The digital revolution has provided new opportunities for 21st century politics, but also made the latter more complex and complicated. It endowed traditional diplomacy with new ways to communicate, engage civil societies and audiences across borders in a swift and unimpeded manner. At the same time, it generated new and enhanced vulnerabilities of the public mind, now subject to powerful, multiverse and easily targeted thinkfluence – the manipulation of public opinion through the spreading of untruths and disinformation of sorts that threatens to become "the new normal" in today’s communication. The rise of the "fake news" phenomenon, especially in the context of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in Ukraine’s east, as well as its meddling in democratic electoral and policy making processes across Europe and across the Atlantic Ocean, signify the heyday of "disinformation" as a means of geopolitics.
Not only has the term "propaganda" made a victorious comeback to public and political discourses as well as foreign-political arsenals of a number of states and non-state actors as a result of strategizing disinformation. Notions like "information warfare", "fake news", "clicktivism", "hacktivism", "troll armies", "elections hijacking", "narrative warfare" and – equally important – "post-truth" and "post-fact" politics have also forced experts to update the vocabularies in the digital era. The Oxford English Dictionary defines disinformation as false information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media, thus pointing to the purposeful and strategic nature of disinformation. The rapidly changing – expanding – geography of disinformation, especially within digital media environments, renders it a character of salient challenge to domestic and external security, cohesiveness, certainty, and state and societal resilience. Whereas the study of the influence mechanisms and effects of disinformation is still in its infancy, one conclusion can already be drawn: "fake news" and other forms of online (dis)information shape offline popular perceptions and narratives, which, in turn, trigger real policy action.
The current international crises in Ukraine, Syria and Qatar have revealed the power of weaponized (dis)information in the pursuit of concrete geopolitical agendas and the triggering and escalating of conflicts. A growing number of cases and instances of external meddling in domestic policy making and electoral processes do further exemplify the modalities of strategic (dis)information campaigns through networked and digital communications without borders. Ever increasing possibilities of using (dis)information in the strategic pursuit of hostile agendas, including by non-state actors such as ISIS, demonstrates the topic’s growing significance to academia, policy communities and individual societies in European Union Member States and in EUrope's eastern and southern neighbourhoods. The almost exclusive and direct reference to Russia's strategic efforts in this context is a consequence of states' and their societies' direct exposure to the powerful and multi-directional disinformation campaigns of the Kremlin, and both the EU and NATO are in the process of responding to the multifaceted challenge disinformation poses as part of their classification of the latter as an integral part of what they consider to be growing "hybrid threats". Numerous national strategies across Europe and in the EU's neighbourhoods have already been revised and updated to address this challenge.
As part of the Natolin Neighbourhood Days 2017, the European Neighbourhood Policy Chair organized a high-level joint lecture on the problem of (dis)information geopolitics in the age of digital communications and information weaponization:
- Geography of (Dis)Information and Power: Digital Communications, Narratives and Popular Geopolitics in Europe and its Neighbourhoods
Prof. Klaus DODDS, Professor of Geopolitics, Royal Holloway, University of London
- The Importance of Storytelling: Narratives, Disinformation, Politics and Geopolitics
Mr Brian WHITMORE, Senior Russia Analyst, The Power Vertical Podcast Author, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)
Chair: Dr Andriy TYUSHKA, Research Fellow, European Neighbourhood Policy Chair, College of Europe (Natolin campus)