About the game with the coronavirus.
The leaders of the US and the EU accuse Russia of waging a campaign of misinformation, including those related to pandemic coronavirus COVID-19.
Peter Stano, the spokesperson of the EU for foreign Affairs and a representative EastStratcom Task Forse, service, established by the EU to combat misinformation, underlines in an interview for “voice of America”, in the context of pandemic misinformation poses a grave danger:
“We started to trace it around the middle of January, and since then found more than 150 cases of misinformation, lies or fake news related to the coronavirus, which either came from Russia or related to Russia or the well-known Pro-Kremlin media. It is important to emphasize that Russia, like media and associated with the Russian players – not the only one who spreads misinformation. A lot of players. But those who are from Russia or associated in any way with Russia, are very active.“
– What are the narratives used by the Russian disinformation?
– You can find everything. Just use your imagination and you will find an example of such misinformation. For example, associated with the Russian media argued that news about the spread of coronavirus – fake, because the early stages does not exist. Few days later the same media reported that, in fact, is a deadly threat to humanity and we are talking about the end of the world.
Gradually it evolved into a narrative about the end of the Union, as it breaks up the Schengen area, the European States do not show the slightest solidarity and help each other. “The EU is falling apart, it’s the end of the West”, “the coronavirus is a biological weapon created in a military laboratory” – and here again you can choose: “military laboratories” of USA, UK, also mentioned China and Western countries.
They have a large Arsenal of lies. Sometimes it even does not have to be fake. It may be conflicting information, someone else’s opinion… But their goal is to flood the contradictions of information space and social media, to confuse people and weaken their confidence. To weaken confidence in the fact that their States and health systems will be able to handle it. That is why it is so dangerous.
– Philip Reeker, the US Deputy Secretary of state, said that Russia’s goal is to sow discord and undermine American institutions. If it matches up with your observations?
– Absolutely! Techniques of propaganda and disinformation are the same. They want to confuse, undermine trust to local public institutions, to advertise their social model and to discredit the model of the country, which is blow. This is what is done in the United States.
Methods are the same, although they differ in the way of feed – depending on the country. In countries such as Italy and Spain, the epidemiological situation is particularly severe. And then Russia Today is among the ten main sources to which Internet users seek information about the coronavirus.
So be it the USA, Europe, Ukraine, be it the post-Soviet space, their goal remains the same: to discredit, confuse and undermine the people’s confidence in their public institutions and public models.
– Is Russian disinformation campaign associated with the coronavirus, from those that you observed earlier?
– The main goal does not change regardless of what is used as information about the coronavirus, the internal problems or an economic crisis. Main goal is feeding anti-Western sentiments, to show that our companies are managed poorly, are on the verge of collapse that our model of society is not one that should be cherished.
This goal has not changed, regardless of what disinformation campaign you will undertake to analyze the present, organized by year, two years or three years ago.
There are different layers. One for an internal audience: to show that we are against foreign aggression and we need to unite to protect themselves. The second layer is to show the world how bad and evil are the forces that created the terrible virus that is spreading across the globe, destroying the state and of human life: “and we even help those countries that the virus has developed”.
We found that for media that are traditionally spread disinformation, do not have to throw blatant lies about the coronavirus. It is enough just to create confusion and to flood the information space with materials that reflect different points of view, different theories, while referring to the self-proclaimed experts. For example, “expert” is something said on Russian television, and they innocently told – and this is, like, not misinformation.
Their strategy is to flood the media and social space with contradictions. They seek to confuse and undermine the trust of the people. Because when you don’t know what you can trust, you stop trusting everyone and everything. You don’t believe. You’re not trying to seek the truth in the media, because it seems that all you are trying to cheat.
– Through what channels is spreading misinformation?
– Using all possible and traditional media, and social networks. Misinformation uses all possible channels, operates on many different levels, targeting different groups and uses all available means…
They use the media, who pretend to be normal media: we have already mentioned Sputnik and Russia Today with versions in different languages. They also use friendly media in other States sites outlining conspiracy theories, or sites of “alternative information” that are involved in spreading fake news and lies. These resources are not necessarily connected with Russia – they just feed the content or they themselves are happy to borrow it.
– Have you noticed the increasing number of fakes during quarantine?
PS: I would not say that there is the appearance of a larger number of fakes due to the fact that people sit at home. But we see that in the health sector in addition to pandemic coronavirus, there is a “infogami” – pandemic information and misinformation. This makes the situation especially dangerous because misinformation is playing with human health and human lives. For example, in social networks and on some sites you will see that washing hands helps to fight the epidemic, or drink bleach, to protect against coronavirus.
If you had used political propaganda, whose aim was to earn more points, but now misinformation is playing with lives. Therefore, we say that misinformation can kill.
– Don’t become a victim of fakes?
– Be very careful with sources of information. Double check facts twice and three times. Contact media and journalists who are trustworthy. Don’t believe everything you read. Remember that there are forces that want to manipulate you. Don’t let them do this.