More on the disinformation industry

A few years back, I wrote with wry amusement about how ‘the hunters become the hunted’ – in other words how some of the ‘infowarriors’ leading the pack in the fight against Russian ‘hybrid warfare’, ‘disinformation’ and the like had themselves been accused of being Russian stooges. In that case, it was the notably Russophobic Legatum Institute. Now, the same phenomenon has repeated itself, with an attack on the person of Latvian-based Russian journalist Leonid Ragozin.

Journalist is perhaps a loose word for Ragozin, who has also worked as a travel writer for Lonely Planet, and whose Twitter feed marks him out as a fervent member of the Alexei Navalny fan club. As he admits, he was arrested in Moscow in 2012 while taking part in an anti-government demo. In other words, he is in many respects a political activist, devoted to the struggle against the ‘Putin regime’.

It must have come as quite a shock to him, therefore, to find himself denounced as an intelligence asset of that same said regime by the ‘Ukrainian infowar outfit’ Informnapalm. According to Informnapalm, Ragozin is a ‘promoter of Kremlin narratives whose career points to ‘potential recruitment by the Russian Intelligence Services’.

Anybody who reads Ragozin’s output on a regular basis can only have a quiet chuckle at how silly the allegation is, but Ragozin himself was upset enough to pen a long piece on it for BneIntellinews, in which he draws a possible connection between Informnapalm and a ‘psy-ops unit of the Ukrainian army’ as well as a link between it and the Ukrainian far right. He then conjectures that his own attacks on that far right, as well as stories he has written about a Ukrainian operation to kidnap members of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, probably lie behind the group’s denunciation of him. He notes:

What becomes abundantly clear from looking at social media accounts associated with the group is that members of Informnapalm belong to a part of the Ukrainian security community, which is vehemently opposed to President Volodymyr Zelensky. It is in turn a part of a broader coalition of hawks and nationalists that has coalesced around former president Petro Poroshenko.

The hit piece about me came completely out of the blue, as I haven’t done any stories about Ukraine since last winter. But the authors made sure that I understand the peg. The piece begins and ends on something that is being peddled by anti-Zelenskiy opposition under the brand Wagnergate.

What interests me about this, though, are not so much the reasons behind this particular spat, but what it reveals about what in the past I have called the ‘disinformation industry’ – that is to say the large-scale, well-funded network of government agencies, private institutions, and individuals devoted to combatting ‘Russian disinformation’. For as Ragozin notes, the story

‘Illustrates the dubious role played by organisations which claim to counter Kremlin misinformation and propaganda, but in reality disseminate their own.’.

Exactly. Well said, Leonid!

For you see, Informnapalm is typical of its breed – an organization dedicated in theory to countering disinformation that in reality is driven by a narrow political ideology that leads it to consider anything it disagrees with as ‘disinformation’ and in the process induces it to spread lies and ‘fake news’ of its own.

In Ukraine, the other organization most noted for this is Stop.Fake, to which Ragozin devotes some time, noting its ‘whitewashing of the far right and links to them.’ Ragozin also calls out former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, commenting that

‘Both Ilves and Stop.Fake are part of a toxic community that has been for years suppressing genuine experts and moderate voices involved in the discussion about the conflict between Russia and the West. They also promote conspiracies and xenophobia.’

The problem is that they are not alone, nor are they without influence. In 2019, for instance, Stop.Fake’s most prominent member, Katerina Kruk, was appointed Facebook’s public policy manager for Ukraine, in effect becoming the person responsible for deciding what Ukrainian news was ‘fake’ and ‘disinformation’ and so worthy of censorship. Stop Fake’s influence, moreover, is international. For instance, in 2018 the Canadian Security Intelligence Service(CSIS) published a report based on a seminar held by CSIS on the topic of disinformation which contained a chapter that was to all intents and purposes an advertisement for Stop.Fake, and which one has to suspect was written by one of its members. As for Ilves, he also has a Canadian connection via the one time head of the Estonian Central Council in Canada, Marcus Kolga, who has set up an infowar outfit at the MacDonald Laurier Institute under the name DisinfoWatch. It’s quite the network.

