Ebook: Challenges in Strategic Communication and Fighting Propaganda in Eastern Europe
In 2019, Eastern Europe will celebrate 30 years since the fall of communism, but this celebration takes place in a context of increased geopolitical competition in the region. The Western democratic model is under attack, not only in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, but also in the core countries of the EU, and even in the United States. The messages and methods of dissemination used by anti-Western propaganda may differ with each national context, but the effect is the same – the slow, but progressive erosion of trust in democratic values and the institutions which embody them.
This book presents papers from the NATO Advanced Research Workshop “Challenges in strategic communication and ﬁghting propaganda in Eastern Europe. Solutions for a future common project” held in Chisinau, Moldova, on 25-27 April 2018. The workshop brought together institutional, academic and civic experts from the social sciences, journalism, computer science, and international relations to share insights into security and strategic communication, as well as research results and expertise on the impact of social media and technological innovation, with the aim of shaping a new project with a common methodology to monitor, collect, process and interpret data on strategic communication and devise efficient tools to counteract anti-Western propaganda.
With contributions about Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, the Western Balkans and the USA highlighting challenges such as detecting propaganda, identifying the groups most vulnerable to its inﬂuence and building mechanisms to strengthen trust, the book will be of value to all those with an interest in defending the Western democratic model.
On April 25–27, 2018, in Chisinau (Moldova), the Center for Civic Participation and Democracy (CPD) from SNSPA (Romania)the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) from the Republic of Moldova organized the NATO Advanced Research Workshop focused on “Challenges in strategic communication and fighting propaganda in Eastern Europe. Solutions for a future common project”, with direct support from the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme.
The main objective of the Workshop was to enhance the strategic perspective and the practical insight necessary in dealing with hybrid threats, fighting propaganda and planning advanced strategic communication in Eastern Europe, looking for solutions in a complicated regional landscape.
The Workshop brought together institutional, academic and civic actors, from Europe and the US, with advanced expertise in social sciences, journalism, computer science and international relations, to share insights in security and strategic communication, research results and expertise in the impact of social media and technological innovation, in order to shape a new project, with a common methodology, to monitor, collect, process and interpret reliable data on strategic communication, which can enable the devising of efficient tools to counteract anti-Western propaganda.
While working together, our aim was to use our common experience in tracking hostile narratives and evaluating public agenda, in order to identify new tools in open source tracking and integrate the results into one common approach, with the potential to be applied on a regional and larger scale. The challenges are: detecting propaganda, identifying the social groups most vulnerable to its influence, building mechanisms to strengthen the trust in the Western democratic model.
What resulted was a vivid exchange of ideas, a multifaceted debate centered on the similarities, variations and specificities of national contexts and also the creation of what we hope will be a long-lasting, collaborative network of experts with various backgrounds, trying to link and assemble their specific expertise as part of a broader solution-generating complex.
The Western model is under attack all across the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, but also “at home”, in the countries belonging to the core of the EU and even in the United States. And while the messages and dissemination methods differ and adjust to each national context, the effect is the same – the slow, but progressive erosion of trust in the democratic values, as well as the institutions which embody this model. This is the main reason why we concluded that stopping this erosion and defending this model must be a coordinated effort, using the best-suited methods and channels for each segment of the public. The novelty of the approach we proposed resides in coordination (which can also mean the sharing of best-practice models to be adjusted and reproduced in other regions) and also in using the most advanced research and online communication methods, creating a complex methodological mix (based on traditional research tools, but also incorporating Big Data analysis and exploration into the latest, most effective communication tools across social networks).
Reviewing some of the ideas and results, which are also included in this volume, showcases a broad array of recommendations which can be included in strategies built to counter anti-Western propaganda in NATO countries.
