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.
One Man's Correlation Is Another Man's Causation: Fighting Disinformation Surrounding Migration
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"This is an ongoing struggle, and perhaps the struggle of our time."
In this episode of Disinformation, Paul Brandus discusses the recent election in the Netherlands and the rise of the islamophobic and anti-immigration Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party. The Russians, known for their active measures, have been supporting Wilders, further highlighting their efforts to influence opinion in the West. Thea Gioe, a former CIA officer, joins the discussion and explains how migration issues are being exploited by various groups, including nationalist groups seeking to regain power.
[00:03:28] Migration in Sweden.
[00:05:07] Islamic immigration and crime statistics.
[00:10:08] Migration in Europe's perception.
[00:14:10] Fear of migrants' impact.
Got questions, comments or ideas or an example of disinformation you'd like us to check out? Send them to [email protected]. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Special thanks to our guest Thea Gioe, our sound designer and editor Noah Foutz, audio engineer Nathan Corson, and executive producers Michael DeAloia and Gerardo Orlando. Thanks so much for listening.
00:06Paul Brandus: A name that Americans
may soon be hearing more of, Geert Wilders, whose so-called Freedom
Party got the most votes in last month's election in the Netherlands.
Wilders will have to form a coalition government, which Dutch political
analysts say will be difficult to form, much less maintain, because of
what they call his aggressive anti-immigration and particularly
anti-Islam stance. Wilders has called Islam, quote, a retarded culture.
He's also said that as prime minister, he would not support sending more
weapons to Ukraine, an announcement that has no doubt pleased Russian
president Vladimir Putin. Not surprisingly, the Russians have used what
they call active measures to bolster Wilders It's the latest example of
Moscow's enduring and intense long-term effort to influence opinion in
the West. Of course, one form of active measures is disinformation. I'm
Paul Brandus, and that's the name of this award-winning podcast series,
Disinformation. Meredith Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of Emergent
Risk International, a global risk advisory firm, is away. But I'll be
joined by one of her top associates, Thea Gioe, a former CIA officer who
specializes in the synthesizing of intelligence expertise and security
analysis. The issue of migration is one that Russia has long exploited
in Europe. Thanks to things like Syria's civil war of a decade ago and
the Russian war on Ukraine now, plus longer-term dynamics like
climate-induced migration, well, there are plenty of opportunities to
stir the pot. Of course, the Russians aren't the only ones who are
taking advantage of such issues. Here's Thea Gioe.
02:12Thea Gioe: There's a lot of different
groups that are stirring that pot, right? There are nationalist groups
who are looking to come back into power. And nationalism was considered
very, it was on the fringes for a long time in Europe, right? We had a
strong run of socially democratic parties kind of across Europe working
on a number of issues, and so now we're seeing a really strong
resurgence of more conservative, nationalist, right-wing parties moving
in, and these are rally points that they use to drive that. We're seeing
in Germany some very concerning trends, and German politicians have
been very open about addressing some of this, recently made some very
powerful statements. So, I think we're going to see that this is going
to be an issue, as we move through elections in the next year. And we've
got this strong tension between more conservative and more liberal
03:20Paul Brandus: Migration by Muslims to
another country, Sweden, is also interesting. Let's take a closer look
at Sweden. And for that, here's an excerpt from a video by American
filmmaker Ami Horowitz.
03:34Ami Horowitz: Sweden has always had a
reputation of being a harmonious and liberal society. This image has
been shattered as rape has skyrocketed over the past five years.
03:44Paul Brandus: Apparently there was,
all of a sudden, a rape epidemic. What was going on in Sweden? More from
Horowitz's film, which was made for Fox News.
03:54Ami Horowitz: At the same time,
Sweden has been going through a revolutionary demographic shift. that
has seen the country take in more refugees from Islamic countries than
any Western nation in the world.
04:07Paul Brandus: When you watch
Horowitz's 10-minute video, it was made back in 2016, by the way,
there's a headline on the website, it says, quote, Sweden Now Europe
Rape Capital Amidst Muslim Immigration, unquote. There's little
equivocation in the film. Horowitz says Muslim immigration is the reason
for the apparent rise in rapes. But is this really the reason? Does the
occurrence of two things over the same approximate time frame prove
that they are truly correlated? How do you know? And to dig a little bit
deeper, when making assumptions about data and what it may suggest,
folks need to examine the methodology and the way that data is defined,
collected, and organized. Here's what Horowitz says about that.
