Judy Asks: Can Europe defeat Russian disinformation?

Opinion piece (Carnegie Europe)
11 January 2017

You cannot defeat disinformation: it is a tactic, not an enemy in its own right. But Europe can counter it, and do so more effectively. European countries, NATO, and the EU need to pool their resources and their efforts if they are to succeed.

The political earthquakes of 2016 should have shown that just having the facts on one’s side is no guarantee of success. Waiting for disinformation to come, fact-checking it, and putting out a statement several days later correcting misstatements will never be any use.

Western governments and institutions need to be on the front foot, with messages and messengers that resonate even with communities that feel that the system does not work for them. Marginalized groups are likely to be the most receptive to disinformation, whether from the self-proclaimed Islamic State or from the Kremlin.

The West also needs to devote more effort to civic education. If people do not know how their own government works, let alone the EU or NATO, they will be prey to all sorts of conspiracy theories. If people feel powerless and confused, that helps those who spread disinformation. The resilience of democratic systems lies in well-informed and politically engaged citizens.

Ian Bond, director of foreign policy, Centre for European Reform