That's the premise behind "Disinformation" - with award-winning Evergreen host Paul Brandus. Get ready for amazing stories - war, espionage, corruption, elections, and assorted trickery showing how false information is turning our world inside out - and what we can do about it. A co-production of Evergreen and Emergent Risk International.
Combating Disinformation, Part One: Living In A Post-Fact World
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"Living in a post-fact world is a scary place to be, as we learned during the pandemic, right? People don't believe anything."
In part 1 of this 3 part series on combating disinformation, we delve into the world of media literacy, critical thinking, and the battle against disinformation in Europe. Join host Paul Brandus as he explores the challenges faced by countries like Slovakia and Bulgaria, where a lack of media literacy leaves populations vulnerable to false narratives. Discover how NATO and European Union initiatives are working to combat disinformation and protect democratic values, and gain valuable insights into the fight against disinformation in today's "post-fact world".
[00:02:59] Russia's footprint in Africa.
[00:05:08] Media literacy and manipulation.
[00:09:27] NATO's disinformation defense.
[00:14:01] The impact of disinformation.
Got questions, comments or ideas or an example of disinformation you'd like us to check out? Send them to email@example.com. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Special thanks to our guests Dominika Hadju and Claudio Lusco. Sound designer and editor is Noah Foutz, audio engineer Nathan Corson, and executive producers Michael DeAloia and Gerardo Orlando. Thanks so much for listening.
Paul Brandus Russian President Vladimir Putin in
early September at an economic conference, you just heard him say that
certain Western nations have been busy destroying the world order. The
irony is as thick as it is tragic that the man behind the
indiscriminate, vicious and unrelenting bombing of an innocent neighbor
accuses others of destruction while he fancies himself as some kind of
clip audio So, in fact, a new model of development
is emerging, but not according to the golden norms of certain people in
the West, but in the interest of our nation.
Paul Brandus Running parallel to what the Kremlin
dictator calls openness and cooperation is a campaign to seduce parts of
the world to convince them that his path is the proper one. It's a
message that has found traction in parts of Africa and elsewhere, but in
his own backyard, his false narratives have pushed away most of his
neighbors. There's another word for these false narratives, of course,
disinformation. I'm Paul Brandes, and that's the name of this
award-winning podcast series, Disinformation. As usual, I'll be joined
by Meredith Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of Emergent Risk
International, a global risk advisory firm, to offer her insights into
this crucial topic. We're about halfway through season two of this
series, and in this episode and the next two, we're going to focus on
possible ways of combating disinformation. There are lots of interesting
ideas. You heard Vladimir Putin a minute ago putting his spin on the
geopolitical situation in Europe, That two of Russia's neighbors,
Finland and Sweden, have now joined NATO, running to its safe embrace
after Putin's invasion of Ukraine, is all the evidence you need to show
how badly that invasion has backfired. But it would be wrong to say that
Putin's overall campaign to advance his global interests has been
without success. In prior episodes of this series, we have discussed
Russia's footprint in Africa, for example, demonstrative of his belief
that the so-called global south is in play. And the war in Ukraine
notwithstanding, Putin does have some traction in Eastern Europe, for
example, this anti-American rally in Slovakia, which has been a member
of NATO for two decades. In fact, as I sat down to record this podcast,
voters in Slovakia resurrected the career of former Prime Minister
Robert Fitzoh, who will likely get his old job back. FITZO clawed his
way back to power by running on an anti-American and pro-Russian
campaign of economic and social grievances and a healthy dose of
conspiracy theories. Perhaps this might sound familiar to Americans.
Don't think Putin is jumping for joy over FITZO. A profile of him in
foreign policy notes that, quote, Slovakia is currently one of the
biggest supporters of Ukraine in its war against Russia. FITZO would
institute a complete 180-degree turn and instead spread Russian
propaganda. FITZO's comeback is evidence of democracy on the wane in
Slovakia. Last year, the Economist Intelligence Unit called it, quote, a
flawed democracy. While it's hard to quantify what impact Russia may
have had on this, It's also hard to dismiss the notion that Moscow has
somehow not been involved. But there are other factors in play.
