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In a Deluge of New Media, Autocrats Swim and Democracies Sink

Courtesy of id-iom/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by World Affairs on 1 Mai 2017.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

At the beginning of the century, the spread of the internet, satellite television, and other media technologies was expected to break down old monopolies and political boundaries, making it nearly impossible for those in power to control what people read, watch, and hear.

Digital media have indeed expanded around the world at lightning speed in the years since, reaching populations that previously received news only from state broadcasters.

Nevertheless, press freedom worldwide deteriorated to its lowest point in 13 years in 2016, according to Freedom House’s latest annual report. Just 13 percent of the world’s population lives in countries whose media environments are ranked as fully “free.”

What the optimists failed to take into account was that forces interested in maintaining control over news and political discourse would not simply accept the inevitability of their own demise, but would fight back and look for new opportunities to increase their dominance.

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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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Normalisation Campaigns do not Prevent Radical Online Cultures: Avoid the Pitfalls of Counter-Narratives

Propaganda

Courtesy Lord Jim/Flickr. CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) on 10 November 2016.

Recommendations

  • Only use counter-narratives when objectives, target groups, and success criteria from the start can be described precisely and in detail
  • Do not base counter-narratives on the notion that it is possible to describe ‘facts’ about reality, but instead address feelings, dreams, and opinions that youths can relate to
  • Do not use campaigns that promote normality as a positive alternative to radicalism

Counter-narratives and campaigns promoting normality, are often highlighted as universal means against online propaganda from militant movements. However, such campaigns are driven by a number of unfortunate assumptions and are difficult to apply in practice.

We often turn to information campaigns to inform and instruct the general population. Such campaigns are also pointed to as possible tools, to combat radical and militant counter-cultures on the internet. However, reaching broad segments of the population is one thing. It is more challenging, to direct communication at a smaller audience, which cannot immediately be identified and defined, such as vulnerable youths, radicalised individuals, ideological deviants, violent extremists, foreign fighters, etc.

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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