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Poland – a testing ground for information warfare?

CyberDefence24 The influence of intentionally fabricated information on democratic principles, security and public order, opinions and social moods have become a crucial challenge for authorities of the state and has become an indispensable part of current political debates…
Critical thinkers

IGNACY NIEMCZYCKI

How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organization in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation? We run a fact-checking community on Facebook called Keyboard Worriers (Wojownicy Klawiatury) that focuses on European affairs. Moreover, with our partners we have developed and implemented classes for younger citizens to help them better understand how disinformation works. The Foundation also publishes reports on disinformation during electoral campaigns in Poland. What are the main resources developed by your organization you’d be willing to share? We would be happy to provide access to selected organizations and individuals to the Wojownicy Klawiatury group. The Foundation would also be able to share scripts for classes on disinformation, as well as the results of our reports on disinformation during electoral campaigns in Poland. Please contact us at fundacja@geremek.pl. Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country? Lack of legal framework that would define the responsibilities of online platforms. Political and societal polarization that makes it difficult to overcome gaps between people even when facts are clear. Lack of legal framework and administrative capabilities for authorities to control political parties’ social media spending. Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation? Disinformation is clearly linked to polarization. Therefore promoting facts requires building trust to overcome polarization. This can be done by building a community around a fact-checking initiative or/and by unveiling information about the sources of disinformation that clearly shows their political or economic interest. The story behind the story is often more effective than deconstructing fake-news. What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities? COVID-19 pandemic and presidential elections in Poland. In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021? The US elections. What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year. A number of populistic politicians in Poland and in Europe have used the COVID pandemic to undermine trust in the EU and blame the EU so as to achieve short-term political gains. Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links. Making The Truth Stick and The Myths Fade: Lessons from Cognitive Psychology https://www.researchgate.net/publication/295478583_Making_The_Truth_Stick_and_The_Myths_Fade_Lessons_from_Cognitive_Psychology, Botometer https://botometer.osome.iu.edu/ Social Observatory for Disinformation and Social Media Analysis (SOMA) https://www.disinfobservatory.org Find a troll https://znajdztrolla.info/ Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked? We are especially proud of the report on disinformation and propaganda about the EU during the pandemic. The report is available here: https://geremek.pl/index.php?id=1106 In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why? Commissioner Vera Jourova has a fine understanding of the issue and seems to be willing to push online platforms to better define their responsibility. In Poland I enjoy the work done by Demagog (demagog.org.pl) and Fundacja ePaństwo (epf.org.pl). IGNACY NIEMCZYCKI
Chairman of the management board
The Bronislaw Geremek Foundation
Togetherness, values-based, openness
Critical thinkers

ADAM REICHARDT

How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organization in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation? New Eastern Europe is a bimonthly covering issues related to Central and Eastern Europe. We aim to be a platform for the exchange of ideas and information on the region so as to help a wider audience understand how this part of the world fits into the global context. As a media organization (NGO, not-for-profit) we strive to tell the story of our region and aim to be the voice of the region. This means engaging the reader with truthful (fact-checked) information, and also fighting against stereotypes and disinformation/misinformation about the region. Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country? Active campaigns by malign forces aimed at propagating disinformation about our region. Lack of understanding of this region among the wider (non-specialist) audience. Social polarization and/or lack of willingness to listen to others’ opinions. Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation? We sometimes find that story-telling is a good way to engage the audience, and to break down pre-conceived notions (possibly also being a result of disinformation). We believe that a pro-active approach (beyond reacting or debunking already published disinformation ) might help get ahead of some disinformation activities. Providing two voices on very emotional issues (like wars or conflicts) helps the readers understand that these are very complex issues, and that capturing the bigger picture is essential. What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities? Coronavirus Nagorno-Karabkh War Belarus crisis In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021? US elections (and aftermath) Belarus crisis (continuing) Elections in Georgia What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year. Obviously, the narrative that coronavirus is fake, made up and is meant to control us is beyond doubt the largest disinformation narrative we have seen. Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links. We have no specific tools beyond our own research. In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why? Not very many. Digital Forensics Research Lab is probably the best actor for international/regional debunking. The EU European External Action Service is OK, but its potential is unexploited. ADAM REICHARDT
Editor-in-Chief of New Eastern Europe
Collaborative, principled, mission-driven
Critical thinkers