Dominika Hajdu DOMINICA HAJDU, Director, Center for Democracy and Resilience at Globesec.
Paul Brandus Globsec is an organization based in
Slovakia. And as you just heard, Dominika Hajdu runs its Center for
Democracy and Resilience. One problem in Slovakia, in fact, in much of
Eastern Europe, she claims, is an overall lack of media literacy and
critical thinking skills, weaknesses that can make a population more
vulnerable to disinformation. Tell me what media literacy is. What does
that mean to you?
Dominika Hajdu It means to be able to consume
information in a critical way, so looking at the information that a
person sees with context first. being able to see the authorship, being
able to see what are the possible manipulation methods being used, being
able to see emotions that the context is trying to convey and that the
text or information might be exploiting, and also the intent, which is
of course important.
Paul Brandus Dominika says, as many people in this
field do, that media literacy, like any kind of literacy, can be
improved through better education. Some European countries take this
issue seriously. Others, she says, have some work to do.
Dominika Hajdu So, from a European perspective, we
really see Scandinavian countries doing very well. media literacy, this
would be Finland, Estonia, but also Baltic countries like Lithuania, for
example, Sweden. And then when it comes to the countries that are not
doing that well, this would be countries further east, also where I'm
from, so Slovakia, Bulgaria, countries of the Western Balkan region, so
Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Paul Brandus Meantime, Emergent Risk International
CEO Meredith Wilson says she's not surprised that the Russians have been
successful, sometimes, anyway, in parts of Eastern Europe.
Meredith Wilson MEREDITH WILSON, Emergent Risk
International CEO, Inc.: : From my vantage point, what I also see is,
similar to the phenomenon we see here, you tend to trust what you know
more, right? Eastern Europeans and Russians in general grew up with
Russian propaganda as their primary mode of information gathering. And
so that is more well known to them, almost like a mom and dad would be,
you know, it's more well known to them. And thus, they are probably more
comfortable trusting that because that's what they know. I remember
having a conversation with a friend in Vietnam one time when I was when I
was living over there and we were talking about a research project I
was working on. And I brought up the issue of the dark side of some of
the restaurants and things over there that sometimes operate as fronts
for prostitution. And she asked me where I got this information from.
And I said, well, it's, you know, it's a large body of research, you
know, the World Bank, the UN, you know, academics have published on
this. And she said, well, you should use a better source. And I said,
well, what kind of source would that be? She said, well, of course, the
Vietnamese government. And but, but, but, you know, she was as certain
as I was that her source was correct. And this was an extremely educated
young lady. But her background, you know, at that point, that was in
the early 2000s. And by the, you know, by the, by that time, you know,
she was in her 20s. But that's all she'd known growing up was, you know,
the Vietnamese government and Vietnamese information.
Paul Brandus So these matters of media literacy,
conspiracy theories, critical thinking, and all the rest, what is being
done in Europe to push back? That and more after this short break.
ad read This series on disinformation is a
co-production of Evergreen Podcasts and Emergent Risk International, a
global risk advisory firm. Emergent Risk International. We build
intelligent solutions that find opportunities in a world of risk.
Paul Brandus Welcome back. It has always been
Vladimir Putin's goal to weaken NATO, to loosen the bonds which have
held the North Atlantic Alliance together since 1949. Instead, thanks to
his invasion of Ukraine, he has achieved the opposite. The alliance has
found a new vitality and reason for being. In addition to key things
like upping defense spending and reducing reliance on Moscow for energy,
another thing that NATO countries are doing to bolster their collective
defense against Putin is by trying to thwart his regime's massive
disinformation machine. On the Kaunasiema Ijela, a cobblestone street in
Riga, Latvia, once part of the Soviet Union, but since 2004 a member of
NATO, you will find something called the NATO Stratcom Center for
Excellence. The rationale behind it is an understanding that hostile
actors, like the Russians, see information as a weapon, potentially
effective in its own way, as missiles, artillery and all the rest are in
Soenke Niedringhaus Hostile actors try to exploit
military conflicts, election processes, and, just recently, a global
pandemic for their strategic goals by means of communications.