Rusty Brooks pinpoints the role of local journalists for strengthening resilience in the face of propaganda and also for consolidating the democratic spirit in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Our team from CPD-SNSPA puts forward the project of a NATO Barometer, as an integrated instrument to be implemented in all member states, created to evaluate the risks and impact of these propaganda campaigns. From this perspective, there is a need to extend the horizon to include not only threats coming from Russia, but also threats emanating from the extended geopolitical competition affecting the region, where we witness confrontations for “hearts and minds” between the Western model and the alternative models from Russia and China, and more.
Although we present the Romanian case in an extensive manner (in the study conducted by CPD-SNSPA), this volume includes solutions regarding Moldova (Igor Munteanu), Ukraine (Mahda) or the Western Balkans (Cappello), all of them areas where this type of hybrid conflict must be considered just as serious as other types of conventional confrontation.
The role of the mainstream media in the region must not be neglected (as John Cappello underlines in the study on Serbia – a case study which can be extended in the future towards other affected regions such as Hungary). The role of social media is becoming increasingly important (as demonstrated here by Bret Schafer and Corina Rebegea, representatives of two renowned US think-tanks).
Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, former NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, also underlined this aspect during our Workshop in Chisinau, welcoming recent approaches by NATO to acknowledge the impact of hybrid threats. Our Romanian colleagues from the INSCOP team emphasize the importance of studying the effects that narratives have on public opinion, while professors Bârgăoanu and Cucută highlight the academic paradigm shifts in studying these concepts. Several authors underline the need to consolidate the Western model in all these newly-democratic societies, through a major focus on strengthening the rule of law, civic participation, democratic education, in addition to military strengthening. Fighting media illiteracy is just as important.
We also welcome the advancement of new, sophisticated solutions making use of new technologies in computer science to complete current research efforts and to build new innovative tools to measure and evaluate propaganda (Itai Himelboim details such an approach, which is to be operationalized into a regional cooperation project involving several international partners, to be forwarded to NATO shortly – an anti-propaganda Radar).
Among other solutions worth mentioning, we underline the need to increase NATO-EU cooperation in this field, as well as to intensify the links between existing structures (such as the EU East StratCom Task Force and NATO StratCom COE) and the academic and civic organizations in the region.
We do not believe we need counter-propaganda to fight propaganda, or that fake news should be combatted by generating an inflation of other fake news, half-truths and false enemies. But we do believe that the public in Eastern and Central Europe (especially, but not exclusively) can become victims of anti-Western propaganda and, slowly, but surely, lose faith and turn against the values that created the very essence of the free and democratic societies they live in – through sheer passivity and lack of involvement from the civic activists, academics and institutions which should be safeguarding these values.
In 2019, Eastern Europe celebrates 30 years since the fall of communism, but this celebration takes place in a context of increased geopolitical competition in the region. Challenges come from various areas, and the Western model needs to be defended even more resolutely since the specificities of the states in this region suggest that the model of political culture characteristic for countries with democratic tradition has not yet been attained.
Our initiative was meant to bring together several very different minds that can cooperate to jumpstart this effort throughout the Euro-Atlantic space. It is not only a scientific effort, but also a civic one, in defense of the values our societies are built on and our future must rely on. We'd like to express gratitude to all the partners who contributed to this project, from Romania, Moldova, the Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey, Ukraine, the US, as well as NATO StratCom COE and the EU East StratCom Task Force; to the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme for the support offered to our project; to Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, who has always supported research efforts in this field; to the partners from the US Department of State and the US think-tanks we collaborated with, as well as to all the colleagues from the US and European academic environment who contributed to the ideas and solutions advanced during this year.
NATO Workshop Co-Director and Executive Director, CPD-SNSPA, Bucharest
Countering propaganda is critical to the ability of governments to maintain credibility and legitimacy, especially in Eastern Europe. Additionally, educating citizens on how to determine whether media is factual and unbiased or biased and disinformation is more and more important as a societal and political challenge. Perhaps most importantly is the need to reestablish local media as a trusted source of news and opinion. This paper examines the interplay between citizens, governments and media as a strategy to counter propaganda in Eastern Europe.
