Estonians top the European table when it comes to naïvity, according to media expert Raul Rebane, referring to Eurobarometer data.
"Estonia is at the top of Europe's naïve. We are very, very naïve when it comes to false news," Mr Rebane said, speaking at a European Commission breifing in Tallinn on Tuesday.
Referring to a Eurobarometer survey from November 2018, which noted that the problem did not only concern Estonians, but all EU citizens resident in Estonia, Mr Rebane said "Estonia needs to be very seriously concerned about information attacks. That we don't recognise them doesn't mean that they do not exist or that influencing does not happen''.
Whereas 42% of those polled in Estonia said that the news and other information not reflecting reality was a problem in the country, the average in other EU states who said the same stood at 71%.
Similarly, 47% of EU citizens resident in Estonia said they often come across news or information which in their opinion does not reflect reality or is outright wrong. The average for EU citizens across the union with the same concern was 68%.
Not just obvious fake news issue
Mr Rebane added that not only was the problem insufficiently dealt with in Estonia, those efforts aimed at combatting misinformation, such as the Propastop volunteer-staffed blog, tended to focus only in one direction, ie. in combatting information arising from the Russian Federation or from those following its agenda.
He also pointed out that the problem does not stop at the so-called fake news, but finds its expressions in other, more concealed ways, which influence activities and affect the populace of a country in deeper ways. Such channels include entertainment, educational activities, cultural or tourist-related sites, and even the field of semiotics, he said.
"We have to make it clear to ourselves what an information operation is: Lying, when one engages in trolling, or lies which are posted on anonymous comment boards, is an everyday thing and it is possible to identify those attacks," Mr Rebane said.
"Cultural influencing operations are a different matter, however. They are very complex phenomena, which come via entertainment programs, music, through the world of symbols, through monuments, for instance. These are the things that give rise to a feeling of togetherness. The most classic example is everything that happened in connection with the Bronze Soldier. Or the fact that the most photographed tourist site in Tallinn is the Nevsky cathedral," Mr Rebane said.
Country's size a form of defence
The April 2007 Bronze Soldier night riots took place after a Soviet war memorial, a statue cast in bronze of an archetypal Red Army soldier, was removed from its original site on Tõnismägi to a military cemetery, along with several sets of human remains which had been buried at the same location.
The Aleksander Nevsky cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral on Toompea, opposite the Estonian parliament, completed around the turn of the 20th century. Organisationally it is a part of the Estonian Orthodox Church, which falls under the auspices of the Moscow Patriarchy.
Mr Rebane also added a Russian-language spelling bee-type competition held in Tallinn to the list of information influencing operations.Despite these challenges Mr Rebane stated that the compact size of Estonia's population, twinned with the hermetic nature of the Estonian language itself, both act as a hindrance to the spread of false information, since a lack of knowledge of the language would make influencing activity harder.
Picture the same across all types of media
"When everybody knows everybody else, it's easy to subject a person to societal control if they come up with strange information," Mr Rebane said.
Some of the gloss is taken off this by an inherent belief in the written word, he added, which carries over to media consumption in Estonia.
A further breakdown of the Eurobarometer survey saw 61% of respondents in Estonia who view EU topics covered on the TV to be objective (compared with an EU average of 53%); the respective figures for radio, print media and online media were 57% (EU average 52%), 54% (EU: 49%) and 52% (EU: 43%).
According to the Eurobarometer survey, 61 percent of respondents in Estonia see the treatment of EU topics in television as objective, and the same is said by 57 percent of radio, by 54 percent of printed media and by 52 percent of websites.
A similarly higher degree of trust in information on social media and networking sites was exhibited in Estonia, at 36% of respondents, compared with 22% EU-wide.
Eurobarometer surveys have been conducted regularly on behalf of the European Commission since 1973.
Raul Rebane, 65, is an Estonian journalist and media consultant, whose TV career spanned the latter part of the Soviet era and the first few years of independent Estonia.
Editor: Andrew Whyte