How Russia’s disinformation apparatus ran aground in Ukraine

By | March 22, 2022

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes:

Unlike in Syria, Russian disinformation in Ukraine has so far failed to gain traction. Some of the reasons are specific to Ukraine: Russia’s aggression is too blatant to be covered up by propaganda; Ukraine’s long exposure to Russian disinformation has left it in a heightened state of preparedness; and, most significantly, the effectiveness of Ukrainian messaging and the character of the messenger.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy earned extraordinary legitimacy in Ukraine and around the world by standing his ground when defeat looked inevitable and his survival looked uncertain. This unity of political and communicative power in a single individual with moral authority has helped Ukraine consolidate the image of stoic resistance in the face of naked aggression, thus neutralizing the Kremlin’s vast propaganda apparatus.

But there are also broader developments that have worked to Ukraine’s advantage. Over eleven years of war in Syria, the Kremlin had already tried most of the methods it is currently deploying against Ukraine: as it used ISIS as an excuse in Syria for attacking the anti-Assad opposition, so in Ukraine, it is using Azov as an excuse for attacking the entire country; and as in Syria it seeded multiple counternarratives to obscure the truth about each, so in Ukraine, it is promoting mutually contradictory claims to deflect attention in the case of each war crime. But these twice-told tales are finding limited traction. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports:

Twelve key disinformation outlets used to bolster Vladimir Putin have been hit with sanctions in an online crackdown on “false and misleading” reports claimed to be orchestrated by Russian intelligence.

The Foreign Office announced last week that sanctions would be imposed on the Internet Research Agency, the notorious Russian-based troll factory. Two other alleged disinformation websites, New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review, were also targeted.

The Internet Research Agency has been exposed in the past for paying Russia-based bloggers £500 a month to flood the internet with pro-Putin comments on chat forums, social networks and the comment sections of western publications. Government investigators also claim Russian intelligence supports international news and analysis websites which promote the Kremlin’s view of the Ukraine invasion.

Tom Southern, of the Centre for Information Resilience, a non-profit UK social enterprise which counters disinformation, said the impact of Russian information manipulation campaigns in the Ukraine conflict was being blunted by concerted action by governments and social media companies. “This seems to be a turning point against this fake news,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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