Anti-Western propaganda is increasing in the Eastern European countries. The Center for Civic Participation and Democracy CPD-SNSPA is in the process of developing a regional project to monitor, evaluate and understand anti-Western narratives in the region, using a variety of methodologies – classic surveys, and also data collected through new instruments, relevant to understanding online communication. The methodological mix used in our research allows us to identify certain segments of the Romanian population that are more vulnerable to anti-Western propaganda and the paper presents the most important conclusions derived from our work so far. It also includes a set of solutions proposed by CPD-SNSPA in order to extend and improve research into anti-Western propaganda content, channels and possible targets, as well as increase resilience to propaganda efforts in Romania and in the region.
NATO supports a stable, secure and democratic Moldova. On several occasions, high-level NATO officials reiterated the Alliance's full commitment to assist the country's efforts to reform its defence and security structures and institutions. Moldova's cooperation with NATO is expanding into several fields of mutual interest, including through Moldova's contribution to the NATO-led PKO (Peace-Keeping Operation) in Kosovo (KFOR). Cooperation with NATO is being conducted through a complicated regional and global conundrum of trends. Moldova is directly affected by an aggressive power-politics played by Moscow in Eastern Europe, where it attempts to dominate its neighbours, their weakness being of essential strategic relevance to the Russian national security and ambitions to restore its great power status, in other words, to privatize Eastern Europe for its own plan. Also, its narrative is to present the West as impotent, unable to react to the challenges of the situation, to show Europe as a decaying order, and build up on the “balance of powers” logic, challenging the unity of the Western key-institutions, taking stock of every institutional gridlock, any possible weakness that is turned into political instrument. So, if the Max Program for Russia is to create a ring of clientele states at the frontier with the EU/NATO, heavily influenced by its views, interests and networks, the Min Program is to keep its neighbours into a ring of dysfunctional states, sapped by corruption, conflicts and disorder, unable to reform or join NATO and EU.
The text is devoted to some key aspects of Russian hybrid aggression against Ukraine. The author touches upon such aspects as the start of the hybrid aggression, energy and gender aspects of hybrid aggression, highlights the international image of Ukraine as a target for the aggressor. Special attention is paid to books as an unusual, but effective instrument of aggression. The author also gives a brief view of how hybrid aggression may threaten the European integration project. The article finishes with some suggestions – how the hybrid aggression may be countered.
The Kremlin's information operations in Europe have achieved some of their most significant successes in the Western Balkans in areas populated by Orthodox Slavs. The Western Balkans information environment is highly challenging and vulnerable to outside influences. The Russian disinformation campaign in the region has succeeded in penetrating the mainstream media and influencing regional audiences. The pro-Russian narrative dominates across regional print and online media. In Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia, Russian news outlets, fake news portals, and pro-Russian tabloids are increasingly filling the vacuum created by deficient local media capacity. The primary result has been an increasing negative trend in public perceptions of the U.S. and NATO. Declining public support for EU integration and negative perceptions of the West are counter-imposed with positive images of Russia. Combined with the influence of various political, economic and historic factors the Kremlin's tactics are able to widen the gulf by exploiting doubt and introducing disruption. Moscow's goal is to disrupt the integration of the Balkan states into Euro-Atlantic institutions by upsetting regional cooperation; amplifying threat perceptions among the Serb and Orthodox Slav population; reinforcing pre-existing anti-NATO sentiments, myths and grievances related to Western military intervention in the 1990s; and advertising Russian military might with anti-Western and nationalistic rhetoric. Beating state sponsored disinformation campaigns requires both excellent journalism and educated consumers who seek a quality product. It also requires public institutions willing to fight disinformation openly and necessitates funding journalism in places where propaganda predominates. Solely responding to disinformation campaigns is not enough. Because information spreads through the internet at such a rapid pace, a campaign that is purely responsive is not sufficient. Within this challenging environment there are opportunities to shift the dynamics through the application of innovative, pre-emptive solutions that provide for the flow of credible information.
