The West is still oblivious to Russia’s information war

The West is still oblivious to Russia’s information war

Ian Garner writes:

A few weeks ago, a Russian autocrat addressed millions of Western citizens in a propaganda event that would have been unthinkable a generation ago—yet is so normal today as to be almost unremarkable. Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin has now been viewed more than 120 million times on YouTube and X, formerly known as Twitter. Despite the tedium of Putin’s two-hour-long lecture about an imaginary Russian and Ukrainian history, the streaming and promotion of the interview by Western platforms is only the latest successful foray in Russia’s information war against the West, which Moscow is showing every sign of winning. And in this war, the Kremlin is not just weaponizing social media, but relying on Westerners themselves to spread its messages far and wide.

A decade into Russia’s all-out information war, the social media companies seem to have forgotten their promises to act after the 2016 U.S. presidential election interference scandal, when Russian-sponsored posts reached 126 million Americans on Facebook alone. Policymakers not only seem oblivious to the full breadth and scope of Russia’s information war, but fears about stifling freedom of speech and contributing to political polarization have led them and the social media companies to largely refrain from any action to stop Russia’s ongoing campaign.

This inaction comes amid growing signs of Russian influence operations that have deeply penetrated Western politics and society. Dozens—if not hundreds or more—of Russian agents have been observed everywhere from English towns to Canadian universities. Many of these agents are low-level and appear to achieve little individually, but occasionally they penetrate institutions, companies, and governments. Meanwhile, a flood of money props up Moscow’s ambitions, including hundreds of millions of dollars the Kremlin is pouring into influencing elections, with some of that money covertly (and overtly) funneled to political parties and individual politicians. For many decades, Western societies have been deluged with every sort of influence imaginable.

While there have been some countermeasures since the start of Russia’s latest war—including the United States and European Union shutting off access to Russian media networks such as RT and Sputnik in early 2022—these small, ineffective steps are the equivalent of information war virtue signaling. They do not fundamentally change Western governments’ lack of any coherent approach to the many vectors of Russian disinformation and hybrid warfare. At the very moment when Kremlin narratives on social media are beginning to seriously undermine support for Ukraine, Western governments’ handle on the disinformation crisis seems to be getting weaker by the day. [Continue reading…]

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