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NATO Study Assesses Lithuanian Countermeasures to Russian Disinformation

April 29th, 2021 12:45

NATO’s Cen­tre of Excel­lence for Coun­ter­ing Hybrid Threats has pub­lished a 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. Accord­ing to the study:

The mea­sures tak­en by the Lithuan­ian author­i­ties and sup­port­ed by var­i­ous ini­tia­tives tak­en by the media, NGOs and civ­il soci­ety have yield­ed con­sid­er­able results. First­ly, mea­sures employed to build resilience and to deny the per­ceived ben­e­fits nar­rowed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of exploit­ing the infor­ma­tion space as soci­ety became less sus­cep­ti­ble to dis-infor­ma­tion, and the avail­able chan­nels to spread dis­in­for­ma­tion in Lithua­nia decreased dra­mat­i­cal­ly. Sec­ond­ly, a rather hawk­ish stance (albeit not vio­lat­ing Euro­pean or nation­al laws or norms) has demon­strat­ed the resolve and the will to impose costs if adver­sar­i­al actions are deemed unac­cept­able. This stance has been sup­port­ed by var­i­ous civ­il soci­ety ini­tia­tives, indi­cat­ing the wide­spread will­ing­ness to respond to unac­cept­able adver­sar­i­al behav­iour. Last­ly, insti­tu­tion­al changes, and coop­er­a­tion between the gov­ern­ment, the media and civ­il soci­ety (as well as inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion between gov­ern­ments and insti­tu­tions) has cre­at­ed the agili­ty need­ed to respond to infor­ma­tion threats.

The most recent dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns have large­ly failed to esca­late to any great extent. For exam­ple, in April 2020, a forged let­ter pur­port­ed­ly sent by NATO Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al Jens Stoltenberg  claimed that Enhanced For­ward Pres­ence Bat­tle­group forces were with­draw­ing from Lithua­nia because of Vil­nius’ inabil­i­ty to cope with the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic. This  attempt to sow con­fu­sion or dis­cord between the inter­na­tion­al part­ners via a dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign was rather eas­i­ly neu­tral­ized before it had a chance to esca-late. Capa­ble mon­i­tor­ing and analy­sis, estab­lished part­ner­ships, and the aware­ness of all par­ties led to effec­tive strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion, as the fake mes­sage hard­ly received any news coverage.

A com­bi­na­tion of mea­sures designed to deny ben­e­fits but also impose costs – tem­po­rary sus­pen­sions of Russ­ian TV broad­casts – estab­lished prece­dents that were deemed legit­i­mate by the inter­na­tion­al courts. This is anoth­er impor­tant achieve­ment that might serve as a basis for a Euro­pean-wide response to media manipulation.

Read the full study here.

The study lists the fol­low­ing actions Lithuan­ian author­i­ties and NGOs applied to counter Russ­ian disinformation:

  • Russ­ian TV broad­cast sus­pen­sion or ban
  • Tight­en­ing media rules and regulations
  • Boost­ing infor­ma­tion space/media monitoring
  • Estab­lish­ment or empow­er­ment of the strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion bod­ies in key institutions
  • Cre­ation of a mech­a­nism for strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion coor­di­na­tion on nation­al secu­ri­ty matters
  • Inter­na­tion­al part­ner­ships and ini­tia­tives, using mul­ti­lat­er­al institutions.
  • Civ­il cam­paign ‘Lithuan­ian elves’ – active cit­i­zens fight-ing dis­in­for­ma­tion online
  • eu – an AI-dri­ven plat­form for media monitoring
  • Increased aca­d­e­m­ic research and pub­lic surveys
  • Media lit­er­a­cy projects ded­i­cat­ed to vul­ner­a­ble groups
  • Social media cam­paigns – var­i­ous ini­tia­tives cre­at­ed to pur­sue one’s own narrative
  • Media projects for fact-check­ing and debunking

Based on the Lithuan­ian expe­ri­ence, the study pro­pos­es the fol­low­ing pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions to deter hos­tile actors from using hybrid means such as disinformation:

  • Enhanc­ing legal reg­u­la­tion of the infor­ma­tion space.
  • Mov­ing from respon­sive ‘cri­sis com­mu­ni­ca­tion’ to pre­ven­tive ‘strate­gic communication.’
  • Broad­en­ing the under­stand­ing of what con­sti­tutes a dis­in­for­ma­tion threat.
  • Sup­port­ing and fos­ter­ing pri­vate, civ­il and non-gov­ern­men­tal ini­tia­tives that are work­ing on the issue.
  • Look­ing for hybrid­i­ty – dis­in­for­ma­tion is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

In Jan­u­ary, we rec­om­mend­ed a report on Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts direct­ed against Poland and the Baltic States. In the same month, we rec­om­mend­ed anoth­er NATO study ana­lyz­ing Russia’s (dis)information influ­ence in the Nordic-Baltic region.