DALIA BANKAUSKAITE

How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organization in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation? We believe that better education is a key to a strong society. Critical and informed citizens are groomed starting from the primary school. Media literacy is a crucial competency to have, but before promoting media literacy right away, we also need to persuade the public they are in need of bettering their media skills. Fact-checking efforts should continue, while at the same time we should understand that it is not the only answer to a complex issue. In order to set our own agenda, we should construct our narratives. A close network of like-minded analysts and experts from each state affected by the disinformation should be established, as well as active measures undertaken. The network is a necessary condition for the West to stay proactive in countering disinformation, and more importantly, be capable of building up its own narrative (instead of persuading the public once again that the threat actually exists). It is essential to connect international, governmental, and private initiatives to jointly counter disinformation and at the same time further our own narratives. What are the main resources developed by your organization you’d be willing to share? https://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/komentarai/dalia-bankauskaite-bulgarija-nepriklausoma-bet-vis-dar-neissilaisvinusi-500-1287444 https://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/komentarai/dalia-bankauskaite-ganos-ir-nigerijos-princai-ne-tik-laiskus-apie-turtus-siuncia-500-1304364 https://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/nuomones/dalia-bankauskaite-apie-melagingus-naratyvus-lietuvos-informacineje-aplinkoje-18-1104828 https://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/komentarai/dalia-bankauskaite-bulgarija-nepaklusta-tai-erzina-rusijos-administracija-500-1248396 https://medium.com/@hitthehybrid/kremlin-narratives-for-subversive-activity-in-lithuania-s-information-space-bd2b93b2cde8 Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country? Even though it is effective, strategic communication alone is not sufficient for developing long-term social resilience and ability of society to cope, adapt and quickly recover from critical situations or avoid further emergency escalation. There should be a long-term strategy to build up resilient, well-informed decision-makers, institutions and society, empowering them by providing practical knowledge and tools. In the age of social media and fast-spreading information, the society is on the front line of confrontation and negative influences. Thus, forming a strong, resilient and critically thinking society that remains attentive to information consumers and resistant to provocations becomes a key task in the face of today’s security issues – and we are trying to contribute to that. Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation? The best way to counter disinformation is not to give the aggressor an opportunity to do so. Improve your country’s governance, increase living standards, eliminate the level of social exclusion. Second, build up the social trust and public trust in state institutions. Third, the highest quality education responding to the current needs of the society. Fourth, development and long-term communication of the positive narratives. What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities? January 13 events – Defenders of Freedom Day February 16 – Day of Restoration of the State of Lithuania March 11 – Day of Restoration of Independence of Lithuania June 14 and 15 – Days of Mourning and Hope and Occupation and Genocide July 6 – State Day (Coronation and National Anthem of King Mindaugas of Lithuania) August 23 – European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Stalinism and Nazism and Baltic Way Day Covid19 pandemic lockdown Election rigging in Belarus and following up events in Belarus (presidential elections in Belarus) In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021? October 11 and 25 – Parliamentary elections Covid19 pandemic Military exercises (of different scale) What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year. Hostile master narratives:  Anti-US Anti-NATO Anti-EU Russophobia Failing state History-control the past Russia is a liberator of Europe, the only Victor of WWII; Europe owns Russia and Russian people Anti-Vaccine and Covid19 conspiracy theories Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links. Algorithms for scrawling data from online media; quantitative analyses of comments; quantitative, qualitative and contextual analyses of texts. Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked? I find it difficult to point out one particular disinformation case, all of them are equally important and become topical in a particular situation and time. The key feature of disinformation is that it always relates to a topical issue, situation and time. Otherwise it will not be effective. One of my professional tasks is to analyze and research disinformation cases. I am happy to share a few of them: http://infowar.cepa.org/Countries/Lithuania. In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why? I find it difficult to name the best performing Media Literacy actors at the EU level. I am sure there are many. Personally, I would look at the Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway. In Lithuania there are many good media literacy trainers and training programs both in government and non-government sectors, as well as individuals. In my opinion there is one risky tendency nowadays – Media Literacy has become an all catch phrase. Therefore, when talking about Media Literacy it is important to define a concrete topic and the target audience.  My sincere believe is that Media Literacy has to become an integral part of curriculum at all ages of education, both formal and non-formal. The strategic documents  of Lithuania clearly define the role of education to the national security of Lithuania. The education about the national security (in its broad sense) is multidimensional, namely, it includes such topics as civic education, education on national security and media and information literacy – and is not limited only to these topics due to the changing security environment. There is more than one state institution engaged in the national security education: the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, the Ministry of Culture, and institutions and agencies of defense. So, the importance of education in national security strengthening is not questioned – the active citizenship education has been discussed at the Lithuania’s political level for almost twenty years, and the national security and media literacy education became topical since five years back. Are there any other points you wish to raise during this interview? A big success story is Lithuania’s strategic communication capabilities. Constantly provoked by Russia’s aggressive activities, Lithuania started building up its strategic communication expertise years ago. During Lithuania’s preparatory steps for NATO and EU membership these skills have been extensively employed in order to gain public support and empower citizens to appreciate the memberships’ opportunities. After Russia’s attack against Ukraine in 2014 and later, Vilnius was better prepared to the malign information attacks than other European countries, such as the UK or Germany. Lithuania’s expertise and proficiency in protecting its information environment, identifying, tracking and neutralizing malign topics and themes, and debunking fake news as well as counter information and psychological operations grew rapidly and earned well-deserved respect among Lithuania’s allies. The success lies in the way strategic communication is organized – its model rests on the decentralized and often informal cooperation among state and civic society, the core of such cooperation is mutual trust.  At the state level, government institutions assess the information environment according to their areas of responsibility and competence. The civic society is directly engaged in the national information environment monitoring, fact checking, and strengthening society’s media and information literacy. A lot of work is undertaken by civic activists volunteers working in IT, media, academia, education and business sectors, such as Lithuanian “elves”, or a mainstream media initiative, a fact-checking platform Debunk.eu, and many others.  Civic society organizations in their fields of competence counter disinformation and are active in positive narrative communication.     DALIA BANKAUSKAITE 
Country Coordinator of Start2Think platform, Lecturer at Vilnius University, Project Manager at ResPublica
Professional, ethical, in-depth
Critical thinkers

