NATO StratCom: Attempts at influencing public opinion increasingly specific ({{commentsTotal}})

Distorted information and fake news are an ever bigger issue across plenty of countries and their media. They are used by the Islamic State as well as Russian propaganda efforts. NATO’s strategic communications center in Riga (StratCom) has recently seen the focus shift from the Baltic to Western European countries.

NATO has a total of 24 so-called centers of excellence. They are affiliated with NATO, but operate independently and depend on funding from the countries that decide to join their projects. In Tallinn there is NATO’s cyber defense center, in Riga the strategic communications center, and another one in Vilnius deals with matters of energy security.

As ETV’s “Välisilm” international policy newscast reported on Monday, the strategic communications center in Riga has been able to provide a more detailed overview of what is happening in the field of information, and how information flows are being manipulated and influenced.

Both ISIS and Russia use well-known symbols and narratives, including recent as well as distant history, and religious symbols. Audiences are receptive to them, know them well, and are addressed exactly where there are the best chances of success.

Russia uses plenty of narratives and symbols connected with the Second World War, including the national epic and image of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany as well as plenty of Nazi symbolism.

Though Russian propaganda is widespread in all three of the Baltic states, it hasn’t increased recently, the Riga center’s director, Janis Sarts, finds. “Recently efforts have concentrated on the Western European countries. What we’ve seen in the Baltic states, in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, has now spread in Germany, the Netherlands, and also America as well. As we can see, this isn’t a lengthy process as it was in our case, but connected to specific objectives—to influence the outcome of elections,” Sarts said.

Efforts in the Baltic states have recently concentrated on spreading invented or distorted news about allied troops stationed in the three countries, including the fake report of a member of the German Bundeswehr raping a girl in Lithuania. Usually, these stories are put in their correct context fairly quickly.

The center in Riga concentrates on five main points: following the way terrorists orchestrate their information war against Western states, finding ways for NATO to defend itself against attempts to influence public opinion, following Russia’s attempts at influencing the Baltic states and the Nordic countries, following how the Kremlin uses its Second World War narratives, and seeing how robot networks are set up on social media.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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