The disinformation industry stretches far beyond them, however. At the highest level are government-run agencies, such as the US government’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), and the European Union’s EUvsDisinfo. As I have pointed out before, these are as much disseminators of disinformation and they are weapons against it. The GEC, for instance, produced a ridiculous report that alleged an international web of Russian government-led conspiracy, based on a comment by Vladimir Zhirinovsky and a bunch of websites run by the likes of Alexander Dugin and a retired economics prof in Montreal. As for EUvsDisinfo, most of what it claims is ‘disinformation’ is nothing of the sort, and its methodology has been thoroughly panned by outside researchers, as I revealed in an earlier post (here).

Beyond government agencies are private institutions, mainly think tanks. But while they are notionally private, they are often government-funded at least in part, and often closely tied to the Western military industrial complex. An example of this would be the anti-disinformation organization known as the Digital Forensic Laboratory, which is run by the Atlantic Council. Even more sinister was the infamous ‘Integrity Initiative’ run by the Institute for Statecraft in the UK, which was funded by the Foreign Office and had close connections to the British army’s psychological operations unit. To say the least, these are not the sort of unbiased people one wants determining what is and is not disinformation and what can and cannot be read or heard on the internet, TV, or radio.

The final layers of the disinformation industry are individuals. Some are academics and reasonably respectable, but others are cranks. The sad thing is that the cranks often have enormous followings, despite churning out stuff of the most extreme unreliability. For some reason, they seem to get away with it.

All told, what this sorry state of affairs tells us is this: ‘combatting’ Russian hybrid warfare and disinformation is big business. Not only have governments taken to creating large agencies dedicated to the struggle, but they also shower money on think tanks, academics, and others to spread the word of the terrible threat that we all face. Yet much of what this collective industry produces is of decidedly poor quality. Moreover a lot of it is not objective analysis of the problem, but rather politically-driven and as such extremely biased. Consequently, as Ragozin points out, the disinformation industry is itself a major source of disinformation.

This puts us in an unpleasant situation. To fight the alleged threat of Russian ‘influence’ operations , we have created a great industry dedicated to in effect censoring discussion of key matters of public interest. But the censors are not to be trusted in the job. The disinformation industry is not about protecting the truth but about controlling the flow of information to ensure that only that which accords with certain interests is allowed to see the light of day.

Ragozin concludes: ‘Military psy-ops teams should be explicitly banned from attacking and smearing civilians.’ The problem goes beyond military psy-ops teams, though. It extends to a large industry of civilian government bodies and government-funded research teams and think tanks who are equally as active in smearing those they do not like. And it goes far beyond Russia and Ukraine. In our struggle against ‘disinformation’, we have created a monster that threatens freedom of speech. Beware those who pretend to the post of guardian of the truth. For they are nothing of the sort.

30 thoughts on “More on the disinformation industry”

  1. What else is new? As has been noted, StopFake and Euromaidan Press aren’t more accurate or objective than the Strategic Culture Foundation. Yet, the latter gets the kibosh put on them. Details noted here:

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2021/05/22/bbc-limits-and-related-censorship-on-russia-coverage/

    Navalnyite Ragozin and some others shouldn’t be carrying the ball on such matter, given how it’s clear that they aren’t the ones initially noting the otherwise obvious.

    Like

  2. I read about a 12 year old Ukrainian girl being put on one of these Ukrainian black list websites.

    She doesn’t have platform to complain and her life could be at risk.

    This concerns me more – the tolerance of intolerance in Ukraine because it targets Russian speakers.

    Like

  3. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Roman poet Juvenal from his “Satires”.

    Literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?” also, by variant translations, “Who watches the watchers?” and “Who will watch the watchmen?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An example:

      https://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-hungary-zelenskyy%E2%80%99s-other-big-problem-195253

      Belittles Rusyn identity, while claiming that Hungary covets additional territory, along with an unsympathetic portrayal of Moscow Patriarchate affiliated churches.

      The author is a fairly regular National Interest author who leans in a svido direction.

      At that venue, the pro-Russian leaning opposite isn’t (in overall terms) as well represented.

