Propaganda and disinformation. Detection and counteraction

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“There is no single truth. There are many truths”

One of the methods of propaganda, especially such false and harmful propaganda as Russian, is to blur the truth and spread alternative “truths.” The purpose of such “dividing and multiplying” of the truth is to form the recipients’ opinion that “not everything is so clear,” there are “different versions,” “no one knows the truth,” etc. On this basis, society can be manipulated, Russian crimes can be presented as a noble struggle, and Kremlin imperialism can be presented as “people’s democracy” and a picture of reality favorable to international war criminals can be imposed.

Richard Crossman, a British member of the board of the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) during World War II, noted: “The brilliant propagandist is a man who tells the truth, or such a selection of the truth as is necessary for his purposes, and tells it in such a way that the listener does not think he is receiving propaganda… The art of propaganda is not to lie, but rather to select the truth you need and to present it mixed with other truths that the audience wants to hear.” In other words, post-truth. That is, the truth that you like.

Russian propagandists are deliberately blurring the truth and throwing in messages that would make us doubt the axioms. This is something we had no doubt about before. They try to throw out as many versions as possible, each contradicting the other. The goal is not to make us believe in a particular version, but to make us doubt: “Is this even real?”

Modern Russian propaganda is derived from Soviet propaganda. In the early 1920s, Lenin instructed propagandists: “confusion” and “irreparable nonsense” will lead to the death of the bourgeoisie. Today, people are trying to convince us that there is no objectivity, and that any point of view, even a wild one, is no worse or better than another. To convince them that there is no journalism, only propaganda.

As journalist Otar Dovzhenko notes, this is easy to see if you read a selection of Russian propaganda versions of the “real” events in Bucha. From the “staging” of Ukrainian propaganda to the targeted destruction of people with opposing views by “Ukrainian nationalists”, the fact-checkers counted a dozen and a half Russian-generated explanations for why the occupiers are not guilty of killing civilian Ukrainians in the occupied cities. Borodianka, which was destroyed by bombs, was also declared a “Ukrainian production.” This is one of the ways to undermine reality. Those who produce Russian lies do not want them to be coherent and stick together; on the contrary, the more versions there are and the more they contradict each other, the more effective their product is.

Otar Dovzhenko’s idea that Russian lies are trying to make you feel that reality can be anything, and you cannot know the truth for sure is interesting. However, you know for sure: until February 24, we lived in a peaceful country that suffered from Russian aggression and tried to restore its integrity through diplomatic means. We were not a “European Somalia,” as Russia lies. We worked, raised children, built houses, studied and dreamed of a peaceful future in our country. We were not a threat to anyone’s security and did not need any liberation or protection (especially liberation and protection by extermination, which Russia practices). The goal of Russian propaganda is not just to deceive, but to sow chaos and panic, and to make people doubt.

The modern theory of information distortions distinguishes between three most common types of information distortions:

misinformation – unconscious mistakes and misrepresentation of inaccurate or distorted facts.

mal-information is the deliberate publication of private or sensitive information that could be harmful.

dis-information – deliberate falsification of facts. Unlike misinformation, disinformation is deliberate and has intentionally bad intentions.

Propaganda: good or evil?

The first recorded fact of the use of propaganda is considered to be the preamble to the laws of Hammurabi, which states that these laws “were created for justice in the country and to protect the weak from the strong,” but an analysis of the content of the legal norms clearly indicates the opposite.

Propaganda, according to Richard Alan, is defined as a systematic form of deliberate persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of a defined target audience for political, ideological, or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-way messages.

Positive (constructive) propaganda seeks to promote social harmony, harmony, and the education of people in accordance with generally accepted values. Positive propaganda performs educational and informational functions in society. It is carried out in the interests of those to whom it is directed, not a limited circle of stakeholders. Positive propaganda, unlike negative propaganda, does not pursue a manipulative goal.

