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Clickbait: Fake News and the Role of the State

Courtesy of Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 9 February 2017.

Synopsis

States all around the world are seeking to restrict the proliferation of ‘fake news’ to insulate their populations against messages that may destabilise their societies. But is the state the best entity to combat fake news?

Commentary

IN 2016, several populist politicians around the world gained power by drawing on the emotion and biases of their supporters. Many of these followers appear to have been swayed by fake news, not verifying the ‘facts’ that their leaders provide them. More worrying, the leaders themselves seem not to care about the veracity of what they are spreading. Fake news can present as websites that deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news, and often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.

Some commentators fear that this is leading to a new normal where extremely biased views become the mainstream, thanks to fake news. These extreme views can cause divisions in society, foment unrest, and in some cases, lay the foundations for violence, such as the fake news that a pizza restaurant was operating a child abuse ring.

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Propaganda and Censorship: Adapting to the Modern Age

A Chinese PLA Propaganda Poster.

A Chinese PLA Propaganda Poster. Courtesy of James Vaughan/flickr

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review (HIR) on 28 April 2016.

The role of propaganda and censorship is not as obvious as it may seem. From the infamous propaganda arm of North Korean government to the state-run media organizations in China and Russia, it is clear that the mechanisms and effectiveness of propaganda and censorship vary widely. During the height of propaganda in the twentieth century, authoritarian governments were able to craft strong, singular national narratives by propagating political messages in popular media while censoring those that conflicted with the government’s line of thought. With the advent of the digital age, Russia and China have been forced to develop their propaganda strategy to combat the newfound power of the average internet user, who can seek and share information at the instant click of a mouse. While the basics of propagandistic strategy have persisted, fundamental changes have occurred as a response to the paradigm shift in information sharing and seeking. » More

Moldova: Examining the Russian Media Factor in Protests

Vladimir Putin at the Russia Today studios. Image: Kremlin.ru/Flickr

This article was originally published by EurasiaNet.org on 11 September, 2015.

The ongoing protest in the Moldovan capital Chișinău is posing a fresh test of Russian state-controlled media’s ability to project Kremlin geopolitical preferences.

Regional analysts assert that Moscow is viewing the protest as another Western-orchestrated, Euromaidan-like disturbance that constitutes a threat to Russian national interests. Not surprisingly, then, Russian broadcasters and print outlets are striving to shape a news narrative in which the protest is an expression of the population’s discontent with Moldova’s European Union integration efforts. » More

Don’t Send Your Messages into a Media Black Hole: Communicating about Risk in the Information Age

Danger-sign in the water. Image: Matthew/Flickr

Whether a natural hazard turns into a disaster largely depends on the level of human preparedness. The recent, devastating earthquake in Nepal illustrates this point, where a lack of prevention and mitigation measures pre-disaster contributed to high disaster vulnerability, with terrible consequences for the local population. Communicating to the public about the risks of natural hazards represents a major function of disaster preparedness and resilience. Yet, many efforts to step up communication with the public about risks end in a “media black hole” because they are not properly tailored towards their target groups. » More

Russia’s Info-War: the Home Front

Grafitti of Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Image: Esther Dyson/Flickr

This article was originally published as Issue Alert No. 18 by the European Union Institute for Security Studies

The use and misuse of information is as important to today’s Kremlin as it was to the Soviet Politburo. But if the ultimate goal is the same – to control the people from above – the techniques used to achieve it are strikingly different. Whereas
Soviet leaders imposed strict censorship in an attempt to isolate the people from the ‘heresies’ of the West, Putin’s government bombards them with fantastical stories designed to paralyse their critical faculties. And if Soviet propaganda was
meant to contribute to the construction of a new society, modern Russian propaganda is wholly destructive. Rather than try, in vain, to persuade the people of the virtues of its rule, today’s Kremlin disseminates lies and half-truths designed less to convince than to disorientate. In so doing, the regime cuts away the ground from beneath the people’s feet, propelling them into a world where, in Peter Pomerantsev’s words, ‘nothing is true and everything is possible’.

On the home front of the information war, President Putin has scored a decisive victory. He has succeeded in persuading his people that the Kiev authorities are fascists and the Americans aggressors, while he himself is all that stands between
Russia and total chaos. » More

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