Why Is Finland Able to Fend Off Putin’s Information War?

Helsinki has emerged as a resilient front against Kremlin spin. But can its successes be translated to the rest of Europe?

With elections coming up this year in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and perhaps Italy, European intelligence services across the Continent have been sounding the alarm about Russian attempts to influence the outcome though targeted disinformation and propaganda, as they appeared to do in the U.S. presidential election.

That brand of information war can range from pushing fake news stories and conspiracy theories to fanning the flames of existing problems — all serving to undermine public confidence in governments and institutions. Elsewhere in the Baltics and former Soviet Union, Russian-linked disinformation has worked to stoke panic and force local governments into knee-jerk, counterproductive responses that have boosted Kremlin goals across the region.

But in the face of this mounting pressure, one of Russia’s neighbors has emerged unusually resistant to the wider information war waged by Moscow across Europe: Finland.

Like other countries along the Baltic Sea or in Eastern Europe, Finland has seen a notable increase in fake news stories and propaganda targeted against it that can be linked back to Russia since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. These attacks have sought to undermine the government and often coincided with military shows of force along the Russian border.

But unlike its neighbors, Helsinki reckons it has the tools to effectively resist any information attack from its eastern neighbor. Finnish officials believe their country’s strong public education system, long history of balancing Russia, and a comprehensive government strategy allow it to deflect coordinated propaganda and disinformation.

“The best way to respond is less by correcting the information, and more about having your own positive narrative and sticking to it,” Jed Willard, director of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Center for Global Engagement at Harvard, told Foreign Policy. Willard, who is currently working for the Swedish government, was hired by Finnish officials to help them develop a public diplomacy program to understand and identify why false information goes viral and how to counter propaganda.

That initiative started at the top. In October 2015, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto took the first step, when he acknowledged that information warfare is real for Finland, and said that it was the duty of every citizen to combat it. In January 2016, the prime minister’s office enrolled 100 officials in a program across several levels of the Finnish government to identify and understand the spread of disinformation based on Willard’s advice….

Read the rest of the article at Foreign Policy!

Combating Fake News: An Agenda for Research and Action 2/17

[Note: this event at Harvard Law School on Friday 17 February is currently full, but if you are a current Harvard undergraduate with a real interest in the topic please reach out to Jed and he’ll see what he can do.]

Combating Fake News: An Agenda for Research and Action
Harvard Law School

Agenda 17 February

8:00 – 8:30am | Continental breakfast
8:30 – 8:45am | Welcome by Nicco Mele, Introduction by Matt Baum (Harvard) and David Lazer (Northeastern): The science of fake news: what is to be done?

MORNING SESSION: FOUNDATIONS
How and why is fake news a problem? What are the underlying individual and aggregate processes that underlie its capacity to do harm?

8:45 – 10:30am | Panel 1: The psychology of fake news
How do people determine what information to attend to, and what to believe?
How does fake news fit into this picture?
● Moderator: Maya Sen, Harvard
● Panelists: Brendan Nyhan (Dartmouth), Adam Berinsky (MIT), Emily Thorson (Boston College), Steven Sloman (Brown), Gordon Pennycook (Yale), Miriam Metzger (UC Santa Barbara)

10:30 – 10:45am | Coffee break

10:45 – 12:30pm | Panel 2: How fake news spreads
How does information spread amongst people in the current news ecosystem?
How is this driven by our social ties, by social media platforms, and by “traditional” media? What lessons can be learned from history?
● Moderator: Nicco Mele, Harvard
● Panelists: David Lazer (Northeastern), Filippo Menczer (Indiana), Michael Schudson (Columbia), Kelly Greenhill (Tufts and Harvard Belfer Center), Yochai Benkler (Harvard), Duncan Watts (Microsoft Research)

12:30 – 1:00pm | Lunch (bag lunch to be provided)

AFTERNOON SESSION: IMPLICATIONS AND INTERVENTIONS

1:00 – 2:45pm | Panel 3: Responses by Public and Private Institutions
What role is there for public institutions (e.g., local, state and federal government) to combat fake news and its harmful effects? What role is there for private actors (e.g., social media companies, scholars, NGO’s, activists) to combat fake news and its harmful effects? Note: this panel is off-the-record.
● Moderator: Tarek Masoud, Harvard
● Panelists: Greg Marra (Facebook), Katherine Brown (Council on Foreign Relations), Lori Robertson (FactCheck.org), Eli Pariser (UpWorthy), David Rothschild (Microsoft Research), Adam Sharp (former head of News, Government, and Elections, Twitter)

2:45 – 3:00pm | Closing remarks (Matt Baum and David Lazer)

The Rule of Law in Mexico and Beyond 2/17

Limited to 10 participants. RSVP required.

How to Survive a Russian Hack

In response to Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement on Sunday arguing that the measure would “do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.” In response, Trump took to Twitter. “The two Senators should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III,” he tweeted.

This invocation of World War III, which he also made in Charlotte, North Carolina during the campaign (“You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton”) bears a striking similarity to those aired by Russia’s state-owned media, as Anne Applebaum pointed out in October. Russian state media outlets favor headlines like “Are NATO’s Massive War Games on Russia’s Border a Pretext to World War III?” from Sputnik in May 2016, or “US Bombing Syrian Army Would Start World War III,” from the same site in October, and “Trump’s Victory Prevented World War 3” from November. Lately, Russian state media have suggested that Trump has been battling a coup to remove him from office since before inauguration. “Is the United States facing a coup d’état?” a British RT columnist wrote in December.

These headlines are characteristic of the disinformation campaigns the Kremlin uses to frighten and destabilize its eastern European neighbors. The precise nature of Russian state-backed interference in the last November’s U.S. presidential election and the contact, if any, between Russian officials and members of President Trump’s election campaign, may never be fully known. But the apocalyptic stylings of Russian disinformation have reached across the Atlantic. Resisting this strain of anxious rhetoric means looking to its origin.

Read the rest of Linda Kinstler’s article, featuring the FDR Foundation’s “Defense of Democracy” work, at The Atlantic.

 

Unleashing the Girl Effect 2/10

How can creative action cultivate girls as advocates for gender equality?

Join Beyond Tomorrow allies Creative Action Institute (CAI) for appetizers & cocktails to take part in the conversation!

This event is hosted by CAI, and RSVP is required. Their Eventbrite link can be found here.

Clare Dowd and Yasmin Padamsee of CAI will share the approach to integrate arts-based training to deepen the scope and impact of their work to cultivate at-risk adolescent girls in East Africa as advocates for girls’ human rights in their families, schools and communities, and explore undertaking this much needed work in the U.S.

When: Friday, February 10 5:30 – 7:30PM
Where: FDR Suite, Adams House
 B-17

Contact: Julia D’Orazio 978.998.7994/julia@creativeactioninstitute.org.

 
CAI works at the intersection of creativity and social change. We build the capacity of leaders and organizations for innovation, collaboration and resilience to advance conservation, health and human rights globally through original initiatives, experiential training and collaborative projects that harness the power of art and creative processes.