      Like

      1. Whoa, that’s a stupid piece, with several wrong premises.
        The obvious one is that of course Evil Putin has nothing whatsoever to do with Zakarpattia and its problems.
        Another one is her friend Tuzhanskyi’s idea that ethnic Romanians “are better integrated into Ukraine than the Hungarian community”. Most ethnic Romanians in Zakarpattia don’t even speak Ukrainian, while most of the ethnic Hungarians do. Ethnic Romanians speak Romanian and Russian.

        By the way, you might want to read about the town called Lower Apsha there. It’s fascinating. Smuggling does pay.

        https://eng.agromassidayu.com/i-v-ukraine-est-svoya-quotrublevkaquot-samoe-bogatoe-selo-strani-gde-kazhdij-dom-napominaet-dvorec-news-114865

        https://en.technolong.com/advices/623-the-richest-village-in-the-ukraine-where-there-is-no-1-stor

        Like

  4. “Journalist is perhaps a loose word for Ragozin, who has also worked as a travel writer for Lonely Planet, and whose Twitter feed marks him out as a fervent member of the Alexei Navalny fan club.”

    Yeah… but he has no blue checkmark! I mean, how you can be handshakable one without it?

    OTOH, he lacks list of pronouns and a plethora of the progressive acronym shibboleth… So there might be some truth in being Kremlenite agent after all [nod-nod]

    “The final layers of the disinformation industry are individuals. Some are academics and reasonably respectable, but others are cranks. The sad thing is that the cranks often have enormous followings, despite churning out stuff of the most extreme unreliability. For some reason, they seem to get away with it.”

    Sure! Remember the curious case of self-immolation on the pyre of A. Navalny’s reputation as “democratic dissident” done SUUUUURELY for free by one Mark. B. Smith (Cambridge Uni)? The book of his had been even revieved (very favorably) on this very net-pages by maestro Robinson himself!

    One has to wonder though, why post April 2021 AD our dear chap Mark decided to enact what we call here in RuNet “an anal enclosure” and no longer wages his on-line crusade For Everything Good (Against Everything Bad)? Mystery, I tell yah!

    TL;dr – geschaft has no smell. Worse – it’s Highly Likely ™ to be the reason of any given liberast un-civil war.

    Like

    1. What really blows my mind is the fact that her unhinged, oftentimes insane tirades, devoid of anything even remotely resembling factuality or common sense are everywhere, for everyone to see.

      She’s an Louise Mensch-Molly McKew-Alex Jones hybrid, fuelled by rampant Ukrainian nationalism and so on.

      …And Facebook greenlighted her, as a “fact checker”.

      Like

  5. the Integrity Initiative are the UKs contribution to the field, along with Bellingcat who recycle unverified information from the security agencies back into the media and govt giving it all a sheen of respectability and veracity. Two rather embarrassing leaks have pretty much shredded any ‘integrity’ they may have head but they lay low for a while and then metastasize into something equally as toxic elsewhere. it is hardly surprising that western media is now almost wholly infected with fake news, to such an extent that govts and media no longer know what is real and what isnt, such organisations are now largely responsible for the cognitive dissonance at the heart of Western decision making processes, government and think tankdom. you’ve got to laugh, it truly is the blind leading the blind.

    Like

  6. Speaking of disinformation, what is your view of Covid-19 in Russia? Someone argued that a recent credible report puts the death count pretty high (some are arguing as high as a million! — as it possible to hide such a number, in this day and age?).

    If anyone else has a rigorous, fact-based report on the same, please do share.

    Best,
    Rohit

    Like

    1. It’s not really being hidden, it’s all in the excess mortality statistics which even the most skeptical demographers haven’t doubted. The day-to-day coronavirus deaths that Opershtab provides are on the other hand not too reliable except for indicating trends. However, they have improved since the start of the pandemic and now there is a smaller undercount. But for true numbers of deaths you have to wait for Rosstat’s monthly/yearly mortality numbers.