Paul Brandus Sohnke Niedringhaus, a lieutenant colonel in the German army, is posted at the Stratcom Center.
Soenke Niedringhaus They enforce battles of
narratives, information laundering techniques, or robot trolling
tactics. To counter those threats, And to account for a shift towards
hybrid means of warfare, NATO developed a capability called Strategic
Communications, or short STRATCOM. Our role as a center of excellence is
to support the further development of this capability, especially in
the field of education and training.
Paul Brandus The U.S. and its NATO allies have a
mantra, train as you fight and fight as you train. Within the context of
information warfare, this means that words, messages, and the ways in
which they are communicated and received by both friend and foe can
possibly provide an edge. Way back in the very first two episodes of
season one of this series, we gave examples of how communications played
a role in defeating the Nazis and Japanese in World War II, and how the
Soviet Union used its own communication efforts in the never-ending
battle for hearts and minds during the Cold War. Moscow's efforts, then
as now called, quote, active measures, continue using every high-tech
strategy and tool available. At its essence, the Stratcom Center's
efforts are an attempt to thwart the Kremlin. A robust messaging
strategy, as the Stratcom Center notes, can have a direct impact on the
success of NATO operations and policies. Keys to this include leveraging
traditional media and the internet to engage with the public to build
awareness, understanding and support for its decisions and operations.
The Europeans are also trying to thwart Moscow and its disinformation
machine in other ways. Starting back in August, 19 so-called Very Large
Online Platforms, or VLOPs, were required to take measures to improve
their content monitoring and remove things considered illegal. Claudio
Lusco, an intelligence analyst for Emerging Risk International, says the
European Union is doing this through something called the Digital
Services Act or DSA.
Claudio Lusco And what the DSA essentially does in
this case, it is holding those the so-called very large online platforms
and search engines accountable for detecting and tackling illegal
content and disinformation among others on their platforms. Now the
VLOGs must establish the necessary mechanisms to do this or else face
fines, you know, simple as that.
Paul Brandus Reaction to the DSA and its provisions
has been mixed, with everyone from tech companies, civil society
organizations, and others weighing in. There are also basic questions
that are likely to prove thorny going forward, such as who's to say
what's false? Who's the judge? And remember, disinformation can often
have a shadowy aspect to it, meaning it can be hard to actually see it.
Here's what I mean. That's the old RT, the Kremlin-controlled
propagandist TV channel that until a few years ago had fairly wide
distribution in the U.S. Not everything RT broadcast was false. For
example, in a story, a video, an online post, it could say some things
that might have been true, but then subtly mix in one thing that was
decidedly not true. That one falsehood mixed in with everything else can
make it difficult for folks to discern fact from fiction. This
deliberate and, again, subtle tactic can be highly effective. All this
content, how much of it is true, how much of it is not? This dynamic is
disturbing and, as Meredith Wilson says, speaks to a broader long-term
Meredith Wilson I think the problem we have now is
that this flood of literal flood of disinformation means that, first of
all, it's going to be hard to find the signal in the noise. It's going
to be really hard to find what is true. And the verification process is
going to take much longer. Because there is no necessarily traceable
path back to where things were sourced for, from at least from what I
what I know right now. But the bigger thing is, will people even believe
it? Will they believe anything that they read? Will you go out to do
research and be like, well, I mean, I can't believe anything anymore, so
I'll just make it up. Living in a post-fact world is a scary place to
be, as we learned during the pandemic, right? People don't believe
anything. And I think we risk that more than anything, is just people
drawing their own conclusions. and having no real way to know for sure
if what they believe is true or not.
Paul Brandus A post-fact world. Let that sink in.
Thanks to Dominika Hajdu of GlobeSec's Center for Democracy and
Resilience and Claudio Lusco of Emergent Risk International. Sound from
Slovakian TV and the NATO Stratcom Center. Our sound designer and
editor, Noah Fouts. Audio engineer, Nathan Corson. Executive producers,
Michael D'Eloia and Gerardo Orlando. And on behalf of Meredith Wilson,
I'm Paul Brandes. Thanks so much for listening.