ANDRZEJ KOZŁOWSKI

How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organization in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation? CyberDefence24.pl is an extraordinary platform, which combines the work of a news portal and a think-thank by providing detailed analysis and comments from experts. We deliver daily content about the detected information operations, changes in social media policy and work of the European Union. What is more, we prepare guides about the most popular fake news on COVID-19 and 5G. What are the main resources developed by your organization you’d be willing to share? These are the examples of our work translated into English: https://www.cyberdefence24.pl/bezpieczenstwo-informacyjne/virtual-pandemic-is-internet-virus-more-dangerous-than-the-real-one https://www.cyberdefence24.pl/bezpieczenstwo-informacyjne/polanda-testing-ground-for-information-warfare https://www.cyberdefence24.pl/bezpieczenstwo-informacyjne/polish-war-studies-university-under-information-attack-the-attempt-to-deteriorate-polish-american-alliance   Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country? The policymakers do not understand this problem and underestimate the threat. What is more, they are  often the source of disinformation, likewise the public media, which should act as a reliable source of information – not a propaganda actor.   Could you name three solutions that you implemented or else want to recommend as an advice how to counter disinformation, strengthen societies’ critical thinking skills and build civil resilience to disinformation? Reform of public media; strong regulations regarding social media platforms with significant financial penalties; and introducing media literacy into school curriculum. What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities? The falsification of elections in Belarus and protests which followed up; the start of COVID-19 pandemic; and the rotation of NATO troops. In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021? On the international scene we can expect growing disinformation activities around the American presidential elections. It is difficult to forecast their intensification, however, more disinformation campaigns are likely to appear using more sophisticated techniques. Last but not least, all the political tensions and incidents will be reflected in disinformation activities spike. What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year. Narratives regarding COVID-19; 5G discussion; and NATO troops in Poland.   Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links. No. I use Google searcher and consult fact-checking portals. Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked? We discovered an information operation against American troops deployed in Orzysz, and also debunked the information operation against the National Defence University of Warsaw, as well as a bunch of fake news about COVID-19. In your opinion, who are the best performing actors – in your country, as well as in the EU – playing crucial roles in the field of media literacy today and why? The best performing actors in Poland are think-thanks, which with limited resources are doing a tremendous work. In the EU there is a positive European Commission’s initiative: EuvsDisinfo.   ANDRZEJ KOZŁOWSKI
Editor-in-Chief of CyberDefence24.pl
Meticulous, ambitious, stress resistant
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