How would you describe the mission and expertise of your organization in the field of media literacy/ critical thinking/ fact checking/ countering disinformation?

All of us here at Warsaw Institute have a drive to make Poland’s perspective on international relations better known and better understood, inasmuch also promoting Poland itself and strengthening its global position.  Unfortunately, the contemporary world is incredibly polarised in a surprisingly vast range of ways, and it unfortunately is no exaggeration to say that there are forces whose actions seem to demonstrate that they believe securing their interests should be done by means that are at the expense of Poland as well as its partners, and other states they see as exploitable; such actions which would push the world in general descending into chaos given their intent to come out on top in all of it.  Hence, the Warsaw Institute quickly recognised the need to develop a set of skills and gather a group of experts who would specialise in disinformation and “fake news” analysis in order to first debunk the disinformation in the field of geopolitics, and then provide accurate information, presenting the true nature of the issue that the “fake news” campaign was focused on.  Over the years, our experts in disinformation have constantly bettered their knowledge and skillsets, passed them onto our writers and analysts, who, as a result, are better able to accurately identify and not only avoid, but avidly counter disinformation when writing their analytical pieces. The Warsaw Institute’s disinformation-combating expertise focuses on geopolitics and international relations with emphasis on Poland, aims to do so swiftly, and to provide our readers with credible sources of information.

What are the main resources developed by your organization you’d be willing to share? (e.g. reports, analyses, scripts, educational materials, video clips, webinars… Please share the links.)

The Warsaw Institute is more than happy to share our work, which is publicly available on our website and social media, some of the earliest projects began in 2017: https://warsawinstitute.org/disinformation/, which continued as a thematic aspect present, either as central focus or a relevant factor, in pretty much all work that follows; for instance in our Russia Monitor programme, https://warsawinstitute.org/programs/russia-monitor/russia-monitor-articles/, or special events dedicated to it, whether online https://warsawinstitute.org/misinformation-russian-strategic-weapon-yesterday-today/, or in conference halls (before COVID) https://warsawinstitute.org/message-fake-news-disinformation-public-space-debate-overview/After all, it is crucial in the analysis of world geopolitics and the international arena, the Warsaw Institute is able to share with you our work, including reports and widely published articles that either focus on disinformation as such or have been produced in order to counter the disinformation campaigns. Our experts in countering disinformation and “fake-news” are always keen to share their knowledge, therefore the Warsaw Institute is happy to organise workshops, educational videos or webinars on countering disinformation.

Which are, in your opinion, the three biggest current challenges related to countering disinformation in your country?

  • Keeping up ability to identify as new forms emerge, as identification of disinformation is, even to trained eyes, difficult to spot. Their perpetrators are creative e.g. onset of deepfakes, and the actors defying them cannot let up in creativity, whether reactionary, or preventative methods.
  • Conveying the rebuttal against disinformation in a swift but also convincing manner, ensuring it is not just their word against ours, is often easier said than done. Research and verification, as much as is possible, takes time, by which the effects would have already been done.
  • Changing attitudes when there are pre-existing mindsets to not think in a way that aligns with certain views, but just to think for themselves, is something that seems to happen slowly, as any piece of information can be interpreted in a stunningly contrasting variety of ways, and becomes more necessary when dealing with our own biases, to ensure information is constantly conveyed appropriately.

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?

  • Our analytical pieces and events give their readers and viewers a better understanding of disinformation in both theory and practice, as well as encouragement to do their own research, which, of course, in these we encourage them to also share this awareness with their peers, as peer-to-peer conveying is particularly effective.
  • Consider always pathos, ethos, and logos, i.e. what is said, the way in which it is said, and by whom it is said.
  • Using current and ongoing examples is more difficult than historical ones, but they seem to draw the most interaction from viewers and readers. Remaining apolitical about examples that include national politics is tricky, but must be sought nonetheless.

What are the top three events or dates you have witnessed this year that have caused an intensification of disinformation activities?

  • The coronavirus pandemic in Europe and Russia.
  • Military and political involvement in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other conflict zones.
  • DEFENDER Europe 2020.

In your opinion, which future three dates/events are likely to bring about the intensification of disinformation activities in 2020-2021?

  • With regard to voting, Presidential Elections of both Poland and the US in 2020.
  • With regard to defence, the relocation of additional American troops to Poland and activation of American Ballistic Missile Defence base in Redzikowo, Poland.
  • With regard to historical diplomacy, the commemoration of the outbreak of World War II, as well as the outbreak of Warsaw Uprising.

What are the prevailing disinformation narratives you have observed in the media space this year.

Amongst many disinformation campaigns that happened in Poland in 2020, the large majority originated or had ties to the Russian Federation. The two most common themes of these attacks were either the “active aggressive behaviour of Poland and NATO towards a peaceful Russia”, the forced modification of history in order to erase the Soviet involvement in the first part of World War II, as well as numerous war crimes that the Red Army conducted over the years across Europe.

Have you been relying on any fact-checking tools? If yes, please describe them or share the links.

No, as an analytical centre, the obsessively extensive research undertaken by all WI members – myself, partners, our experts – is a fact-checking tool in itself. Of course, this entails looking at as many various sources as possible and assessments of the said information, what was presented, in what way, by whom, etc., including what fact-checkers have to say about it.

Would you like to highlight any of the disinformation cases you have witnessed/ discovered/ debunked?

Russia’s purposely distorting the narration of history, especially with regard to Poland, the Cold War, and the events during World War II, are cases of disinformation we are constantly fighting against. They are available on our website and that of our quarterly, the Warsaw Institute Review.

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?

Our partners in the first disinformation project: European Values Think Tank (Czech Republic), Slovak Security Policy Institute, as well as Info Ops Poland, and Fundacja Bezpieczna Cyberprzestrzeń (Poland) have shown remarkable attentiveness and forwardness, not letting things slide within our V4 region.

Are there any other points you wish to raise during this interview?

We think it’s great you’re doing this questionnaire. Gathering insight on disinformation is imperative, and makes an authentic, positive contribution. I hope that our answers have helped : )

JULIA GRZYBOWSKA
President of the Warsaw Institute
Determined, perfectionist, goal-oriented

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