Russian Disinformation

Download the full report: Assessing the Response to Russian Disinformation: How Can We Do Better?


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Executive Summary

Russia’s disinformation campaign against the West takes on many forms: outright fake news stories, attacks by troll armies, funding local disinformation outlets and groups, and other, more surreptitious provocations. But no matter which of the many information environments the Kremlin’s campaigns touch or the form they take, its activities across Europe have one thing in common: they exploit the trust gap between citizens and their governments, as well as the gap between citizens and the media, in order to undermine the cohesion of the transatlantic order.

The West is beginning to acknowledge the disinformation threat. Fact-checking operations are proliferating, the U.S. Congress passed a bill in December 2016 to fight disinformation, and several NATO and EU countries recently announced the establishment of a new center to counter hybrid threats. These are steps in the right direction, to be sure, but most anti-disinformation programming targets expert communities rather than addressing the populations most susceptible to Russian efforts. Without addressing citizens’ overall lack of trust by supporting local media and helping populations learn to recognize what constitutes quality coverage, other investments will fail to yield results.

Recommendations

  1. Our first priority must be to bridge the trust gap through long-term investments in skills-building programs, campaigns in media literacy and support of independent local journalism. These programs could also be replicated in the United States, Germany, France, and other countries outside of Russia’s former sphere of influence.
  2. We must continue strategically funding analytical, fact-checking, consciousness-raising work by offering long-term support to organizations that are experienced and produce quality analysis. Offer training to help these organizations achieve sustainability before redirecting funding. Prioritize programming that requires working-level cooperation between organizations in this category, not only to encourage the sharing of best practices, but also to avoid duplication of efforts.
  3. We must rethink the foreign assistance funding paradigm. Across the board, we should invest in longer programs with more flexible deliverables and consider expanding the list of assistance beneficiaries to countries that have “graduated” from foreign assistance but influence the cohesion of the transatlantic community.

The views in this report are the author’s own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.