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!

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.

 

Before That Gilded Tower, Another President-Elect Had a Manhattan Home Base

At the stately age of 108, the handsome double-width townhouse at 47-49 East 65th Street bears no resemblance to a certain tower of gilt, glitz and high security just 12 blocks away.

Yet the last time a president-elect ran a transition from the east side of Manhattan, it took place in that 65th Street residence, the home of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, on a street of understated grandeur.

“It was the Trump Tower of 1932-33,” said Harold Holzer, the director of Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, which now occupies the building.

If an estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., is landmarked in our historical consciousness as the Roosevelt residence, the family’s onetime city house, about 90 miles south, has its own claim as the incubator for the public lives of Roosevelt and Eleanor, two of the most consequential figures of 20th-century America. They lived there for most of 25 years.

READ MORE AT NYTIMES.COM

What does it mean to be free from want or fear?

…If Roosevelt were delivering his Four Freedoms speech today, “he probably would have come up with more than four basic freedoms… That being said, the world as we know it and the needs of humans as we know them still can fit into his four freedoms… Maybe the simplicity of the four freedoms is something to bring us back to looking at what the core rights are and how to focus on ensuring those core rights are fulfilled.”

 

Read more on the U.S. State Department’s “Share America” site:

What does it mean to be free from want or fear?

Yes, people really are turning away from democracy

By (Washington Post Op-Ed, December 8 2016)

…Public attitudes toward democracy, we show, have soured over time. Citizens, especially millennials, have less faith in the democratic system. They are more likely to express hostile views of democracy. And they vote for anti-establishment parties and candidates that disregard long-standing democratic norms in ever greater numbers…

READ MORE HERE

Click here for information on the FDR Foundation’s “In Defense of Democracy” Program.