Reede, 17 Aprill 2020 19:00
Estonian Life No. 15 2020 - Laas Leivat
Many international observers have indicated that the Kremlin is deliberately aiming to increase instability and unease in the West by using Corona virus-centered topics for disinformation. One typical example of this is the ‘fake news’, spread by Russia’s premier disinformation vehicle, Sputnik which has posted “very smart biologists and pharmacists” in Latvia invented the new COVID-19 virus. Other media have stated that it was produced in Britain’s military establishment at Porton Downs.
Counter-propaganda analysts of the European Commission already by mid-March had discovered over 110 different reports containing misleading or false information regarding the corona virus in both Russian official state media and other platforms with ties to the Kremlin.
Also a popular theme in Chinese disinformation, Russian disinformation centred mainly on Western plots. It did not matter that some of the falsehoods could have seriously sobering consequences. Sputniknews.com site postings typify the genre: “Scientists: corona virus is a weapon in biological warfare”, which developed 11,120 shares on Facebook; “Is corona virus and American weapong of biological warfare as Francis Boyle believes?”; “Corona virus, a weapon that fell from the sky for the United States in its fight against China”. These are only a few of the disinformation campaign.
Opinion: Disinformation thrives amid the fight against Corona (I)
A conspiracy theory that spreads even quicker than the virus itself is nurtured bu its ambiguity. Suggestions that the COVID-10 might be a bio-weapon is just that - a hint, innuendo. Conspiracy theories that persist thrive on ambiguity and uncertainty. To muddy the waters even more, the Chinese government has recently embargoed the publishing of research dealing with the origins of the virus and placed strict controls on the research itself.
These and divers other stories, many originating from Russian websites graduated to full-fledged conspiracy theories supported by prominent politicians such as US Senator Tom Cotton, Iranian ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Indian parliamentarian Manishb Tewari, the latter enjoying 380,00 followers on social media, and various gullible public figures. This is one reason why this particular conspiracy theory has survived debunking efforts. Thus opportunistic politicians have taken full advantage of the fertile conspiratorial ground that The COVID-19 pandemic has provided. The exponential rise in fatalities and radical disruption in life’s routine obviously grabs and holds the attention of everyone.
That the virus is a human creation meant for military deployment is a narrative advanced by the Russians and part of a wider strategy to inject fear, panic and confusion in the West. Even though he appeals to a fringe, marginal element in the population, Alexander Dugin, a Russian nationalist, philosopher and Orthodox mystic has produced one of the most read postings in Russia: “The Liberal is the carrier of the corona virus...a little more time will pass and liberals will be equated with lepers, infectious maniacs.”
Other fake postings are not as extreme and are said to be targeted to Europeans intended to make them feel ‘disempowered’ by the pandemic. Conspiracy theories may have a type of ‘emotional tranquilizer’ effect on people, taking the edge off the need to find someone to blame by offering the possibility of who’s guilty. Those who already distrust government, business elites and foreigners seem to be the most likely candidates. An apt example of this are the attacks against telephone poles in the U.K. and Holland apparently by those who oppose the installment of G5 technology because it’s allegedly the cause of the corona virus.
Experts indicate that this small part of the potential audience probably cannot be informed or educated to understand the deception of the message. But virus-connected conspiracy theories have actual consequences that can’t be ignored. On the initiative of Austria, Lithuania and Slovakia, the European Council has established a “rapid alert system” to identify three fake stories: the effectiveness of Ibuprofen on fighting COVID-19, the infection of a US soldier in Lithuania and the president of Slovakia being stricken with the virus. As expected Russia denied any culpability and the Chinese did not reply to inquiries.
The Kremlin has insisted that all accusations against it are unsubstantiated and that it’s the victim of an anti-Russian obsession. It gets good support from its proxies in the West. A Serbian-American journalist published an article stating that, “When all else fails, blame Russia. That seems to be the EU approach to deflecting blame from its response to the corona virus pandemic”.
Observers say it’s practically impossible to debunk disinformation about the COVID-19. People who view the government skeptically are already primed to believe that the government is simply lying, that authorities are concealing the real facts.
But we must keep people informed about the initiators, methods and intentions of disinformation, yes even if it’s traced back to sources within our own open, Western communities.Laas Leivat