04:56Ami Horowitz: Look, the connection
was, it's interesting. So Sweden used to keep demographic statistics on
rape and murder, right? They said where the rape and murder came from,
what segments of society. Now they stopped that because even at the
time, there was a clear association between Islamic immigration and rape
and murder. Now they took that out, so now it became more of trying to
figure out if in fact the two are correlated. So there's a number of
ways one could analyze it and say, okay, I see some connection. So the
first is you can see when the bulk migration came in after the war in
Syria. And then you can also layer over that the increase in rape and
murder. And you saw there was a significant connection. Now that's not
enough to say that's a correlation, but it begins the first part of the
indication. This is the reason why I thought I want to start looking
into it. Yeah, it's this. I want to be very clear. It doesn't mean that
the majority of people moving Islamic migrants going to Sweden were
involved in anything nefarious whatsoever. It was clearly a small
minority. Having said that, even with a small minority, it could have a
certain amount of social dislocation. And I think you saw that with the
06:12Paul Brandus: There's a lot to unpack
there, but perhaps this needs to be said. Sometimes data alone does not
tell the full story. Further examination and broader context is often
needed. With regard to Sweden, its approach to crime stats, how data is
defined and gathered, is complex and has changed over the years. For
example, nearly a quarter century ago, long before Horowitz traveled to
Sweden to do his report, a professor of criminology at Stockholm
University, Hans Vanhoeffer, wrote that there are three types of factors
that determine the outcome of crime statistics, statistical factors,
legal factors, and substantive factors. Professor Vanhoeffer, who died
in 2014, said that the combined effect of these things, quote, make it
safe to contend that the Swedish rape stats constitute an over-reporting
relative to the European average. In other words, the late professor
was saying that these factors, again, legal, statistical, and
substantive, conveyed the impression that rape was more common in
Sweden, or in his words, over-reported to the European average. Perhaps
one often overlooked reason why rape stats have surged in Sweden is
this. Years ago, the Swedes changed the definition of rape, broadening
it considerably. Again, here's Theo Geo.
07:41Thea Gioe: You know, the data for
Sweden. It looks like rape just explodes off the charts. and painting
very unflattering pictures about how these migrant communities were
driving that. Now, we use this as an example in our training courses,
because whenever you see huge changes in data like that, you should ask
yourself some really hard questions. Human behavior alone doesn't shift
overnight like that. So what usually is the case, and what was the case
here, is that there were changes in how Sweden legally defined rape,
that caused a lot of incidents that were previously classified as
something else, not rape, to be now classified as rape. They also
changed how they counted incidents of rape. Before, you know, incidents
between one pair of individuals counted as one incident, where suddenly
it was each and every individual incident. So if we're talking about
things like spousal things, Whereas that would have been one incident of
four. If you've had a long marriage where this has been a repetitive
issue, you might all of a sudden have a number of incidents.
08:54Paul Brandus: For example, if a
Swedish woman says she has been forced by her husband to have sex, say
three times a week, that would count for a dozen cases of rape per
month. Other countries, by contrast, may use more restrictive methods of
09:10Thea Gioe: So there were a couple of
different reasons why rape numbers in Sweden all of a sudden spiked at
that time. It had absolutely nothing to do with this incident of
migration. But you have to really understand data and how data works,
and you have to ask the correct questions, and you have to go back and
do some digging. And quite honestly, you know, if people were given an
alternative narrative, they're happy to take that.
09:40Paul Brandus: Let's take a quick break, more after these brief messages.
09:45ad 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.
10:07Paul Brandus: Welcome back. The issue
of migration to Europe is fodder for disinformation, of course, as is
often the case, lack of knowledge about basic facts can play a role.
More now from my conversation with Thea Geo.
10:22Thea Gioe: You know, one of the other
statistics that I saw that again, particularly for Europe that I
thought was really interesting is, is that we're seeing a lot of
disinformation around to what extent migration is an issue in Europe.
