January 27 2022, 15:54 pm

In Lithuania, An Online Army Of Volunteers Fights Russian Disinformation

French media is report­ing that in Lithua­nia, Russia’s neigh­bor and the first Sovi­et repub­lic to declare its inde­pen­dence from the bloc in 1990, an online army of vol­un­teers take to the inter­net every day to fight the con­stant stream of Russ­ian fake news and pro­pa­gan­da. Accord­ing to a France24 report:

Jan­u­ary 23, 2022 Dur­ing the day, he works nor­mal hours, at a nor­mal job with a nor­mal title. But after hours, and dur­ing pret­ty much any break he gets, this 50-some­thing father-of-two turns into an online war­rior, fight­ing Russ­ian trolls under the nom-de-guerre Hawk from his phone or lap­top in Vil­nius.  “I mon­i­tor tox­ic pages and try to find fake news, main­ly on Face­book, because that’s where most Russ­ian trolls are,” he said in a tele­phone inter­view with FRANCE 24.  “Dis­in­for­ma­tion is real­ly dan­ger­ous: It poi­sons brains, and tries to divide peo­ple – espe­cial­ly in free soci­eties – late­ly with lies about the [Covid-19] vac­cine and stuff like that.”  More recent­ly, he has also been ded­i­cat­ing some of his time to shar­ing memes of the Russ­ian army “to show that Rus­sia isn’t as big, scary and ter­ri­ble as it makes itself out to be.” […]  Although the grass­roots move­ment start­ed out small – “a small group of friends, and then friends invit­ing friends” – the Elves now have an army of around 4,000 vol­un­teers in Lithua­nia.  “Most of us are real­ly ded­i­cat­ed and spend every free minute we have on the Elves, search­ing and mon­i­tor­ing,” he said, esti­mat­ing his own week­ly input with the Elves at around 20 hours. […] Like Hawk, most Elves try to stay under the radar, rarely reveal­ing their links to the group to avoid com­ing under per­son­al attack from the trolls. “I don’t tell any­one I’m an Elf, and I don’t talk about the Elves at all. If some­one asks me about them I say ‘yes, I’ve heard about the Elves’, but that’s it.”

Read the rest here.

The report notes that since 15 per­cent of Lithuania’s pop­u­la­tion are Russ­ian speak­ers, the coun­try – like Esto­nia and Latvia — has become an easy and fre­quent tar­get for Russ­ian fake news and disinformation.

In Novem­ber, the Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report report­ed on Russia’s main tools of influ­ence in attempt­ing to trans­form Lithuania’s infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment. These include not only media reg­is­tered in the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion but also a broad range of alleged­ly inde­pen­dent Russ­ian out­lets and experts, blog­gers, and influ­encers who active­ly dis­sem­i­nate pro-Krem­lin nar­ra­tives on social media.

In April, we rec­om­mend­ed a NATO study assess­ing Lithuania’s mea­sures to counter Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion, argu­ing that by build­ing resilience and impos­ing costs, the efforts by Lithuan­ian author­i­ties and NGOs yield­ed con­sid­er­able results.


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