Negative (destructive) propaganda imposes beliefs on people based on the principle that the end justifies the means. The purpose of negative propaganda is to incite social hatred, stir up social conflicts, exacerbate contradictions in society, awaken people’s baser instincts, etc. It divides people, makes them obedient to the will of the propagandist. The technology of creating an “image of the enemy” allows to rally the crowd around the propagandist, to impose on the crowd the beliefs and stereotypes favorable to him. The main function of negative propaganda is to create an illusory, parallel reality with an “inverted” or distorted system of values, beliefs, and attitudes.

Russia and China are the world’s main spreaders of disinformation. However, dictatorial regimes use manipulation with different intentions. In particular, the Kremlin uses disinformation to humiliate, mudsling and discredit the West. At the same time, China is spreading disinformation in the EU to improve and whitewash its dictatorial image.

Russia started its information war against the West long before 2014. According to U.S. Congressman Dan Mike, as of 2014, Russia spent more than $9 billion on its propaganda.

As of 2012, the budget of the propaganda channel Russia Today ranked first in the world in terms of government spending per employee, which reached $183 thousand. per person.

At the same time, while in Russia itself, outright lies and fakes are mostly used, in the Western environment, the message “not everything is so clear” has become very popular. Because the world does not believe Russia’s outright lies.

10 commandments of military propaganda – from Goebbels to Putin

(Based on the findings of Lord Arthur Ponsonby and Anne Morelli)

  1. We do not want war.
  2. The other side bears full responsibility for the war. “We started the war to prevent the enemy from starting a war and destroying us with a surprise attack. That is, the war is necessary to end the war.”
  3. The enemy has the face of the devil.
  4. The real goals of war are presented as noble. No war has ever officially proclaimed economic and geopolitical reasons for military aggression.
  5. The enemy deliberately commits atrocities. If we make mistakes, they are unintentional.
  6. Our losses are negligible. The enemy’s losses are enormous.
  7. Our work is sacred.
  8. Famous artists and intellectuals support us.
  9. The enemy is using illegal weapons.
  10. Those who are not with us are against us. Those who question our position are traitors.

As we can see, Moscow uses the entire arsenal of false propaganda theses of a typical aggressor in its aggressive war against Ukraine.

Recommendations on the policy of information protection and countering disinformation and propaganda:

  1. Threat awareness.
  2. Develop a new legislative framework on disinformation and hate speech.
  3. Increase the transparency of the media and social networks.
  4. Public identification of agents of information influence. Identify and identify agents of influence, show their methods of work through the so-called practice of naming and shaming.
  5. Increase transparency of political, party and information campaigns.
  6. Coordination of public authorities and civil society institutions.
  7. “Cutting off oxygen” to malicious agents.
  8. Requirements for online platforms to ensure transparency that will allow tracking those who conduct disinformation campaigns.
  9. Development of media literacy and fact-checking among the media and society in general.

“It is very important not to allow propaganda by referring to liberalism and pluralism of opinions,” notes Ukrainian legal scholar S. Drabiuk. Countering disinformation should not be confused with censorship, which is prohibited in most democratic countries. There may be different views in society, but there cannot be two different truths. If the information distorts a particular event or fact, the source that disseminates such news should be identified. If it spreads fake news systematically and purposefully, it should be banned. The ban on the spread of fake news should not be seen as sanctions against the regime, but as a measure of information hygiene.

Media literacy and information hygiene are the key to countering lies.

Media literacy is one of the key forms of protection against
the destructive influence of disinformation and propaganda that
are distributed through digital media. Critical thinking and fact-checking play a key role for citizens in a democracy.

According to the 2021 report on media literacy in Europe.
The countries with the best performance are Finland, Denmark and Estonia. At the same time, most of them are countries with high social standards, developed democracy and patriotism.

At the level of the European Union, countering disinformation influences is also gradually becoming a recognized strategic priority, and more and more resources are being directed to media education and media literacy. Over the past ten years, the European Union has been actively implementing media education and
media literacy into a number of initiatives, projects and research in various fields
of society.

In Ukraine, in the context of the information war against our state and nation, information hygiene and its basic knowledge for every Ukrainian is a powerful element of civic resilience and national resistance to the occupiers.

Author: Valeriy Maydanyuk, political scientist, Foundation for Promotion of Democracy.

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