And there have been studies out there that show that on average,
migration is around 7% of the overall European population right now. not
an insignificant number, but the perception is that migration is
actually more around 16%. So the average European actually believes that
there are twice as many people migrating to Europe as actually are,
right? More than twice as many. If you've only got 7% coming in, but the
perception is 16%. So there's this real drive out there being fed by
the disinformation, with this fear to really provoke populations to try
and lock down their borders. And who's behind it? I think there's a lot
of actors, but I think, you know, you have to look at Russia, right?
Russia's working really hard to create division, to feed division, to
undermine confidence in Western institutions. And this is a key way to
11:46Paul Brandus: And what about migration caused by the two wars underway right now in Europe and the Middle East?
11:53Thea Gioe: You know, I haven't seen
too much yet regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict, which is not to say
that it's not out there. It hasn't jumped out and grabbed me yet, but
certainly there has been over the last couple of years a lot of
narrative shaping around particularly the migration from Ukraine, this
perception that people were, again, just moving en masse and needing a
lot of services, needing a lot of support. And I think I've seen less of
that recently. I think I've seen more of a shift towards really
focusing on the economic policies to support Ukraine, you know, I think
there's no doubt that Russia's been behind a lot of the narratives
around how unfair it is that Ukrainian grain is flooding, and I'm going
to put that in air quotes, you know, flooding European markets. And
we're seeing Poland really push back, right? We're seeing those other
countries right on Ukraine's horrors, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, really
push back. I think also no surprise that those are where we see some of
the more conservative governments gaining strength, right? There's just
an overall push to reinforce this narrative that not just the influx of
people, but the influx of goods or products are deteriorating the
quality of life in these neighboring countries.
13:34Paul Brandus: As is often the case,
and we see this on both sides of the Atlantic, by the way, fear of
migrants can be based on multiple factors. Dr. Alberto Horst-Niedhart is
a policy analyst for the European Policy Center's European Diversity
and Migration Program. He's also a lecturer at the University of Antwerp
13:57Niedhart: Disinformation and hostile
narratives typically evoke three main fears, and these relate to the
health of the resident population, to their wealth, and to their
cultural and racial identity. Some of the most frequently appearing
narratives that we have identified in relation to these fears are,
first, that migrants allegedly constitute an invasion force. Second,
that there is an elite conspiracy to encourage more migration. Third,
that migrants abuse the social benefit system. And fourth, that migrants
receive preferential treatment over the native population, what we call
in our study reverse discrimination claims. So these narratives are not
present to the same degree in all European countries, but they are the
most dominant overall, and they have a considerable impact on the
perception of migration by the local population.
14:53Paul Brandus: Just to give one
example around this, Europe's biggest economy, Germany's, is struggling
right now. The International Monetary Fund says it is the world's only
major economy that will shrink in 2023. The IMF predicts a decline of
one half of one percent. Why is Germany's economy struggling? high
energy prices, rising interest rates, and a slowing economy in China,
which for years has been Germany's number one export market, are the
principal reasons. But Germany's domestic intelligence agency said in
September that Russian disinformation has gotten, quote, more
confrontational and more aggressive, unquote, since Moscow invaded
Ukraine and has played up the theme of migration as a factor in
Germany's economic troubles. Can fact-checking help? Dr. Neidhart, his
comments are taken from a recent presentation, says fact-checking, a
tactic which many media organizations employ, is ineffective because it
can just antagonize those who were attracted to the false narrative in
the first place. Thus, there seems to be an inherent advantage where
malicious actors who manufacture and distribute disinformation,
overcoming this is an ongoing struggle and perhaps the struggle of our
time. Thanks to Ami Horowitz and Thea Geo. Sound from Dr. Alberto
Horst-Niedhart via the European Policy Dialogue Forum on Refugees and
Migrants. Our sound designer and editor, Noah Foutz. Audio engineer,
Nathan Corson. Executive producers, Michael Dealoia and Gerardo Orlando.
And on behalf of Meredith Wilson, I'm Paul Brandus. Thanks so much for