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Hybrid war under the coronavirus. Who, how and why controls our perception

flags of Ukraine and Russia

Ukraine lives under the hybrid war with Russia, which takes place mostly in the information field. Misinformation counteracting experts discussed how fakes appear, what the propagandists’ goal is, how the situation has changed over the last year and whether it is possible to resist manipulators during the LIVE discussion, Texty.org.ua writes.

About playing with the truth, influencing emotions and striking at Western values

Volodymyr Yermolenko, Internews-Ukraine Analytics Director and Editor-in-Chief of UkraineWorld.org

Russia’s informational influence – not only external but also internal – significantly increases. Today we face a much broader problem than fakes and misinformation, namely the information warfare as an element of hybrid warfare.

Sometimes it’s a game with truthful information. We see this in the case of America events media coverage. Most protesters in the United States are peaceful, although there is an aggressive part. Russian propaganda shows only aggression.

To provoke a wave of hate, the facts are clothed in very aggressive, teasing or any other emotional wrappers. Another example of events in the United States: there is a meme “Black Maidan”, which is spread in Russia and Ukrainian pro-Russian sources. The Black Maidan allegedly refers to the blacks’ rights protection, but in reality, it serves also for presenting negative emotions about the Ukrainian Maidan.

As for values: we enter an era of anti-Western narratives, attempts to destroy democratic values and say that they are wrong. An alarming and threatening moment: the values which are sounded by pro-Russian, anti-Western speakers are often mimicked as Western ones.

About “coronavirus fakes” and tricks of misinformers

Alyona Romaniuk, the Facebook campaign “On the other side of the news” Editor-in-Chief 

I have never seen such a flurry of fakes as this spring, even during the elections. There were days when we received more than two hundred messages with the requests to check the information.

The coronavirus pandemic in the world has contributed to a new huge misinformation wave spread. Misinformers also took advantage of the audience’s wild interest.

At the same time, some media adhered to the standards in the coverage of information, and some spread fakes and manipulations to bring the audience to their sites and increase the traffic.

Coronavirus hysteria has once again confirmed that misinformers use many manipulative tools. Among them:

  • Fake experts – doctors, scientists who comment some research (a young doctor from Russia Yura Klimov advises to hold your breath for 10 seconds to check if a person is sick with coronavirus). To this, we add the imputation of the messages to the people who have never said this.
  • concepts substitution. For example, when pictures from Russian hospitals are used to illustrate Ukrainian realities. Promote Ukraine wrote a separate article about it.
  • Manipulation with numbers and data, taking them out of a context to achieve somebodies’ goal.
  • skillfully combined half-truths or distorted facts.

According to the topic, Romaniuk divides pandemic fakes into several groups. One of them is that the coronavirus is artificially created and originates from China. This fake was spread by Russian journalists back in January. As time passed, it has been changed, and two months later, several countries were named, in the laboratories of which the virus appeared allegedly. Another group concerns medication and treatment. Everyone probably remembers the “healing” lemons, garlic or ginger. We will remind also that after distribution of a fake about their amazing advantage in the fight against a coronavirus, the prices for these products soared many times in the Ukrainian shops.

Who produces fakes? Alyona Romaniuk believes that there is no single source. Some fakes come from the source “one woman said, a grandmother said to a grandmother.” Some people deliberately want to hype, increase their expertise, attract subscribers. There are both spontaneous fakes that arise due to misunderstandings, distortions, and purposeful campaigns. The spread of fakes in Russia was noticed even at the state level, unveiled.

About the Russian propaganda psychology and tools

Alya Shandra,  Euromaidan Press Editor-in-Chief

I agree that the “fake” concept is too narrow today, I propose to talk about the management of perception. A hybrid war has been waged against us. Fakes are an instrument of this war, and its goal is to influence our perception that Ukraine will change its political choice. Exact understanding where we are pushed is extremely important for us.

Ukraine’s struggle for its independence from Russia’s sphere of influence has been going on for six years, but it is too early to talk about the victory. It may seem to us now that nothing will work out in Russia, that we will never go back. But I want to pay attention to the polls, which show the rapid growth of the popularity of OPZZh, Sharia, the growth of apathy among Ukrainians. But that changes so suddenly forward can suddenly be changed backwards. And we need to take what happens seriously. Because drop by drop, Russian propaganda tries to undermine our belief that we can live in a state independent of Russia.

The fakes and manipulations that have been circulating over the last year have involved military propaganda psychology – and it works. Among such methods is the aggressor’s image so strong and kind, that one can be surrendered without a fight. Propaganda also works to increase despair among Ukrainians, spreading the narratives “The EU will not help us”, “Europe does not need us” and others. Ukrainian problems are presented hypertrophied. On the contrary, Russia is countered with as “fraternal people” who is ready to help. Here we can add the recent attack on the memory of the Maidan, and the attack on the IMF.

About annual trends in narratives promoted in Ukraine by Russia

Nadiya Romanenko, the “Fresh Desa from Russia” project Head (Texty.org.ua), based on monitoring and research, believes that the narratives have been slightly modified under the influence of the coronavirus.

We have noticed that all the narratives that had taken place before (“lost state”, “total impoverishment”, “clumsy, corrupt government”, etc.) have been transferred to the topic of coronavirus.

The non-state – because of the coronavirus. A defective power means that it will not cope with the coronavirus. Coronavirus, like plantain leaf, was applied to any narrative that needed to be promoted.

Among the threatening trends is the “revival of old mummies“: for example, the return of the federalization narrative against the coronavirus background and the upcoming local elections in Ukraine.

What to do?

Tell own stories, communicate well. All the experts agree that it is impossible to win a hybrid war through debunking fakes by the public and volunteers. What “weapon” can we strengthen?

  • Preventive measures and qualitative communication, and first of all – by the state. After all, fakes appear when an information vacuum is created: there is a hot topic, the demand for information, but officials do not provide it.
  • Support for democratic narratives.
  • Improvement of the media literacy and emotional hygiene level.
  • To counteract despair, we need to develop “inspiration journalism”: to show people where there can be hope on the positive examples and stories basis.

Natalia Tolub

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