador of the European Union to the United States

Dr. Alina Polyakova, David M. Rubenstein Fellow – Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution

Ms. Corina Rebegea, Director, US-Romania Initiative and Fellow-in-Residence, Center for European Policy Analysis

 

Mr. Fried said the Western response to counter disinformation – which includes overt propaganda, social media manipulation and cyber hacking – must be aligned with democratic values and coordinated with the efforts of the governments, civil society and tech companies.

This type of societal collaboration should also be represented on the trans-Atlantic level, in the form of the “Counter-Disinformation Coalition,” which would be an informal coalition between the U.S. and E.U. governments and non-governmental actors who would develop common norms and best practices. “We are in this together”, said Fried, but acknowledging that Europe has been ahead of the U.S. on countering disinformation.

“It is time to stop admiring the problem and wringing our hands about it”, said Fried calling for prompt action.

Mr. O’Sullivan discussed the need for the public debate to expose disinformation tactics and misuse of social media, stressing the importance of a whole of society response” in building resilience to disinformation. “There is no silver bullet for governments to sort of pass a law which suddenly makes this problem go away”, said Sullivan.

Dr. Henick of the Global Engagement Agency, established in 2016 to lead U.S. efforts to fight terrorist and foreign propaganda, said that disinformation per se is not a new problem and various U.S. agencies have long been working on it. He dismissed recent claims in the press that his agency remains less active in countering Russian propaganda than was initially foreseen, due to low interest from the State Department and delayed financing. Henick said the shortly expected first $40 million tranches of a much-anticipated funding allocation will allow the agency to “redouble their efforts”, to invest in new technology and empower civil society actors with resources.

“We need to work with strengthening the independent media, to build up resistance, increase digital literacy”, said Henick, adding that debunking false information alone is not sufficient and that he did not support the counter-use of “troll farms”. “The solution to this problem is going to look nothing like the problem itself”, said Henick.

Dr. Polyakova said that, although Russia is at the center of the disinformation discussion, the recommendations provided in the Atlantic Council report are about building a long-term societal resistance to disinformation and interference. “Russia is a starting point, but this is really about much more than just one state actor. It is really about the resilience and resistance that we can build”, said Polyakova.

Ms. Rebegea said that while free speech is a basic right in the European Union, regulations also permit banning media outlets that spread hate speech. This was the case in Lithuania, which first banned Russian TV channel RTR Planeta for three months in 2015 on grounds of inciting hatred in their reporting on Ukraine.

“I think there are ways in which we can preserve democratic values and safeguards”, said Rebegea, “but at the same time to go against these bad actors”.

Among the measures of countering disinformation recommended by the Atlantic Council, is the need to clearly label Russian networks such as RT and their content as propagandistic by both the traditional and social media. Another measure is to stop spreading false news, for instance by having tech companies “mute” and “de-rank” untrustworthy and deceptive content and content from automated accounts. Ms. Polyakova said these measures would help prevent false information from “going viral”, whereas “no one knows where the information came from”. “These kinds of disinformation campaigns can be identified today and they [tech companies] can stop them at the beginning”, said Polyakova.

Some other recommendations outlined in the Atlantic Council report include:

  • the U.S. should create new governmental agencies with a focus on disinformation,
  • the U.S. needs to bring transparency to online political ads
  • Governments and tech companies should support, including financially, civil society organizations, such as StopFake, to expose disinformation.
  • Governments should implement programs on civic-education and training on media-literacy for the public, with support from civil-society groups and tech companies.

 

The report can be found on the Atlantic Council website.

By Valeria Jegisman

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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.