Russian state-sponsored disinformation and propaganda are one of the main instruments for force projection in the Euro-Atlantic space. The Kremlin uses information warfare to weaken and erode the Euro-Atlantic alliance, to sway public opinion and intensify geopolitical competition. In this effort, the Kremlin is using a consistent system of techniques, tactics and narratives. Based on CEPA research, this paper will introduce the concept of master narrative as a conceptual tool to understand Moscow's motives and goals, as well as inspire policy options that could help increase informational and societal resilience in Western democracies.
This paper examines the Kremlin's use of social media to conduct information operations in the United States. In particular, it analyzes more than a year of data from covert and overt Russian-linked accounts on Twitter in an effort to expose the methods and messages used to engage and influence American audiences online. Coupled with analysis of criminal complaints and indictments from the Department of Justice, this report makes a case that Russia's election-specific interference efforts are secondary to efforts to promote Russia's geopolitical interests, export its illiberal worldview, and weaken the United States by exacerbating existing social and political divisions. By examining Russia's information operations on Twitter from both an operational and thematic perspective, this report also highlights the tactics, techniques, and narratives used to influence Americans online. Through this analysis, this paper illuminates the ongoing challenges of protecting the free exchange of information from foreign efforts to manipulate public debates, as well as the difficulties in measuring the societal impact of Russia's ongoing malign influence efforts.
As information is massively consumed and exchanged over the Internet and social media in particular, governments and nongovernmental entities see the potential to influence public opinion via these platforms. From a conceptual standpoint, communication scholars have studied the agenda that is transferred from traditional media to the public since the 1970s. Recognizing that social media allows multiple and competing agendas to emerge, this essay proposes a conceptual and methodological approach to identifying agendas, their sources and evaluate their success in terms of transfer of agenda salience to the public. Taking a semantic networks approach, we conceptualize agenda as a set of issues and attributes that are mentioned together in social media posts. The extent to which such issues and attributes are found among the public discussion, then, allows us to evaluate the success of public opinion influence. Specifically, it allows us to identify the subgroups of social media users that are more susceptible to influence, via information, disinformation and mal-information.
The paper discusses the need for greater conceptual clarity and theoretical framing of the concept of propaganda. Arguing in favor of a perspective grounded in social constructivism, part of the larger intellectual tradition of understanding, the concept is considered in its instrumental dimension and in its relation with technology and modern media. The interaction with several other concepts, such as ideology, nationalism, soft power is discussed in order to assert the specificity of a working definition, from an agnostic standpoint about the truth of propaganda information.
The paper argues that the spreading of fake news and other forms of misinformation (which are not entirely untrue nor published with a clear intent to mislead) is facilitated by specific features of today's mainstream media and social media, as well as by the way the public interacts with “news stories”. Moreover, it is precisely these specific features and the public's interaction with media content that generate vulnerabilities that can be easily exploited in the information warfare. Taking into account that regulations on media content are difficult to implement and also questionable from the perspective of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the focus should be placed on educating the public to identify fake news. However, before launching any information campaigns, the first step is to assess the public perception of the fake-news phenomenon and other forms of misinformation. To this end, we propose a methodological design for investigating the public awareness of media threats.
This chapter discusses the proliferation of online echo chambers and its implications on the polarization of opinion in the digital environment. This phenomenon must be understood in the broader context of the fake news and digital disinformation. The chapter starts by providing some conceptual clarifications, arguing against using the rather limitative term of “fake news” to describe what is actually “disinformation 2.0”. Next, we discuss the features of online echo chambers, and the digital divide they create. Lastly, we discuss the impact of echo chambers in changing the patterns of news consumption, in lowering trust in news and the traditional media, and in facilitating online disinformation.