      Like

  7. Razogin is a journalist whose conclusions, particularly on Russia, who I question but who – precisely because he does report facts that he himself would not like to hear – I trust with the facts he reports. When Russia’s economy grows, he does not deny it. He will say things would be better if x and with y but he does not dispute growth. He has called out the Ukrainian far right. Bizarrely he seems to persist in thinking Ukraine offers some kind of ‘hope’ but that he reports the facts means you can fairly well trust what you read when you read him. That the ‘anti-disinformation’ crowd is targeting him is disconcerting. I think you will find fewer people more dedicated to calling out the Russian state in its own complicity in promoting false narratives than Ragozin.

    Like

  8. Sorry for off-topic but some readers might be interested in my breaking story about the Russian prison abuse scandal.
    The story isn’t new, but the breaking news is that the whistleblower has fled to France and seeks political asylum there.

    Speaking of France, I read somewhere that the French flics are actually the most brutal in the world, I don’t know if that’s true or not, since they don’t have a brutality Olympics to test the mettle of various cops.

    Like

    1. Hi. Thank you for this. Please coud you help me with my request above (regarding the actual C19 figures in Russia — even Bruno Macaes claims that a credible report puts the numbers around 1 mn deaths; no one seems to have the link for it).

      Best,
      Rohit

      Like

      1. You need to look at the mortality rate.

        Here’s one mortality chart:
        https://www.statista.com/statistics/1089615/russia-death-rate/
        It looks like in 2020 it was ~2 per 1000 higher than the year before. Assuming it’s all due to COVID, it would have to be ~300K in 2020.
        If you trust this chart.

        Here’s another one, in Russian:
        https://www.rbc.ru/society/16/12/2020/5fbd65c79a794747f677e904
        It was published in December last year, and it has 140K increase up to November 2020. So, probably well below 300K for the whole last year.

        Like

      2. All statistics are available on Rosstat (Росстат). For mortality by year statistics, go here:
        https://rosstat.gov.ru/folder/12781

        Scroll down to “Рождаемость, смертность и естественный прирост” and download the table with mortality statistics.

        Excerpt (total mortality for RF by year):
        2006: 2,166,703
        2007: 2,080,445
        2008: 2,075,954
        2009: 2,010,543
        2010: 2,028,516
        2011: 1,925,720
        2012: 1,906,335
        2013:1,871,809
        2014: 1,912,347
        2015: 1,908,541
        2016: 1,891,015
        2017: 1,826,125
        2018: 1,828,910
        2019: 1,798,307
        2020: 2,138,586

        So the excess mortality for 2020 vs 2019 is about 340,000, and 2020 vs 2015-2019 average is about 290,000.

        To put things in perspective, the average mortality for the period 1994-2005 was close to 2,210,000, which is way more than 2020.

        Like

      3. There are different ways to count excess mortality. If it’s compared to the trend, i.e. extrapolation of how many people should have died in 2020 and 2021 based on the rate the mortality had been falling in the previous years, then the excess mortality numbers are higher that if you compare the deaths to the 2015-2019 average. This statistician who is using the former method gives 750,000 excess deaths for April 2020-September 2021, although the data for September is provisional: https://kobak.livejournal.com/122517.html https://raw.githubusercontent.com/dkobak/excess-mortality/main/img/all-countries.png (there are many interesting posts on the matter in that blog).

        Like

      4. Also, the statistics would be more meaningful if they break down by age and co-morbidity. I know this sounds harsh, but the death of a 90-year-old diabetic from covid is not quite the same thing as the death of an otherwise healthy 20-year-old.

        Like

    2. That itself is more disinformation put out usually by Americans and British news sources who want to engage in some French bashing and cover for the brutality in their own police forces, in particular this is the case with the Americans. French police are certainly no nonsense but they are certainly not the most brutal developed country set of cops, especially when compared to US police or even arguably Canadian police.

      Like

      1. Thanks, dewitt. I didn’t want to bash French cops unnecessarily. Frankly, I doubt they could hold a handle to American cops, when it comes to abuse of power. Although, I am sure there are some nice people too in every system.
        The individual case is extremely important, but one also has to take into account the broader picture, and the American GULAG certainly dwarfs both French and Russian GULAGS by a factor…

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s