Functioning in the internet, using social media, being a member of closed topic groups, we put ourselves at risk of being a target of manipulation operations. In such case it is easy to distribute the content propagandists want us to. Completely unconsciously, sometimes even in good faith. What to do to not be an involuntary outlet of foreign propaganda? The awareness of environmental threats can help – for example we should remember that all groups about defense, energy, old Second Polish Republic’s Eastern borderlands are at high risk of infiltration and spread of propaganda content. Not everything is this, but it can be. Sometimes propagandists operate officially, though. How to recognize them and defend yourself against their propaganda?
“Firstly, you should divide the users of informational environment between professional and amateur. The journalist or expert environment engaged in spreading the intentionally manipulated message is a different question. Let’s think about the issue of covering by Russian propaganda the Russian involvement in the attempt to kill Sergey Skripal and his daughter. The amount of manipulative narratives created by journalists and experts, including the infamous interview with two so called tourists from Salisbury is a perfect example of how Russians attempt to cover their actual hostile, offensive actions. In the case of spreading such information by a user, unaware what they spread, we speak about unintentional, accidental spread. Frequently such information is spread for example as an attempt of generating the interest of friends on an internet forum or Facebook group. Completely different thing is when the people involved in the spread of such content have opinion-forming potential – for example a popular profile in social media or own media outlet. In such case we speak already about to what degree is such action by a person or a group or organization intentional and planned. We need to check if those persons want to support the manipulative actions executed by Russian Federation or if they act randomly.”
When we deal with a journalist or a recognized expert, we should have no problem to determine his involvement form. A journalist theoretically should understand informational background of certain event, in this case the attempt of murder of Skripal, and has access to official information spread by state outlets, such as the stances of states involved in European Union in transatlantic relations or statement published at the time.
“In such context a journalist, an expert or an NGO involved in spreading manipulative narratives is not recognized as unintentional repeater”, says Basaj. “The model of acting with the whole state apparatus has an important role in understanding the informational threats posed by Russian Federation. It is worth getting back to occurrences in Syria – using by Bashar al-Asad’s forces chemical weapons with military and organization support of Russian Federation. It resulted in death of civilians. Because of the very sensitive international character of this event, Russian centers, not only media but also state ones, launched very quick, coordinated informational reaction. In fact, it consisted of producing in a very short time few video materials that were meant to show that in the place of so called alleged – from Russian perspective – attacks nothing was happening. Those were interviews with people wearing military uniforms relating the events. There were fake videos, interviews with alleged doctors who treated the victims of the attack. One of the most perfidious action for Russian propaganda was focusing on a very emotional video, very popular in the West, showing a little girl chocking because of the attack. Russians decided to spread out the attention around this video. Therefore, two actors playing doctors said that they knew the girl, that it was not the reaction to the chemical attack but asthma. And they were talking about the asthma attack in front of cameras…
What is important to notice in that case is the coordination of actions. In this situation we can see all the state apparatus involved – Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense spokespersons. A manipulative statement was published and immediately shared by Russian media without any doubt into the informational environment. At the same time an entire system of active means was executed. The military staff was engaged to falsify the video material to cover the real occurrence of the events. Services were involved to identify quickly persons and situation that could disavow thesis propagated about the chemical attack. Then the manipulated narratives were put into English-, French- or German-speaking informational environments and, therefore, into Polish-speaking one too.